Manufacturing in the Spotlight

Specialist Search Expertise


Our significant expertise in the manufacturing field has been developed over many years working globally on key assignments in pharmaceutical, biotech, CMO, and medical device manufacturing.

Pill bottle with pillsGraham Johnson, Executive Vice President, exemplifies the sort of individual talent that Coulter Partners can call upon in this area:

Graham brings a wealth of specialist expertise gained executing a large number of search assignments in the manufacturing space worldwide. These have encompassed a broad spectrum of functional areas including site head, production, engineering, quality & supply chain. With his own international industry background and his extensive chemical engineering knowledge, Graham really understands clients’ manufacturing needs and knows the right questions to ask. Beginning with a very tight brief at the start, he maintains strong communication with clients throughout, manages expectations in terms of candidate generation carefully and ensures all stakeholders are fully aligned. He has a great deal of credibility with clients because they trust that he knows what to look for.

Perspectives on Search Criteria

We asked Graham what he felt were the top priorities for manufacturing searches:

Graham: “Critically the Site Head usually reports to a regional or global head of operations; and several other functions on the site, for example quality & HSE, also often have functional reporting to regional or global organisations. Most site based roles consequently require, first and foremost, a strong leadership capability coupled with a sound technical knowledge of product and/or process. Hence, many of these positions are filled by engineers, chemists, pharmacists and so on.

For pharma manufacturing in general, a sound knowledge of cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) is normally required, as well as direct experience with FDA / EMA site inspections.”

So quality leadership skills are of utmost importance and clients are looking for highly credible, competent leaders with the gravitas to operate at all levels. Strong business acumen and the ability to interact well with clients and help “sell” services are also in great demand.

Change Management Skills

Experienced Change Agents and talented leaders are also in top demand in a sector where there are so many advances in very complex manufacturing processes, a great deal of merger and acquisition activity and sites being sold, closed or recommissioned. Clients are often looking for a site leader for a sizeable operation, leading head counts of 500 + people. It is essential to find talented leaders who not only have strong leadership ability but have also managed change and successfully driven significant transformation programmes. Changing an embedded site culture may be the first challenge that they will face and the right leadership style and gravitas can be a critical factor. In addition to pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturing, we are heavily involved in biological process production and manufacturing which is incredibly technical and highly complex.

Principal, Emma Hiom explains, “In terms of change, it’s usually more about leadership than the technical expertise component. For example, we often work with significant and highly specialised biologicals manufacturing sites around the world seeking a change in leadership and/or direction and involved in some significant transformation projects. Being scientifically-driven, there usually already exists a wealth of technical expertise on site but not the senior leadership talent or style required to transform and progress the operation forwards. With deep knowledge of the site and its mission, it’s vital to find absolutely the right fit, often necessitating relocating the right person and attracting passive candidates to the brief.”

Emma adds, “Leveraging from successful searches we have undertaken in Executive Industrial Operations leadership, our up to date market knowledge and relationships with key personnel within the field, we use extensive research and networks around the world in order to identify and engage the most suitable candidates. These are assessed not only by their career profiles but also by their change and leadership achievements, competencies and professional aspirations to ensure the best fit for our clients.”

In the US, Senior Associate, David Kassel adds his perspective:

Finding a VP of Manufacturing & Operations for one of the world leaders in infection control was perhaps on the periphery of healthcare manufacturing as we know it, developing innovative applications for hygiene wipes, but the search was typical of the many and varied challenges we are facing in this space. We were delighted to achieve a successful resolution and bring in truly seasoned leadership to this particular client. The importance of large team management experience is so often a critical factor and it is rewarding that we are gaining repeat business in this area, where we are building such deep knowledge and connections – for example with a recent site head appointment on the East Coast.

We always work from an approved job description.  That being said, we also explore the flexibility with our clients re: those candidates who are perhaps just below or in some cases, a bit above where the role sits within the organization.  Our recruiters are skilled at seeing the potential in certain individuals for whom the opportunity would be a step up career-wise.  Understanding the hiring team’s tolerance for this type of person and working from a place of mutual trust, enables us to make these decisions when we come across them. 

By the same token, we may discover a person who seems too senior for a particular role.  Here, we would typically approach them as a potential source for networking.  There are times when the person expresses interest in the job being discussed which prompts us as industry experts to probe why she or he would consider this level position.  It may be that the person is overseeing multiple sites and is happier being hands on with one or two facilities, or some other reason that they can share with us.  In both cases, we do not close the door on anyone prior to probing what their motivations are and judging whether or not they can get the job done, and enjoy doing so.”

Contract Manufacturing Growth

The pharmaceutical industry makes extensive use of CMOs (contract manufacturing organisations), due to capacity reasons as well as specialised manufacturing requirements. Graham Johnson explains,

In recent years, the pharma majors have closed many of their own production sites as part of an internal consolidation, often selling the sites to the CMOs and guaranteeing certain product offtake to make the sale more palatable. Hence, the CMOs have increased capacity, often specialising in certain chemical or biological processes. Indeed, since the CMOs do not have IP on the product, their main differentiation and know-how comes from the production process and the ability to produce complex products efficiently and cost-effectively.”

He cites the following example: “A top 5 pharma company has 19 in-house production sites covering drug substance (small and large molecules), drug product and packaging, and makes use of over 200 CMOs worldwide.”

Manufacturing is seeing huge transition and growth owing to the shifting landscape in big pharma especially in the generic space. Smaller niche players like G&W Labs are tripling in size by picking up sites as a result of the divesture from Allergan.

Coulter Partners’ recent track record of search successes in Manufacturing and Contract Manufacturing includes roles spanning:

Head of Site, US, CMO organization

Chief Manufacturing Officer, Europe, Biopharma

Regional Head of Operations, Global, CMO organization

VP Manufacturing and Operations, US, Medical Devices

Head of Manufacturing, Europe & South America, Medical Devices

Director of Cell Culture Development, Global search, Pharma

Site Director, Mammalian Cell Culture, US, CMO organization

Senior Director, Global Quality Assurance, Ireland, Biopharma

VP Global Manufacturing, Ireland, Biopharma

Director API Manufacturing, Ireland, Biopharma

Site Director, UK, CMO

Executive Director, International Manufacturing, Ireland, Biopharma

Managing Engineer, Global Process and Equipment Development, Specials & Biosimilars, CMO, India

VP Production US, Pharma

VP Manufacturing, Anti-Infectives CMO

Coulter Partners’ keen scientific and industry understanding is founded on a breadth of talent among consultants and researchers that includes PhDs, MBAs, MDs, backgrounds in Manufacturing, Business Psychology and Human Resource Management, as well as proficiency in dozens of languages. Add to this the rich Life Sciences industry experience of many individuals and Coulter Partners is in a prime position to respond effectively to the challenges of search in many specialist fields.

The future of manufacturing is being shaped by multiple, complex factors and the profile of the most successful and inspirational leaders is changing all the time. Having worked on over 15 recent mandates within manufacturing and contract manufacturing, Coulter Partners understands this.  Our goal is to work in partnership with clients to appoint world-class leadership in this important functional area of our industry during this fascinating transition period. And so continue to make a positive impact on advances in Life Science.