How the Chair of the Board can empower a first-time biotech CEO

Share this article

Stepping into the role of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the first time can be a daunting prospect. In the biotech industry, the journey is marked by a unique set of hurdles, from scientific complexities, to regulatory intricacies, finance, HR, and interactions with a wide range of stakeholders. In this dynamic landscape, the role of the Chair of the Board of Directors becomes pivotal. The Chair is well-positioned to empower and support first-time CEOs, but good synergy between the duo is paramount for success.

Shelley Margetson, a Senior Executive with V-Bio Ventures who has worked as CFO, Executive Vice President, and CEO for multiple European biotechnology companies. Shelley joined V-Bio Ventures in December 2020, where she is managing partner.

Supporting a visionary strategy

The CEO is the highest-ranking executive responsible for the overall management of the company. They steer the organization’s day-to-day operations, formulate business strategies, and drive innovation. By contrast, the Chair of the Board holds a pivotal position in corporate governance, overseeing the board’s functioning, setting the agenda, and ensuring alignment between the Board and executive management.

The successful synergy between the CEO and Chair begins with a shared vision for the company. In biotech – where ground-breaking scientific discoveries meet entrepreneurial challenges – a unified strategic direction is indispensable. With their industry knowledge, the CEO often provides insights into emerging trends, technological advancements, and potential growth areas. By unifying these, the CEO sets the company course with a strategic vision. In a complementary role, the Chair draws on their experience to support the CEO’s mission with tried-and-true tactics, also ensuring it aligns with long-term shareholder interests and ethical considerations.

Providing mentorship and boosting confidence

One of the most significant ways a Chair can assist a first-time CEO is through mentorship. Experienced Chairs bring a wealth of industry knowledge, leadership insights, and a network of valuable contacts. By offering guidance and sharing their experiences, a Chair can help CEOs navigate unfamiliar territories, make informed decisions, and avoid common pitfalls. The Chair can also serve as a sounding board for the CEOs, providing them with a sparring partner with which to discuss ideas, concerns, and tactical or strategic dilemmas. This mentorship not only enhances the CEO’s decision-making capabilities but also instils confidence, empowering them to lead the organization with conviction. This is particularly valuable for first-time CEOs who are often up against challenges that the management of competing companies have seen dozens of times.

Investors are more likely to support a company where the CEO and Chair work synergistically, demonstrating a shared vision and cohesive leadership.

Chairs can also support first-time CEOs in the lead-up to future investment rounds. Securing funding is a constant challenge for biotech start-ups, and good Chairs – with their credibility and industry reputation – can significantly enhance investor confidence in the company. Their endorsement of the CEO’s vision and strategy can instil trust among investors, making it easier for the company to attract funding for future research, development, and growth. It’s important to note that no matter the relationship, stakeholders – including investors, partners, regulatory bodies, and the broader scientific community – will closely observe the dynamics between these two influential figures. A harmonious and collaborative relationship fosters confidence, reinforcing the company’s credibility and reputation among stakeholders. Investors are more likely to support a company where the CEO and Chair work synergistically, demonstrating a shared vision and cohesive leadership.

Encouraging a culture of innovation and collaboration

Biotech companies thrive on cutting-edge research and development, and the Chair can help by endorsing the culture of innovation built by the CEO. With their backing, the CEO has the support to explore unconventional ideas, take calculated risks, and pursue ambitious scientific endeavors. By supporting an environment where creativity is celebrated, the Chair can help contribute to the company’s competitiveness and growth.

Together, Chair and CEO navigate uncharted waters, transforming challenges into opportunities and shaping the future of biotech innovation.

Of course, it will never be all smooth sailing in biotech, which is why conflict resolution, communication, and harmonious board dynamics are essential for the success of any company in the industry. Here again, the Chair has an important role to play, drawing on their experience in Board management to mediate conflicts, facilitate productive discussions, and ensure that diverse opinions are heard and respected. By nurturing a collaborative atmosphere, Chairs help first-time CEOs harness the collective wisdom of the Board, leading to better-informed decisions and strategic initiatives for the company.

An essential partnership for company success

In the challenging terrain of the biotech industry, a good collaboration between a Chair and a first-time CEO is not just beneficial – it is essential. The Chair’s guidance, strategic know-how, and industry influence empower the CEO to set a visionary course, overcome obstacles, make informed decisions, and drive the company towards innovation and success. As mentors and enablers, the Chair plays a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of biotech leaders, ensuring that the industry continues to flourish with ground-breaking discoveries and advancements. Together, Chair and CEO navigate uncharted waters, transforming challenges into opportunities and shaping the future of biotech innovation.

Read this article to find out how to build a healthy relationship with your Board!

In the past, we have written on how to build the right team for start-up success. Although it is the CEO who runs the company, the Chair is also a part of this team, and it’s essential that the relationship between the pair is built on mutual trust and respect. Finding the right match is an important endeavor where the VC investors can – and should – play a role. VCs can further assist this process by tapping into their networks to assign an experienced, independent Chair of the Board as soon as possible. With a good fit between CEO and Chair, investors can help to create the tandem dynamic required for speed and success in a biotech start-up.