Hiring and building your brand – two success factors for biotechs expanding to Europe

Oliver Schiltz shares insights on the recruiting process, a key success factor for U.S. biotech companies expanding to Europe. He also addresses the importance of building a strong brand for success in hiring talent and commercialization of products.

Biotech companies headquartered in U.S. life sciences hubs (i.e., Greater Boston area, San Francisco, San Diego, New York/Tri-State area), may have a strong brand awareness in the local market, however, are relatively unknown in Europe. Increasing overseas publicity prior to and during recruitment is a necessary yet often underestimated effort by U.S. companies undergoing expansion and seeking to source the best talent from established biotech or big pharma companies in Europe.

You need a strong brand ambassador in Europe: This starts with partnering with a well-researched, well-networked, credentialed search firm team to attract the best talent. You need a partner as your brand ambassador, differentiating you from other competitors in the market. This brand leadership during the European build-out continues with a strong Head of Europe/International in place and with the EU leadership team.

You need unique selling points as a biotech beyond being ‘innovative:’ It is not enough nowadays to stand behind a very innovative product pipeline. There are approximately 30+ U.S. biotech companies building a European hub during any given financial year, each competing with similar tag lines about innovation and focus. Further differentiation is key to attract the relative top leaders, especially as it relates to culture of your organization.

Hiring process: key takeaways

Levelling of the positions: 
Appropriate and competitive levelling of the critical hires during a European build-out will allow your biotech to attract top talent in a competitive European market. For example, it is ideal if the Head of Europe/Head of International is hired at SVP level, such that top functional talent can be attracted in at the VP level.

Advantage of an experienced and diverse team: 
As many U.S. biotech companies phase their European build-out (waves of hiring), it is important that first hires are agile and experienced enough to take on multiple responsibilities initially in an entrepreneurial environment. U.S. biotech companies that hire experienced talent at the more senior level often see quicker results.

Duration of recruitment process: 
U.S. biotech companies may allocate an average of six months from entering an engagement with an executive search firm to officially onboard a new candidate. Extenuating circumstances (e.g., unpredictable market dynamics, or a long notice period of the chosen candidate) might result in a longer duration (e.g., ~9 months-1 year) from search start date to candidate start date.

A proper onboarding process that includes sending European hires for 2-3 weeks to visit the U.S. HQ and integrate with colleagues will dramatically enhance the future cross-cultural relations and intercontinental alignment.

Why expand to Europe? 

Strengthen your U.S. HQ: 
U.S. biotech companies that build a hub outside of the U.S. can differentiate themselves from competitors since they are now an international versus a national company.

Build a diverse culture:  
Some U.S. biotech companies hesitate to build in Europe as they feel that their unique entrepreneurship culture could be compromised as the organization grows larger and takes on an international cultural element. In discussions with several U.S. biotechs such as Alnylam, Seattle Genetics, and Tesaro, several leaders attested to the contrary: that the international footprint only enriched the company culture.

Become an attractive target for acquisition:
When you build and launch successfully in Europe, you build a multi-product, multi-national company and your international business can become an attractive target for acquisition at a premium

U.S. biotech companies with international business acquired at a premium  

U.S. biotech companies with international business

About the author

Oliver Schiltz is Managing Partner, Switzerland and Global Co-Lead Biotechnology at Heidrick & Struggles, an international executive search firm.

This article is a summary of a presentation given at the virtual roundtable “Avoiding pitfalls of U.S. biotech companies coming to Europe” co-hosted on January 27, 2021, by Heidrick & Struggles and Greater Zurich Area Ltd (GZA).

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