Bertrand de Lavenne is Global Managing Partner at I.S.G. a global life science recruiting and executive search company .
Bertrand has multiple years of experiences as Managing Director (Roche (Algeria), Abbott (UK) and Mylan (France)). Bertrand started his career at Servier before joining Novartis Global HQ in Switzerland. Then, he successively led the Oncology business in Switzerland, and held various commercial positions in Emerging Markets and in China.
Could you please introduce yourself?
I am lucky to have worked for more than 20 years in various companies, business models and countries. This has been so far a fantastic experience, professionally and socially. I met and worked with people with all types of cultures, background, vision and personal values. At the end of the day, companies are firstly driven by people, understanding them has always been a passion. In that sense, Executive Search is matching extremely well this passion.
What is the current situation of the job market in Pharma at the senior level?
Obviously, 2020 is a special year in many aspects. The pandemic has shown how our societies can display solidarity but has also highlighted some limitations: many businesses are weaker than people thought. Our way of working together is fragile and fortunately new technologies have enabled so many colleagues, friends, families to stay in touch.
Healthcare industry was less impacted than others. At senior level, you might face mergers or acquisitions, business & cultural transformation and other projects that keeps you busy while you need to continue managing the “current “affairs.
Consequently it impacts directly the set of skills needed at a higher level with soft skills being reinforced (creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, time management, social leadership, conflict resolution, etc).
What are you specifically looking for when you are looking for a GM?
“Hard skills/soft skills” is a complex cocktail; all GMs may balance them differently during their daily life as well as during interviews. There are obviously some “must”; talking about soft skills I would place leading with a purpose as a priority. Employees will lose motivation if they do not embrace the vision and the mission of an organisation: General Managers have a major impact on this aspect. They are relays of the Corporate vision, mission and objectives as they need to get them implemented locally. Additionally General Managers need to know how to navigate in various ecosystems (internally and externally), they are at the junction of local business, regional headquarters and corporate. They must show a high level of diversity and inclusion to handle this ongoing crisis while delivering and running the business.
Hard skills are slightly easier to assess when candidates have been already in similar roles. If not, soft skills become even more important as they will pave the way of a quick learning curve!
Finally, the third pillar is the cultural fit to the company: culture is the glue that binds a company together. Every organization has a specific culture, there is no ‘one-size fits all’. It binds individuals together; the General manager with its team and the General Manager with his manager.
How do you assess candidates in general? In particular, how do you evaluate the cultural fit of a candidate within a company?
My most common ways to assess soft skills are behavioural questions, reading body language, situational & projects questions, tech-based assessments. As a first step it’s important to understand and assess the most valued soft skills of a given company. I usually spend a lot of time to identify the skills needed for the role, by asking the hiring manager (and not only the support function as Human Recourses) how he/she would describe its Company culture, what are the actual values and behaviours. When needed or asked we carry out assessment including role plays with specific situations proposed by the Company itself. I recommend the hiring manager to be part of the role playas it allows him/her to have a first “real-life” contact and discussion with the candidate. This assessment phase is extremely important as not all candidates, despite appearing like perfect match (CV), can actually fit in every cultures. Especially “Big Pharmas” and “Start-up” as they do not have the same needs or expectations for their general managers: someone can be a great leader in a large company and would not adapt to a CEO role in a start-up where it is often asked to be hands-on on many aspects. Some candidates will prefer a more “secure”, more predictable, environment of large company. Agility and flat hierarchies do not suit everyone – and this is perfectly acceptable, we need all kinds of talents. On the other side, a fantastic start-up CEO may face challenges in a Corporate environment with many stakeholders and less autonomy. This is something important to share and validate with all candidates before short-listing them.
How did recruitment change in the Covid times? Is it more difficult to find candidates? Do you have a slowdown in your activity?
The activity has been slowing down in 2020 due to Covid as well as some very interesting changes. With home-office policies and flexible schedules implemented by many player in the market, candidates dedicated more time and availabilities to discuss their career development. They are reflecting a bit more than in the past about “what they really want to do”, trying to bring more meaning in their professional lives. During conversations about potential opportunities, they also have more questions about how the Company is handling the crisis, and how is the actual Company work culture. Another soft skill that is gaining traction is the candidates' ability to build large networks across various industries and sectors on digital platforms.
In the other side, Companies are slightly more careful with regards to changes, they are looking for a certain stability during this crisis. They are more and more active on the internet as digital platforms allow potential employees to amplify the reach of any company messages through their own networks, providing a significant competitive advantage in overall reach for the ones who seized this opportunity.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic for 2021? What is your outlook?
Societies have been on a learning curve on how to live with SARS-CoV-2 in 2020. The immediate reaction in spring was to enter in a full or partial lockdown. We now see a more cautious approach to protect economies. The healthcare industry has a double responsibility: to find a vaccine (and possibly a treatment), and to be an example of resilient and adaptative working methods. This has always been a very innovative industry and I am convinced that it will pave the way for other industries. Employees are proud to serve patients, for years they have demonstrated a passion to solve healthcare challenges in so many therapeutic areas and I am confident they will keep this mindset moving forward. While more flexibility will be required on both side, companies and People will continue to grow and evolve consequently.