Searching for Talent? An Open Discussion with SRI Executive Senior Management

The Bulletin by the BE Forum

May 2016

Searching for Talent? 

An Open Discussion with SRI Executive Senior Management

By: Debbie Garner, MBA, Co-Editor
As Israeli companies continue to explore and conquer foreign markets, the time comes when these companies need to establish a beachhead in these regions. Many European countries and a number of states within the US actively recruit companies to open offices inside their borders. Of course, establishing a presence abroad involves hiring local staff to represent these Israeli companies, and this is often challenging. A number of companies have specialized in providing recruitment services for Israeli companies abroad, including SRI Executive, Amcon Recruitment and H.T. PROF Executive Search.

Dublin, Ireland based SRI recently established a partnership with Diva Keren Creative HR of Sitryia (Rehovot), to build a bridge to Israeli life science companies here in Israel. The two companies work closely together to identify opportunities for Executive Search as well as to assist the life science industry in Israel recruit top talent more effectively.
SRI Executive is a global HR consulting practice specializing in executive search, organizational development and human resources services. The firm was established in 1997 and prides itself on offering a personalized approach to its clients. SRI specializes in life sciences, among other industries.
During a recent trip of SRI’s senior management in Israel, The Bulletin met with with Dr. Seamus McGardle, Managing Director, and Helen McGardle, Chief Operations Officer to discuss a few of the challenges in international executive recruitment for Israeli life science start-ups.

  1. What are the key factors to look for while searching for top talent for Israeli life science start-ups?We start with the science. Science is the basis of the company and it crosses all borders. Parenthetically, it is of interest to note that while in Ireland innovation is also a key driver of the economy, there manufacturing drives the need for R&D[Debbie1], whereas in Israel the innovation sequence starts with R&D.There are wonderful new technologies coming of out of Israel and it can attract the best and the brightest if the story is told correctly. But you need to know how to glean the story of the company in order to sell it to someone who is not from Israel and is not familiar with Israeli culture. A fit with the culture is one of the keys to success in a long-term placement, so it must be done correctly.
  2. How do you attract non-Israelis to join a small start-up from Israel?Israelis are very conscious of their different approach, and specifically want candidates to know they are Israeli[Debbie2]. We are honest about the company, the position, the early stage and the level of risk involved. It is worth noting that while we have talked to hundreds of candidates none has ever voiced concern about working for an Israeli company per se, despite the BDS movement and other negative publicity.
    For Israeli clients specifically, we try to identify candidates who have an appetite for risk and are looking for a change and a challenge. Often those who have spent a career in big pharma are not suitable for a start-up as their expectations are different. We will target someone who is not early on in his/her career and is ready for the risk and the opportunity for success. It must be someone, however, who is willing to move on to the next opportunity should things not work out. It can be helpful if the candidate’s spouse also has steady employment, allowing the partner to take some risk.We help candidates understand how the process will work, particularly if they are not Israeli. We ensure that their expectations are well aligned in terms of the base pay which might be on the low side, but also emphasize that there will be bonuses and equity participation. Importantly, we also help them understand the culture. For example, outside of Israel, asking questions is considered aggressive, intrusive and arrogant. In Israel however, it is part of the process and contributes greatly to Israel’s culture of innovation.
  3. What can Israeli start-ups do to attract the highest quality talent?The Israeli start-ups have top innovation and have to showcase it properly. They need to present it such that scientists and executives will understand it and will want to join the game. Israel’s pool of talented executives with international experience is limited, and moreover, it is usually preferable to hire a local candidate in the region of export as (s)he will find it much easier to connect into the market. Israeli CEOs and investors supporting their portfolio companies are increasingly understanding that, in order to establish a presence outside of Israel and to attract top global talent, the company will need to budget for competitive compensation packages, including 2-3% equity participation (which is also common in Israel).
  4. How can Israeli start-ups leverage top talent for their business success?When a company matures and moves its operations abroad, it will need a CEO who has worked internationally (or who has spent significant time overseas) to make it successful. It is ideal to have the experience and knowledge of global markets within the company but if not, then the company needs to recruit international talent.
    There are Israelis who succeed when they go to the US and there are others for whom the jump is too great. It is best to limit the unknowns to just one or two. For example, the top leader should know either the target market or the industry.
    Investors are opening the door in life sciences to people from IT and other industries if they have international experience and understand conformity to industry standards such as FDA and CE. But if the leader does not have experience in the market or the industry, (s)he is likely to fail. The same by the way, is no less true for different areas within Europe. For example, a candidate from Eastern Europe who does not have adequate product technical expertise will likely fail in Germany. Particularly at the highest management level the challenge is not about the technology, it is about the leader and his/her ability to understand and communicate with the employees, the stakeholders and the market. Israeli managers are bright and energetic, but sometimes need to sharpen their communication skills in order to overcome the culture gap.
  5. What are the key factors for success in recruiting for long-term assignments?There are several key factors underlying a successful recruitment of non-Israeli talent. The Israeli company must be clear and precise about the experience and skill set they are looking for in a candidate.
    Furthermore, it is critical to ensure that candidates for Israeli companies also have a great degree of experience in working collaboratively. As[Debbie5] new colleagues begin to work together, the company must invest in training employees to work in teams and to understand each others’ conduct. Once there is an awareness of different behaviors there is a better understanding of what is being communicated. Ongoing discussion regarding expectations is also crucial to continued success. And most importantly, honestly and open communication in the recruitment process will lay the groundwork for a good fit between the candidate and the company.

© 2016, The BioExecutive Forum

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