Skip to content

What Makes a Great Leader in BioPharma

Posted by Lauren Kendall on August 26, 2019
Originally published in the third edition of Biostart Magazine, a magazine devoted to the realities of starting and managing the early stages of BioTech and BioPharma companies, on August 22, 2019.

We’ve all known a great leader. They inspire us to take heroic actions. They push us beyond our capabilities. They are committed to us as employees just as much as they are committed to company goals.

Many exceptional leaders would be just as effective in any industry, but there are nuances in the BioPharma world that can make or break a leader’s success.

After 20+ years of hiring executive teams, these are the qualities that spell success for BioPharma leaders:

  • They are transparent: The BioPharma space can be volatile. A company’s entire trajectory can change in a single day. Great leaders share what they can about the company’s status so that people aren’t surprised when an entire new division is created within four months to support commercialization efforts, for example.
  • They are humble: As a BioPharma company hits different phases, it may need different types of leaders. For example, the first CEOs are typically scientists because the science takes precedence in the early stages. That may evolve to a person with a background in finance as they begin to look for capital infusions, then later to someone with experience bringing a drug or a product to market. If the initial CEO is going to stay throughout the whole transition, it is important they understand who they need to hire to complement their skill set as the company’s needs change, which requires humility. All the same, great leaders recognize that they’re not always going to be the leader a company needs as it scales.
  • They are grateful: The BioPharma industry often requires long hours and late nights as companies reach certain milestones (their PDUFA [Prescription Drug User Fee Act] date, for example). Great leaders in BioPharma acknowledge the hard work of those around them. They keep their finger on the pulse of their team to understand how they’re doing as deadlines loom and stressors multiply. When they receive accolades for great work, they always give credit to their team.
  • They are team builders: Exceptional leaders tend to have incredible teams. This doesn’t happen by accident. This is certainly the case in the BioPharma world where for all of its impact and investment, it’s a fairly insular world. When a great leader moves to a new company, their people want to follow.
  • They have a balance of IQ and EQ: The average person in the BioPharma industry has a high IQ – not surprising considering these individuals are charting the course of healthcare. But IQ is not enough. Great leaders also have a high EQ, using their emotions to manage high-stress situations, sympathize with others, and communicate important messages effectively.

If you’re on the lookout for your next great leader in BioPharma, keep these traits in mind. Ask questions to learn about specific instances where they’ve used these skills in their current job. Great leaders can take your company to the next level, and even more exciting in the BioPharma industry, their work can change the world.

Dave Melville is CEO and Founder of The Bowdoin Group, an award-winning executive search firm with expertise in executive and strategic searches, team expansions, and RPO services. To find out more, visit the company’s website: