Experience breeds intuition when it comes to healthcare executive recruiting. Does it work for horse racing too? I will not attempt to prove whether experience improves your outcome at the track. However, healthcare venture capitalists often use horse racing analogies when discussing ideal investments. These venture capitalists prefer to bet on the jockey versus the horse. Their logic, it’s the people that drive the business.
A healthcare venture capital firm’s success is dependent on their ability to recruit and retain a high-performing Jockey, a.k.a. “the CEO.” If it was only so easy to win The Kentucky Derby or deliver a ten-bagger return. My healthcare executive recruiting experience working with healthcare venture capital firms provides intuition in defining the firm’s CEO need. Once understood, identifying and recruiting the CEO and building a solid support team for the CEO requires experience, extensive networks, new and real-time research and a thorough process. The intent of this article is to offer outcome-driven insights for the healthcare venture capital firm that chooses to search internally for a portfolio CEO versus retaining a healthcare executive recruiting firm.
Recent quarters show an increased level of new capital investment from healthcare venture capital firms. The Health Care M&A Monthly reported in March 2008 that healthcare services deal volume in February 2008 totaled thirty completed deals. Looking back to 2007, total funding for healthcare venture capital deals was more than $9 billion across more than 480 deals. Healthcare venture capital investment increases the demand for these firms to conduct a thorough and accurate executive search process in order to identify, recruit and retain the CEO. While a healthcare venture capital firm often retains a healthcare executive recruiting firm to assist in CEO recruiting efforts, healthcare venture capital firms can mimic the search process of the top healthcare executive recruiting firms.
Insights from healthcare executive recruiting firm processes will lead to an improved exit:
1. Healthcare venture capital firms are committed to recruiting a proven CEO for the portfolio business and may occasionally be inclined to conduct an in-house CEO search process. The approach is to put a CEO in place that is known by the healthcare venture capital firm from previous experiences and business dealings. However, many times these healthcare venture capital firms will admit they “don’t know what they don’t know” about the business, the segment, or the pool of available CEO talent. However, if there was any doubt at the onset, it quickly becomes clear they need to bet on the jockey to run an unfamiliar race. It is at this point the firm should consider duplicating the search methodology that healthcare executive recruiting firms utilize for CEO assignments.
Healthcare executive recruiting firms are engaged to identify and recruit leading CEOs for high-growth, venture backed businesses. To reduce the risk of making a hiring mistake, a healthcare venture capital firm’s internal search process should assess those executives the firm knows and trusts in parallel with proven executives who are newly introduced to the healthcare venture capital firm. Ultimately the CEO may be selected from the firm’s personal rolodex. However, the value of benchmarking known CEOs against a broader CEO talent-pool will prove valuable.
2. CEO contingency and succession planning belongs early in the healthcare venture capital firm’s investment. Recruiting strategies to recruit key CEOs, senior leaders and board members are at the foundation for a portfolio company’s success. Common practice is for the healthcare venture capital firm to identify and recruit a seasoned and industry-experienced board member, one capable of leading the business if the current CEO cannot finish the race. The immediate need is fiduciary but both succession and contingency planning should be considered too. While some individuals believe that succession planning should be below the CEO, healthcare venture capital firms are interested in developing concepts and financial carry more so than developing future leadership talent. Therefore, succession and contingency planning belong in the board room for two reasons: one, if the CEO in place is successful the new board member can maintain his or her fiduciary duties. However, if the CEO loses control of the business or the market, this board member is engaged and able to step in immediately. This hedge strategy can be effective to dramatically reduce downside risk.
If the CEO loses control of the business or the market and the healthcare venture capital firm did not plan appropriately, there will be many sleepless nights. It’s during those sleepless nights when the unprepared healthcare venture capital firm will incorrectly pursue one of these three options:
o Retain a healthcare executive recruiting firm. However, the search is often initiated on quick sand as the healthcare venture capital firm needs to recruit a savior. Conversely, the venture capitalist may decide to avoid retaining a healthcare executive recruiting firm as it is perceived to be too cumbersome of a process during this time of panic. Neither scenario leads to a high-multiple exit.
o Turn to someone the healthcare venture capital firm knows from previous dealings. This option is not focused on growth but rather on building a floor to minimize investment loss.
o The healthcare venture capitalist will take over the business and act as CEO. My experiences say that poor planning and a subsequent reactionary jerk will not deliver a positive cash outcome.
The success of a risk-taking healthcare venture capital firm is based on hiring and recruiting the right Jockey for the business. While healthcare executive recruiting firms are often critical resources to venture firms, there are occasions when a healthcare venture capital firm chooses to conduct their CEO search internally. In those occasions, healthcare venture capital firms should mimic the proven search process of the top healthcare executive recruiting firms. Healthcare venture capital firms will benefit by conducting an unbiased and thorough executive search process tied to board level contingency and succession plans. This will develop strong businesses and deliver solid returns.