ARTICLE | Management Tracks

Letter from the Editor: Back to School 2022

Looking ahead to the next generation of biopharma leadership

August 29, 2022 8:02 PM UTC

As with children and development programs, we love all of our Back to School projects equally. But sometimes a topic grabs the heart of the whole industry, and taps into concerns, hopes, ideas and priorities that may shape the future of biotech more than any other.

The year’s theme is talent, and this is a special Back to School because the issue involves every person in our ecosystem, and because this is a critical juncture in the evolution of the industry that is responsible for the future of medicines.

The question of talent comes up over and over in conversations with executives (and, they tell us, in conversations between executives) — not just how to find leaders for the hundreds of newcos created over the past few years, but how to run companies in a hybrid environment, and most of all, how to identify and nurture the next generation of talent who will take biopharma into its next era.

Some of these executives are excited by the possibilities, some are frustrated by the behaviors, and some are perplexed about the shifting needs of this emerging generation. And as ever with generational change, though some have forgotten the flavor of their own early days, others want to learn as much as teach.

In the background are at least two major drivers of change: the growing demand for better representation of women and minorities, in particular in the C-suite; and the emergence of digital technologies as a potential game-changer, and the need for individuals who can help companies embed data science throughout their businesses.

In this year’s Back to School, we dig into the issues surrounding the current and future talent base in biopharma. For the first time, we engage not only leaders of industry but employees at all levels of organizations, as well as future employees (i.e., those thinking of joining the industry), to understand what motivates and concerns them.

With input from over 600 stakeholders via BioCentury’s Talent Survey, supplemented by more than 85 interviews with people at all career stages, we have gathered perspectives and present the views from different segments of the talent chain.

We hope this analysis serves as a trigger for discussion and provides ideas to manage through the changing times. As with any survey, it is a snapshot of a cohort, not an exhaustive poll. We hope others will use this as a platform for their own surveys of the segments relevant to them, and that the picture continues to fill out to the benefit of the ever-growing biotech ecosystem.

Behind this Back to School package is a tremendous amount of analysis, number crunching, slicing and dicing, and pivot tables, by our head of research, Meredith Durkin Wolfe, who has steered the Survey analysis from soup to nuts.

The results of these analyses will roll out over the course of the week.

• On Monday, we focus on the C-suite with an analysis of the executives’ views, homing in on questions such as: What makes a good CEO? What qualities are you seeking in a candidate for your management team? And what traits would rule them out?

In addition, we present a data analysis on women CEOs, finding over 400 female-led companies, a number far higher than expected among people we interviewed, including some of the women themselves. We analyze the career paths these women took to the top, asking which routes and which organizations have been the most fertile ground?

• On Tuesday, Senior Editor Karen Tkach Tuzman and I look at the rising leaders, the class of employees who say they are hoping to make it to the C-suite. Here, we ask what is the attraction of the C-suite? And what are the principal bottlenecks in getting there?

We supplement this with perspectives from VCs who are engaged in finding rising leaders to helm their newcos. Our finance analyst Stephen Hansen talks to VCs about strategies they are taking to support first-time CEOs and set them up for success.

Hansen also tackles the always interesting topic of CEO salaries. I’ll leave that story to speak for itself.

• On Wednesday, we capture the views of employees who say they are “doing the heavy lifting, learning and working their way up.” Tkach Tuzman, who spends much of her time identifying white space, and talking to the people making it happen, has interviewed over 45 “heavy lifters” and first-time jobseekers. In the heavy lifter analysis, she and I examine how the employee base rates their management performance, and ask how many are looking to leave their job, and what would make them stay or go?

Executive Director Lauren Martz provides an analysis of how employees rate their organizations’ efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion, asking to what degree their initiatives are making a difference.

• We turn to first-time jobseekers on Thursday, with Tkach Tuzman looking at the pipeline into biopharma, and asking how people starting their careers view the industry, and what the hurdles are for them in finding the right job.

In one of our major pieces, Washington Editor Steve Usdin analyzes the challenge of staffing regulatory agencies for the next generation. He looks into what FDA, EMA and other agencies must do to bring in talent at the earliest stage of the pipeline, and then grow and retain it. In an accompanying piece, Usdin describes the challenges regulatory agencies face in low- and middle-income countries and gives examples of how some are meeting them

• On Friday, Executive Editor Selina Koch and I present the Back to School essay, painting a vision of the biotech leaders of the future, with an overarching message on how industry executives should be guiding their companies now and building the tracks for the next generation.

Each day’s analysis is complemented by a data deck with survey results for that segment, by Wolfe and Koch.

And our hardy host of BioCentury This Week Executive Editor Jeff Cranmer brings you a special daily podcast, discussing the stories of the day with BioCentury editors.