This month sees Haybury celebrate 15 years of Life Sciences, Executive and Interim Search. We felt the anniversary provided an ideal chance to sit down over Zoom with Steve Kerassitis, Francesca Lidbetter and Michelle Jackson to reflect on how the Life Sciences sector has evolved over the last decade-and-a-half.


Hi everyone, thanks for taking the time to speak to us and congratulations on Haybury’s anniversary.

Steve: Thanks very much. I must say, it certainly doesn’t feel like 15 years – although when I consider how the life sciences sector has changed since Haybury began, I get a sense of the evolution we’ve seen.

Francesca: I do feel as though we have grown alongside the industry over the period. We should be very proud of our amazing life sciences industry, which has become one of the most significant pillars of the UK economy, and consistently ranks near the top of international cluster listings.


So, what do you consider to be the major industry changes over the timeframe?

Steve: The early years of the 21st century saw a number of memorable advances – from work in antibody therapies and regenerative medicine to the advance of robotic surgery technologies. A few months after the company was founded, for example, we saw the last chromosome sequenced in the Human Genome Project – a major milestone in the march towards personalised medicine. Further biotechnology research and development has since led to the current generation of promising new cell and gene therapies.

Also, at that time, the sector was starting to harness the benefits of widespread technological convergence from several other disciplines and industries: from big data and analytics to advances in chemistry, engineering, physics and material sciences.

This was one of the things which helped trigger a diversification in the makeup of the industry. These days we are just as likely to be placing candidates with a dynamic entrepreneurial specialist firm, as with a classic pharma giant.

Michelle: Since those early days we’ve also seen how digitalisation has led further fundamental healthcare changes. New technologies and innovations have enabled pharmaceutical companies to improve medicine development and patient care.

Connected medical and wearable devices now allow medical professionals and end users to benefit from real-time monitoring of medication efficacy and patient condition – significantly improving long-term health outcomes.

Francesca: Another development over the last decade or so has been the growth of the medical affairs function within the industry. It was originally introduced to help bridge gaps between the clinical development and sales and marketing teams. Since then, it has become popular across all pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies who bring their own products to market.

Of course, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has also inspired further – and perhaps even more profound – change. Chief amongst them is the way the scientific community has developed, approved and produced new vaccines and therapeutics at a rate never seen before. It’s important to recognise this monumental and unprecedented achievement.


How else did the pandemic impact the industry?

Michelle: The pandemic brought multiple other challenges for our pharmaceutical and biotechnology clients, as it did for companies across every industry. The first lockdown of 2020, and the accompanying move to home working, was initially toughest on those requiring an on-site presence. Some firms already offered home working when the first lockdown was announced, and so were able to maintain operations more easily.

Organisations needed to immediately be more flexible, and we saw a huge rise in the demand for interim consultants who could deliver high level results, with specialist knowledge, at short notice for global clients.

In addition, those clients with a more traditional on-site staff footprint also recognised the efficiency and wellbeing advantages of flexible and home-based working, so I expect them to retain more of a blend of options as global lockdowns ease.

Steve: In addition, we also saw supply chain challenges as the pandemic revealed previously hidden weak points, as well as delays to clinical trials through restricted patient and hospital access. From the executive search perspective, regional and national restrictions made candidate relocation discussions – an important aspect of our work – ever more important. We’ve delivered extra support to clients and candidates over the past year to help maintain the flow of global talent and opportunities.

However, there have also been positives to note amidst the adversity. For starters, it’s been inspiring to see the resilience and resourcefulness across the industry as clients and candidates have risen to the challenges of the pandemic. Virtual interviews and assessments are now fully embedded, as are remote onboarding processes.

Francesca: What’s more, some of these seemingly modest adaptations will bring enduring benefits. We’ve spoken about the advantages of home working as one example. Another can be observed as a by-product of the move to video calls.

Much of the work we undertake for both clients and candidates was traditionally undertaken through phone conversations, and we were able to build strong and longstanding relationships as a result. Video calls have actually enhanced our ability to deepen these connections and mutual understanding, face-to-face.

In addition, aside from the vaccination development heroics of the scientific community I’ve already mentioned, I’ve also witnessed a humbling sense of determination, collaboration and purpose across the sector in these difficult times.

The events of recent months have underlined how this industry transforms lives across the world every day – and allows candidates with a wide range of talents and skill sets to make a positive impact through their careers.


Are client requirements different now, compared with when Haybury first started out?

Steve: Yes, in some respects they certainly are. For example, there’s a real demand for candidates with strong communication and collaboration ability nowadays.

This has been driven, in part, by a reduction in industry silos and shift in focus to matrix-based, cross-functional approaches. As a result, our clients typically seek practical and agile candidates who can work strategically with other departments and build stakeholder relationships.

In addition, the candidates we now place for managerial roles must be able to lead inclusively and inspire through a transparent and empowering approach, replacing outdated hierarchical models still present in the early 2000s.

Michelle: Another development has been an increased demand for candidates with niche expertise, as well as professionals who can navigate emerging development roadmaps. Life science companies are looking for people who can support the creation of disruptive technologies, and pre-approval therapeutics.

A further example of this is medical doctors with board certification, particularly in the growing areas of oncology and immunology therapies – with fierce competition for these candidates resulting in salary inflation.

As a result, some life science companies have expanded the geographical reach of their talent searches, beyond their traditional territories, as well as increasing the recruitment of PhD-level candidates.

The growing prevalence of information technology and digitisation in the sector has led to many clients establishing new digital innovation functions and hiring professionals to ensure they stay ahead of the technological curve.


What about changes to diversity and inclusivity attitudes?

Francesca: The major change from 2006 to now is that all organisations are much more aware of the value of diversity and inclusivity. This awakening was underway when Haybury began, and it remains an important industry topic – particularly when it comes to sourcing talent.

We support many clients for whom diversity and inclusion is a key priority in the staffing process. Our hiring strategies help achieve a fair and positive manifestation to secure the best talent from a diverse range of backgrounds.

As discipline experts, we guide our clients on the external market conditions and help them define specific skill set requirements. This requires an understanding of the exact technical and competency requirements for each role, and then helping our clients challenge any possible affinity or unconscious bias.

When it comes to the Haybury team today, I’m proud to say that 85% of our senior leadership are female, and several of whom have won business awards. Also, a quarter of our team identifies as LGBTQ+ and we have team members representing nine different nationalities and four continents.

Michelle: We also advise clients on their profile screening policies, to ensure that opportunities to improve diversity are optimised. This can sometimes be overlooked by companies – particularly in a time-pressured environment. Screening should only occur in respect to technical skillset and relevant competency.

In addition, our model secures dedicated resources and time for each search, including international language speakers to ensure we can engage properly with the candidate market. We’re focused on ensuring that our clients make hires based on capability, rather than inconsistent or subjective criteria.


How about Haybury? Can you share a little around how the company has evolved, as well?

Steve: Sure, here’s a quick potted history. We were founded in 2006 as Stelfox and spent the first few years of our existence establishing a strong UK presence. This achieved, in 2009 we undertook our first European projects, in 2010 our first assignments in Asia and in 2014 we began working on projects in Africa.

It was around this time that we moved into larger UK premises to accommodate our organic growth up to that point, and in 2016 we won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of our international trade achievements. 

Later that year we undertook a successful MBO of the company and launched a subsequent brand review. As a result, we changed our name to Haybury and realigned our brand more closely with the ambition of the company.

We opened our first international office in Switzerland in 2017, and then won another Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2019 – again for international trade success.

Despite the pandemic the team has worked tirelessly to maintain our position, and I’m proud to say that we were able to open two more locations (Netherlands and Germany) in 2020 and recently launched a Spanish office in 2021.


Looking ahead, what excites you about the future for the industry over the next few years?

Francesca: You can point to several inspiring technological developments, many which predate Covid. From the growing integration of artificial intelligence (AI), with its seemingly boundless potential, to increasingly sophisticated and connected medical devices, and of course continued advances in personalised medicine – to name just a few.

Also, the way the industry responded to the Covid-19 pandemic is a cause for optimism in itself. Accelerating drug and vaccine development schedules, with all the associated advances in manufacturing, testing, logistics, supply and trials. Out of extreme necessity, much knowledge has been gained in a short space of time across all these areas, which will have a lasting, positive and global legacy.

Michelle: Similarly, the teamwork and collaboration discovered between previously competitive companies in the fight against Covid has, I believe, sown positive seeds for the future. I expect the bonds formed to develop as the immediate threat of the pandemic subsides and drive further breakthroughs to benefit the whole of the sector and beyond. Data-sharing initiatives like ELIXIR (the European life-sciences Infrastructure for biological Information) will also continue to play an important role here.

From a staffing perspective, we are excited about how the shift towards home working and flexibility will increase the talent pool for our clients. Companies can see that so many roles can now have a virtual location, rather than a traditional office-base. It’s clear to see how this immediately removes proximity barriers to finding better, and more diverse, talent.

Steve: All of this points to a positive next 15 years for the sector. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all the organisations and professionals that we’ve worked with over the last decade-and-a-half – as well as the exceptional Haybury team, both past and present. We value your ongoing trust and look forward to ever-stronger future partnerships.