The Innovation Bonus of Hiring a Competitor


At my firm, we’ve known for a long time the value that experience earned at one pharmaceutical company can have on the next pharmaceutical company that hires an executive. It’s the primary reason why we keep such close tabs on the candidates we connect with and the ones we place. We try to maintain these relationships throughout entire careers and we note the significant experience gained along each career stop. I personally stay in touch with many former CEOs because they are good candidates for Board Director positions and they have more available time post-retirement.

Still, it’s interesting to see studies like this one published in the Harvard Business Review, that look at the impact executives who make an intra-industry move have on a company’s ability to innovate.

The study looked specifically at “high-ranking pharmaceutical executives,” who worked with R&D or business development -- two areas that crave innovation from their leaders. Researchers then tracked the movement of pharmaceutical executives, learned that it was common for executives to move from one competitor to another, and found that all of this movement between pharma companies was directly related to the likelihood a pharmaceutical company would form an R&D alliance with another pharmaceutical company, possibly because of simplified negotiations or the ease at which a former employee could spot opportunities for collaboration in both their old and new workplaces.

The benefits uncovered by these alliances and an executive’s ability to create them were real, too: 

We found that these mobile scientists not only led to more frequent alliances but also to more fruitful ones. The number of patents filed within three years, a common indicator of innovation performance, was nearly twice as high when compared to alliances not involving mobile scientists. And the odds that both firms collaborate again in the next three years was 25% higher compared to other alliances.” 

- Stephan Wagner and Martin Goosen, as reported in the Harvard Business review

Why a connected recruiter matters, too

This is one of the reasons why I stress the importance of also working with a search professional who knows the industry, including its key players and its up-and-comers. That industry-focused recruiter knows who can do the job and probably already understands the requirements of the role and the nuances of your company far better than a recruiter who works for 10 or 20 or countless industries would. I should know -- when I first started my career, I wasn’t focused in one industry. I worked wherever there was a need, like most junior recruiters do. But after realizing how much more reach, impact, and value I could have by specializing in one area -- the life sciences industry -- I made the decision to be a one-note player and started a company of experienced recruiters who are industry specialists. If you want to hire an executive who can move the needle in the life sciences industry, who won’t leave you with a lot of downtime while they learn the job, and who has all of the right connections already, you don’t call a we-help-all-industries recruiting firm. Instead, you call me.

BTW, I highly recommend you read the article. It’s a good one.

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