Dave Melville, the founder and CEO of The Bowdoin Group, has built his company into one of the largest executive search firms in Massachusetts. For 25 years, local VCs and PE firms, growth-stage startups, and large enterprises have relied on The Bowdoin Group to meet their executive search and hiring needs. Melville leads The Bowdoin Group’s BioPharma practice along with overseeing general strategic initiatives, and is involved as a key resource for the firm’s growing client base. His expertise includes executive and strategic searches within the Clinical/Scientific, Medical Affairs, Commercial roles, Finance and HR fields, in addition to large-scale commercial team expansions for pre-clinical trial BioPharma companies. Melville is also constantly in the community, speaking at the Boston BioTech Forum and as part of Goodwin Law’s JumpStart Bio breakfast series. Further, Melville is committed to helping people who are underserved in the Greater Boston community. He serves on the boards of Life Science Cares, Hack.Diversity, and Health Equity International (formerly St. Boniface Haiti Foundation). He’s also been involved with dozens of volunteering programs throughout his career, most recently YearUp, Rosie’s Place and Big Brother, Big Sister (a 4-time big brother).
Where did you grow up and how did that shape who you are today? Bedford, MA. I grew up in Bedford and went to the local high school through Grade 11 before repeating my Junior Year and transferring to Tabor Academy. My parents were civil activists, and we were one of the first families involved with the METCO program in Massachusetts and had a METCO student live with our family during the week. I also watched my dad grow a company from the ground up which was an incredible experience (you might have heard of it: WinterWyman).
Who was your first mentor or your most important mentor in your early formative years? Both my parents were great at supporting me and modeling how life should be lived.
What do you love most about being a Big Brother? Each experience was quite different. Once was when I was in college, once was post-graduation when I was finding my way as a young professional, and I participated twice after I had founded The Bowdoin Group and we had build a great partnership with Nativity Prep. They offered the Big Brother program through an in-school program, so I got to help through that.
Why is helping underserved populations of Greater Boston so important to you? I understand that the advantages I have been given have gone a long way in my success. My wife’s dad was a helicopter pilot as was my dad. My dad left the military right before Vietnam. My wife’s dad died in Vietnam. Our lives which started out the same turned out to be very different.
How is The Bowdoin Group helping address the diversity gap in business? First of all, we need to work everyday to think about our own implicit biases. We also engage our entire company in helping organizations that lift people up.
What drove you into the executive recruiting business? I was a very bad cookie sales person and needed to find something I could excel in.
What was your role at Procter & Gamble and how did that prepare you to found The Bowdoin Group? P&G was and is a major training ground for young professionals that provided me with the foundation to do things the right way the first time and always produce work you are proud of.
Why did you name The Bowdoin Group after your alma mater, Bowdoin College? I wanted to name the firm after something that connoted excellence, and Bowdoin had such a positive impact on my life that I thought it was a great name for my company.
Your bio proclaims your passion for BioPharma and Healthcare, which stems from your work and personal experiences. What does that mean exactly? It is really from growing up in the epicenter of innovation in healthcare. I love that our clients primary mission is saving and improving the lives of others.
In December 2019, your company made headlines for placing the new president of Mayo Clinic Digital Platform. What was that search like? This was an incredibly important and complex search, partnering with key stakeholders from Mayo (including their CEO). This was a brand name hospital that was referred to us by one of the top tech VC firms in Silicon Valley because they knew we could help them transform their business through this new digital platform and find them a leader who could help them use their technology and data to evolve healthcare.
You recently made the following statement in a December 17, 2019 story in Hunt Scanlon Media: “Companies that are using archaic executive search firms need to rethink their strategy,” said Mr. Melville. “Headhunters — transactional order takers that recycle the same network, are paid full fees regardless of outcome, and that simply match candidates to bullet points on a job description — need to officially leave the building.” What recruitment companies are you referring to and why do you believe they are so slow to evolve? I am calling out every company — including my own. We need to meet companies where they are in their life cycle and deliver a certain level of service. Executive recruiters who are just relying on their glorified rolodexes or relying on recruiting on the golf course tend to be out of touch. Any search firm that says “I have the best network” and that’s all they rely on is set up for failure in this age. As a search firm, your business has to have assessment, data, and analytics capabilities, not just a great network.
What strategic initiative are you most focused on in 2020? Productization of our services. We have a great BioPharma practice, and we have a great software practice, and now we have these worlds colliding. This intersection of life science, healthcare, and technology is one of the greatest vertical market opportunities right now because of its complexities, and few firms understand it well. We’re operating right there, and we want to standardize and message those services as clearly as possible.
What’s the biggest obstacle you face today? Scaling. We’re no different than any other high-growth business. It’s about finding talent that can support the constantly increasing needs of our clients.
What is your vision for the future of The Bowdoin Group? When someone has a product that’s going to disrupt the marketplace and help humanity, I want our firm to be their number one call 100% of the time.
In what category of innovation do you see Boston growing the most in 2020? The intersection of technology and BioPharma. Really, it’s the use of AI/ML in BioTech.
What is it you think sets Boston apart from other cities? Comradery. In this city, people really root for success and therefore root for success in each other. People are very willing to offer ideas and help to help lift each other up.
Fill in the blank. The future of Boston will be… innovation!
What would you change about the world? I.E., What problem facing the world would you most like to see solved? Aligning incentives. We have all these misaligned incentives that are causing us to function in really weird ways. We have a community where we need educated healthy productive labor but we have people who we cut out of the education system. Look at drug pricing: People like to blame the drug makers, but so many people are profiting from these. Everyone is afraid of giving up their piece of the pie. We have to find a way for society to advance as a whole.
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