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Why Hiring an Interim Executive Could Transform Your Life Science Business

The interim executive is a relatively new business resource. It’s a role that is commonly associated with troubleshooting. When a business is facing crisis, chaos or the existential need for urgent change, organisations in both the public and private sector are increasingly turning to interim executives for rescue. This is an entirely legitimate strategy. If your existing executive team has presided over the mess, it makes sense to find someone untainted to lead the clearing-up process.

However, this is to limit the potential benefits of bringing in a gamechanger. An interim executive can contribute a great deal more than simply short-term solutions until normal business can resume.

Businesses in the life sciences and biotech industries face unique difficulties arising from the extended timescales that apply to the development of new drugs, equipment and procedures. Venture capital is not easy to secure in any industry, but here the need for longer-term funding of a life science startup or biotech scaleup company increases the need for credible reassurance that the investment remains safe. Because the research, development and clinical trials process makes the journey to market much longer than in the average consumer sector, there are inevitably more chances of a ground-breaking innovation or even an entire business getting derailed.

If you hire an interim executive for short-term problem-solving, it makes sound business sense to take advantage of their long-term potential. Instead of just a stop-gap solution, this kind of emergency appointment can play a major role in providing businesses and other organisations with the talent they need to increase their competitiveness and adapt to industry upheaval. This is just as valid for a startup or scaleup as it is for a well-established company. Size and longevity don’t guarantee immunity from market turmoil, industry disruption and financial straits.

An interim executive brings a wealth of industry knowledge and, importantly, fresh experience, which enables them to identify problems early and find creative solutions to keep operations on track. Often the difficulties faced by life sciences companies arise from cashflow or investment shortfalls. Imagine a business that has received substantial venture capital but urgently needs to secure extra funding. The existing investors are reluctant to put more cash into the business, fearful of throwing good money after what they perceive as bad. You know that with extra finance, you can bridge the gap, but you don’t know how to find it. An interim executive with skills and contacts could leverage alternative funding sources such as licensing agreements and solve your funding problems at a stroke.

Often difficulties are related only indirectly to funding. Project development may have sufficient financial support, but if the technical and scientific teams tasked with driving it through are working inefficiently, then the fresh pair of eyes of someone who devises alternative solutions can reorganise the operation and steer it to a successful outcome.

These are far more than temporary fixes. They can make the difference between your business folding and a secure, successful future. In that sense, bringing in outside expertise becomes a game-changing exercise. Interim executives think strategically but are also prepared to take swift, radical decisions, which are qualities essential for long-term growth.

During the Covid pandemic, trials of products unrelated to the virus came to a standstill for 18 months. We’re now seeing a return to pre-Covid levels of activity, with record investment in the life sciences and biotech. As in many industries, this is at risk of being hampered by well-documented skills shortages. Interim executives and specialists can provide precisely those skills which are desperately needed.

Executive search firms are commonly engaged to source talent for clinical trial work and other developmental roles, but in our experience, it is more effective to assemble a team of interims selected for their ability to work together. They fit seamlessly into a business and give it the shot in the arm it needs.

It’s important not to be misled by the term ‘interim’. Even if the executive you appoint is on a fixed-term contract, their influence can extend much further than your present difficulties. They have the transformational skills and knowledge to help you devise a strategy for the future, not only at the operational level but also among management. Succession planning is often overlooked in the heat of the moment when survival may be your biggest priority. You need to keep your eyes on what comes next and succession planning should be an ongoing exercise. A rolling process of talent reviews enables you to promote or appoint the best talent into important leadership positions whenever the need arises.

Successful C-Suite handovers are notoriously difficult to achieve. Even the best planning can’t be relied on to deliver ideal results. There simply may not be qualified successors lined up. In that situation, interim executives can step in to fill the gap. Once again, trouble-shooters become game-changers. The best interims are motivated by a vision of leaving a business in better condition than when they joined it. They are prepared to take a scorched-earth approach, scrapping under-performing products, reviewing research and development objectives and progress, improving corporate governance and optimising compliance. In life sciences and biotech businesses, there is a constant dichotomy between the time needed to take products to market and the time that commercial pressures allow. Interim executives play a major part in resolving these conflicting demands.

What will it cost? Hiring additional executives on a permanent basis is likely to hit your budget, but the beauty of the interim alternative is that it gives you certainty. Early stage European biotech companies are particularly vulnerable financially, but they can accurately cost the use of an interim executive against overall project budgets. What intermins can achieve in six months or a year will usually repay the extra expense through the positive influence they bring, ensuring security and growth far into the future.

Not sure where to start on attracting excellent candidates for your organisation? We have more than 16 years of expertise in life sciences recruitment. Please book a consultation with us today for expert advice on getting the talent you need.

If you found this insight interesting, we recommend reading Life Sciences Exclusive Recruitment Partner (

ScaleX Consulting offer trusted business consulting and recruitment services to life sciences and biotech companies, ready to take the next step in their journey, particularly with life science recruitment, sales and marketing.