A couple of weeks ago, when we were about to usher out yesterday‘s football dynasty and welcome tomorrow‘s, my firm had a mountain retreat. During one of our sessions, our marketing director asked me to share the type of advice I give to a small-cap CEO, particularly one in specialty pharma.
I put the request on hold while I thought about my response. It should be easy for me to answer, since I spend a large portion of my day working with executives and C-suite leaders who are either personally in transition or whose companies are. (What was tough at that moment was convincing myself to stop daydreaming about how the Eagles would beat the Patriots.) Most of the advice I give comes about naturally from watching great leaders at work in life sciences. Our Marketing Director was asking me to share those observations.
That made me think of several outstanding leaders, like Dr. Cameron Durrant at Humanigen, Kurt Graves at Intarcia, and Sergio Traversa at Relmada Therapeutics -- watching their company’s progress can be both exciting and daunting (if you’re not aware of them, please look them up). Over the course of 30+ years, I’ve learned so much from following and connecting with the top leaders in life sciences that I can share what I see as best practices and how these coalesce to build great small-cap life sciences-company leaders.
The secret to their success? It starts with the following 10 things that every small-cap CEO should be doing.
1. Invest time to consider every employee.
What are you doing for them? Why would they stay? Demonstrate your emotional investment in your staff and include appropriate, non-gratuitous rewards and recognition. This is part of building a strong employer value proposition and improving candidate care, which will help you retain your top talent and ensure your company continues to attract its next great leaders, too.
2. Hold board directors accountable to contribute.
What is each director doing to be the best advisor and guide? Board directors should contribute diversity in thought, voice and experience. Ensure you know exactly what you’re getting from yours. If the contributions aren’t living up to your expectations, is it time to consider a replacement?
3. Have a reason to communicate weekly with non-executive directors on your board.
Transparent, proactive communications will help ensure they’re contributing to your mission, while their independence is invaluable for helping you make informed decisions.
4. Go beyond a launch timeline when you discuss your company's vision.
Along with discussing the evolution of your employees, management, and development program, include the Board of Directors. Small-cap life sciences companies evolve through mini-phases of growth and development. The investor-as-Director model can outgrow its usefulness as a company approaches Phase 3, and prepares to become a commercial organization.
5. Go beyond simply listening to my firm talk about candidate care.
Implement a candidate care program and walk the talk. Get to know today’s small-cap leaders like Cameron, Sergio and Kurt, whom I mentioned above, and note how they treat both employees and interviewees like family. Candidate care and an employer value proposition are often considered soft issues; however they are integral to every company’s future success, especially in the Internet age. Let me know how this works for you -- I love hearing success stories!
6. Have relationships with specialists in retained search.
Don’t wait until a search is needed to start looking for the right team to find top candidates. Meet with firms that specialize in your industry, talk to references and stay in touch. If you’re ever going to consider retained search for a management role, then consider it for your Chief Medical Officer and Head of Development. Everyone gains when this role is filled through the lens of competitive assessment vs. who you happen to know.
7. Schedule weekly, informal, offsite meetings with your head of development.
Make it a lunch and discuss progress. I share this advice because I’ve seen too many good companies exit early and for the wrong reason and number.
8. Collect insights and measure the effectiveness of your employer-branding and candidate-care efforts.
Assign a leader to review your progress and keep the programs on track and improving. Your goal should be to differentiate your brand through every interaction you have with candidates and employees. While success may be difficult to measure, you can obtain insight by surveying employees and candidates. Also monitor social media channels.
9. When you’re adding to the team, invest time to review every role through the lens of a potential hire.
Where does each role lead? How does each role support the business mission? Ask why someone would join the company through each role.
10. Make sure your company is represented at key industry events and, when speaking, remember to thank your employees.
They’re the heart and soul of your company. Reminding them that they’re valued and ensuring their contributions are noticed can do wonders for business growth, too.
Many good leaders don’t become great leaders until they’re matched with the right compound and/or technology. I’ve spent my entire career ensuring great talent finds the right place to have an impact. It’s tiring and hard work yet it’s also incredibly rewarding because we get to go “behind the curtain” and work with very talented people. I hope some of the lessons and best practices I’ve observed over the past 30 years can also help you.