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The Big Pharma Beasts Are Getting Smaller

January 31, 2017

by admin


There are few industries where innovation plays such a crucial role in their future than the pharmaceutical industry, and there is nothing that kills innovation quicker than corporate bureaucracy.   For years, Big Pharma has managed to cultivate the innovative juices in-house, but with the explosion in agile start-ups across all industry segments, the life sciences industry is definitely no exception.


This is not to say that the writing is on the wall for the global players – far from it. They have the financial muscle to continue their dominant role in the market, they simply don’t have it entirely their own way anymore. My last article described how top performers were leaving for riskier biotech start-ups, and it seems that the trend is continuing into 2017.



For a start, even stalwarts of the industry such as Novo Nordisk and Boehringer Ingelheim, where historically job security was assured, have been trimming down their operations in 2016.  The companies have decided they cannot sustain R&D headcount with forecast revenues. All big pharma have to get fitter to compete with the increasingly fragmented but aggressive competition, and the knock-on effect means that job security for their employees isn’t quite what it was.


However, I would say that there is an upside that outweighs the potential threat. The amount of new entrants in various areas of the market means that while a CV might contain more companies, it also contains a far richer breadth of experience. When people move companies, they meet new minds, new ways of doing things and entirely new challenges. Science moves forward when it faces new challenges, and there is no better place for a scientific mind than where it hasn’t been before.


Spending an entire career at one company might seem appealing, but the reality is that people probably won’t reach their potential. Working in a single environment is too stifling. So, as we are clearly seeing, candidates are starting to move roles more often. The stigma of moving to a “lesser name” is disappearing and it is very much about the work that they are doing rather than the name on the business card. That is what will add the most value to their future career.



Having said this, funding has lately become trickier to secure for start-ups and their mushroom-like spread has significantly slowed down. Those with the great ideas and great people will continue to enjoy their agile first-mover advantages, but there may well be a few outfits which fare less well. I know that I would say this, but the primarily reason for their failure will be that they didn’t bring the right people on board at the right time. In a nutshell, they didn’t work with the right recruiter!


Frivolity aside, the current developments in the pharmaceutical HR space are fascinating to witness. People are seeing the benefits of a portfolio of experiences, even to the point that an interim career is starting to become a real option for many. The Big Pharma beasts are indeed getting leaner, potential options for other employers are growing, and pharma professionals no longer see leaving (maybe even mid-project) as a failure.


They see it as an opportunity.

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