The RightThing provides a case study in outsourcing pharmaceutical lab work.
By Russ Banham
In 2007, MedImmune, one of few global biotech companies with a proven track record of commercial success, sought to improve its team of top-notch scientists. Previously, it had secured the services of several boutique recruitment firms, a strategy that failed to deliver the volume and caliber of job candidates it desired. Then, it engaged The RightThing.
The RightThing, the largest recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) provider in North America, put together a comprehensive global platform for MedImmune, based in Gaithersburg, MD, that has successfully enticed top scientists with diverse skill sets to leave their current positions at pharmaceutical and biotech companies and hire on at MedImmune. The lure is the company’s reputation for innovative science to the betterment of humanity. “People are bound here by a consistent belief—the confidence and passion that what they’re doing is making a difference,” explains Max Donley, MedImmune’s senior vice president of human resources.
In 2008, The RightThing successfully recruited 833 employees for MedImmune, most of them scientists with a wide range of different skills culled from its competitors across the globe. During 2009, another 900 new employees joined the new hires, again more than half of them scientists. Given that MedImmune’s workforce totaled fewer than 2,000 employees in 2007, the additions are remarkable for an industry sector that, by another measure, is a tough recruitment sell. “There are not many unemployed scientists,” says Terry Terhark, CEO of The RightThing. “If one is unemployed, there is probably a good reason why.”
Consultants say the unique RPO engagement is pushing all the right buttons—fully global in nature, comprehensive “cradle to grave” recruitment and hiring, with fulfillment from a provider that truly appreciates the client’s business strategy and the intellectual capital requirements to meet it.
“When you have a highly specialized process like the recruitment of scientists, and you are seeking a very specific objective, those processes typically are the right processes to outsource to a single, full-service vendor with true global reach,” says Harry Osle, managing director and global HR transformation leader at The Hackett Group. “It seems that MedImmune was not getting the quantity and quality of scientists it wanted. Given the growth in its workforce through RPO, the engagement makes tremendous sense.”
A Better Place
MedImmune made news (and continuing profits) from its blockbuster product Synagis, launched in 1998, and later licensed by the Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of infectious disease. Approved now in more than 60 countries, Synagis is the standard of care for helping to prevent RSV (or respiratory syncytial virus) disease in infants and young children at high risk of contracting the virus. Thanks in large part to Synagis, MedImmune’s revenues have grown at a compound annual rate of 36 percent—from under $50 million in 1996 to almost $1.5 billion in 2006. Along the way, it acquired two other biotech companies—U.S. Bioscience and Aviron.
Its rapid success soon drew interest from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which acquired MedImmune for $15.6 billion in mid-2007. With the resulting deeper pockets to recruit scientists the world over, and a fast-track mission to tackle a variety of other infectious diseases, Donley and his HR team were charged with determining the smartest path to staffing. Before the acquisition, Donley had been in talks with The RightThing about a comprehensive global RPO solution, but those discussions were put on hold during the transactional negotiations with AstraZeneca. The conversation was revived in earnest post-acquisition.
For both parties, the deal represents a watershed. For its part, MedImmune had no experience outsourcing an entire HR function to a single provider globally. And The RightThing had little experience recruiting world-class scientists. To flatten the learning curve, the companies engaged in a true partnership.
“We wanted the highest caliber candidates that fit our culture and skill-set needs in the most economically feasible way, and found that the boutique firms we were using were more sizzle than steak,” Donley explains. “A single source provider willing to partner with us in this quest was deemed the optimum solution, though we realized that no provider at that time had done this soup to nuts and globally.”
The challenges demanded that The RightThing get up to speed—and fast—on MedImmune’s culture, as well as its business processes, and research and development—really its entire worldwide operation. But there was more. Next, the provider had to develop a methodology, as Terhark puts it, “to find the best scientists wherever they were, best fitting the job at hand.” He elaborates on the solution: “We developed technology in-house that allows us to go out and mine the Internet for all sorts of ‘needle in the haystack’ experts in diverse fields. If we have to find a director of pharmacovigilance, for instance, we find out the names of the top scientists in the field, then compile a list of names, and then get on the phone to find out if they were interested in exploring the opportunities that are inherent in MedImmune’s value proposition.” (Pharmacovigilance, for those who don’t know, is a pharmacological science relating to the detection and prevention of the adverse side effects from drugs.)
Most candidates jumped at this chance, says Terhark. “They’re growing, yet still independent and highly innovative,” he adds, “and they have an awesome story to tell. They’re continually bringing new drugs to market—wonderful products helping to improve people’s lives.”
When The RightThing’s recruiters make their phone calls to job candidates, they say they are part of MedImmune’s HR department—that’s how close the partnership is. “We live and breathe the MedImmune culture,” Terhark says.
The engagement has other attributes, among them scalability. Although MedImmune continues to grow by leaps and bounds (Donley says that he would not be surprised if the company hires close to 900 employees in 2010), the RPO engagement provides a cost-effective approach if the jobs spigot were to tighten—compared to the alternative of in-house recruitment personnel sitting on the payroll in both good times and bad.
Donley further touts the provider’s technology and its outside partnerships with other vendors such as Alexander Mann Solutions, which handles recruitment in Europe, flowing information through The RightThing’s technology and central administration to provide a single face to MedImmune’s HR managers. Other vendors take bits and pieces of the RPO pie, such as criminal background checking and drug testing. “Everything wraps up into a single relationship with The Right Thing,” Donley says. “Terry and his team don’t commit to something until they are sure they can execute it.”
Tomorrow’s RPO Today
The various features of the RPO engagement have impressed The Hackett Group. “Assuming they’re getting the right price points (the financial parameters of the deal have not been disclosed), it seems to fit what we would consider a strong RPO model,” Osle says. “While the connection to AstraZeneca likely makes it easier for them to attract scientists, the RPO strategy presents a way to attract the best scientists, thus increasing the quality of the hire and the company’s overall business prospects. Meanwhile, you’re also driving greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”
The challenge of managing relationships with diverse providers that specialize in a certain type of scientist would be unwieldy, he adds. “It seems that The RightThing is willing to roll up its sleeves and get down and dirty in understanding what MedImmune is all about, and then profiling, recruiting, and ultimately securing the best job candidates, matching MedImmune’s skill set needs with the right recruits,” Osle says. “The emphasis on finding people that fit the client’s culture also makes sense since MedImmune is seeking creative scientists that think out of the box—not necessarily those who simply follow protocol. Doing this all in-house would just cost too much to effect process standardization and technology investments, and take too long.”
Next up for the partners is for MedImmune to play host to The RightThing at its facilities worldwide.
“We plan to give the recruiters tours and have them talk with leaders within the organization so they can truly ‘live and breathe’ the MedImmune culture,” Donley says. “At the same time, we’re going to do the same thing here, assisting people to better understand the dynamics of The RightThing’s organization. At the end of the day, the deeper the affinity between us, the better the fit. And the better the fit, the better the job candidates coming here to work.”
With more than 100 research projects and clinical product candidates in MedImmune’s portfolio—as well as its continuing leadership in preventing the spread of infectious diseases worldwide—The RightThing for MedImmune just might be the right thing for everybody.
RPO: The New Black
The RightThing has found a niche in the crowded HRO marketplace—recruitment process outsourcing or RPO—that is reaping rewards as the economy rebounds and companies restart their hiring practices.
In the last three months of 2009, the RPO provider struck 11 new deals with leading companies such as Goodyear, NCR, and Micron, all seeking to rebuild their talent bases. Unlike other parts of the HRO world, says Michel Janssen, chief research officer at The Hackett Group, RPO has survived, prospered, and even grown during the recession. “In terms of HRO, the deals in which providers try to transactionalize a large portion of HR have gone into hibernation,” Janssen explains. “We’ve seen a number of suppliers back out of the business or go on hiatus. What have been successful, on the other hand, are on-point transactions like RPO, health and benefits outsourcing, and 401(k) and pension benefits management outsourcing. They have survived the current era and appear to be thriving.”
Janssen says that RPO providers like The RightThing “bring to the table specific solutions around variabilizing the cost of the recruiting process, getting the right people for the job to fit client needs and cultures, and having a system in place with depth and breadth geographically to assist the client globally. When you variabilize the cost structures, a general contractor with an on-point solution is a better alternative than outsourcing to different boutique providers.”
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