The emergence of HealthTech as a sector has thrown up a host of issues for companies building their senior team.  A significant gap has already developed on boards between those from traditional life sciences and those from the emerging tech market.  In this article we will examine some of the potentially troublesome areas and how to avoid them.

Be aware of the differences between the tech kids and the scientists 

Much like the original ‘odd couple’ HealthTech is based on a marriage of strange convenience. Traditional life scientists   have been courted by hot young things from Silicon Valley and Tech Roundabout.  They have created an unusual yet somehow predictable partnership which has developed into a unique business and product set. An awareness of how this will play out amongst the board dynamics of your own company is crucial.

It is imperative when looking to fill senior positions that companies are mindful of the differences between the two sides of the industry.  This diversity, when properly nurtured, can be harvested to truly show off the best attributes of both sectors that complement each other.

There are three common causes of a culture gap which are relatively easy to overcome:

1. Provide real meaning and direction for the senior team

Many enter life sciences due to a sense of conviction and a desire to make further advancements in medical science – even if this does not happen overnight.  Tech industries tend to draw people who have been attracted by the prospect of a fast-paced, rapidly expanding environment.  The gap between the two mind-sets here is huge but not insurmountable;  when looking to appoint a candidate, it is essential that employers get a clear understanding of their motivations and expectations. This will allow you to build a sense of purpose that appeal to the diverse interests that the best senior teams possess  

2. Understand the difference between the scientific process and the business process 

The scientific process, developed over millennia of painstaking data gathering and testing does not always sit well with the instant gratification and ‘race to flip’ mind-set of the Tech community. This can lead to conflict when it comes to devising a business strategy or the direction in which it is heading in as well the approach taken to R&D. When looking to fill a position, make sure to communicate the strategy and timeline clearly, taking as long as possible to make sure that you explaining the need for testing phases

3. Embrace the age gap

The Tech industry has not become a driver of the world economy by adopting a closed mind-set. The openness to new ideas and ways of thinking has allowed the industry to revolutionise every other discipline.  While this disparity can often be a source of conflict, the most successful organisations are those that manage to harness it. Combining the enthusiasm and risk-taking nature of a Tech -minded employee with the experience and understanding of life science professionals can create mutually beneficial relationships through mentoring and reverse learning. Some of the most standout senior teams we have worked with have been those that managed to cast aside any distrust and managed to embrace new ways of thinking and working.

In an industry such as ours growing pains are inevitable but as more thought is given to harnessing diverse skill sets and we learn from those companies who have made it work, others are able to reap rewards. To achieve a cohesive senior team, the most important thing is maintaining a balance and giving the time to make relationships work. 

Here in the HealthTech team we are looking for those who want to be at the forefront of this brave new world to lead the businesses we work with into this exciting era. We’ll be exploring how boards in this newly emergent field can ensure that they build the strongest senior teams possible over the next few weeks and would love to hear your thoughts

Chris Hamilton

Chris is the Global Head of the Life Sciences Practice of Odgers Berndtson. He was previously a Partner in the Global Healthcare Practice where he led many of the most complex and challenging lead...



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