Insight: Life Science in The Day of a Senior Associate


Life Science in the Day of….

Zubair Yusuf, Senior Associate

aa_lm_zyOn a week-to-week basis, Zubair can be working on early stage assignments one day and be interviewing candidates the next. Factors such as whether a project is seeking a rare skill set in a highly competitive market, for a well-funded or high risk client, determine the difficulty and pace of a search. It may be international, location- or language-specific and may target a highly visible or ‘hidden’ profile. Here, he talks about the key aspects of his work:

Research A current focal area for me right now is immuno-oncology. The industry moves in waves, and this area is seen as a new frontier within cancer therapy. In the past year, I’ve worked on six searches for roles in immuno-oncology, from SVP Research to VP Regulatory Affairs. We’ve seen great interest and excitement in the cancer immunotherapy space, with increased investment by large pharma, biotech and VC funds. The last year has also seen the creation of a number of biotechs around highly innovative research from globally renowned academic centres. In particular, cellular immunotherapies are the modalities of focus, which, along with CRISPR and gene editing technology, I see as part of the trend towards personalised medicine. I do question, however, whether it’s a sustainable, affordable way of treating major populations. And in a field that needs highly specific expertise, there is definitely a shortage of experts, especially because the belief in the immune system as the key tool in cancer treatment has only emerged quite recently. Drawing on my considerable experience within R&D and having had the opportunity to work on multiple IO assignments, I have significant insight into the best search methodology and how this needs to be tailored for each client.   We have to thoroughly search the market for talent, but this challenge excites me.

Strategy A project starts with a very detailed briefing with all relevant stakeholders and then a kick-off meeting between researchers, consultants and the project co-ordinator, during which we set strategy, resources and tools. I’ll then draw up a plan, with a great deal of input from senior experienced colleagues, leading towards our ultimate goal: to help the client make the right choice of a qualified, motivated candidate that meets the chemistry of the organisation professionally and personally. This planning phase gives us a clear outline of the relevant companies and individuals we should target, both as candidates and as ‘KOLs’ for the search.

Focus It’s crucial that we focus not only on qualifications and experience, but also on personality and cultural fit. It’s part of Coulter Partners’ search DNA not only to understand the client’s aims and goals but to look extensively at the culture of the organisation and what is to be matched or changed. We place emphasis on a potential candidate’s career aspirations – whether they want to work at a big pharma, continue as leader of a big team or branch out into smaller biotech – trying to match them up with the goals of the client. This allows us to further screen candidates so that a placed candidate will be successful in the long term, not just the short.

zy_windowInsight We’re very highly networked with the scientific community globally and when we meet clients, we can give them accurate insights into the current marketplace: what are the hot areas, what are the trends, the financing climate in North America and Europe, what’s happening with M&A, etc. Our global network has been built on the principle that every conversation we have externally is a meaningful conversation, and every relationship is approached in a responsible and respectful manner. Opening new offices across Europe and the USA has given us access to different perspectives within executive search and an insight into cultural differences. As part of a sizeable international team, I can reach out to experts globally and have conversations where I’m really drilling down into what the market looks like. I can pick up the phone and learn – and share opinion.

Experience I’m continually learning about new therapy areas, but experience built over the years working with highly knowledgeable colleagues means that I can get a strong sense straight away, or pretty quickly, of how a search is going to work, even whilst I’m being briefed. I can also strategize with a client on the spot and am able to advise them when they need to broaden their scope, all of which adds to the client’s confidence in our market knowledge. We have scientists and PhDs in the team who can help with the finer details of science and R&D but there’s also a really good mixture of individuals, both with and without science backgrounds. A good deal of X-ray vision and industry knowledge is definitely gained in the workplace.

People-centred Coulter Partners has a strong people-centred approach, both externally and internally. We know the importance of communicating and speaking to a broad range of people when it comes to assignments but also recognise the importance of training and communication between Coulter Partners team members. A new part of my role is working together with Managing Partner, Sharon Shields, to form expert project teams, often internationally, that can deliver exceptional results. To do this effectively I’ve had to deepen my understanding of the bigger picture – client personalities and working styles, our own workload, pipeline and capacity. I’m also very involved in mentoring and spend some of my day asking individuals how they’re doing and giving advice either broadly or on a particular project.

Team work I really enjoy how team work underpins everything at Coulter Partners.  Our CEO started the business with a conviction that removing barriers to sharing knowledge productively was the key to success. She has been proven right. Everyone works together and each of us is focused on the overall goals of the organisation. The project co-ordinators are the backbone of the project, the researchers are there to identify and scope talent and the consultants are there to guide through the research. So every single person on the team is vital for the success of the project. That’s what I love about my chosen career!