Editor’s note: We are delighted to have a guest series from Lynn Walder, a 20-plus year career executive administrator (with more than 10 of those years focused on biotech), and a passionate advocate of executive-level business administration function. In this article, Lynn discusses the evolution of the admin role and, in her next guest article, will focus on how organizations can better integrate them into their operations. In my experience, the challenges a chief executive officer at a biotech company faces are no different than a principal investigator or division/department head faces as they try to establish or grow their research program(s) and highlight the value of integrating administration into a leadership team.
From early discovery to commercialization of a scientific breakthrough product, the biotech business building journey is a lengthy one. But with the growth of new platform technologies, along with the globalization of research and development resources, the prevalence of market pressure to shorten timelines and accelerate the pace of development is much greater than it used to be. For biotech CEOs who are responsible for both setting and executing an organization’s long-term strategic goals, the work, time and emotional investment (both external and internal to the company) can, at times, lead to extreme overwhelm.
To help offset a portion of this inevitable overwhelm, one of the most critical tasks you can manage as a start-up company leader is the mindful scale up of your own executive leadership team (ELT).
Management education programming (alongside default organizational design frameworks) have taught us to build out executive leadership team roles with business functions in mind – the chief scientific officer for research and development, the chief financial officer for finance, the chief human resource officer for people and culture, the chief business officer for business development, etc. – but there is one overlooked and often severely underused role that should be integrated into the executive team under its own function. What many ELTs need is a highly competent business administration partner.
What is a business administration partner and why should they be integrated very early on into your own ELT?
This role has been called many names over the years, such as office manager or executive assistant or the more recently used title of chief of staff. When I ask a CEO (or even a chief human resource officer) what they would personally list as the main scope of responsibilities associated with these titles, I typically receive the following answer: “Calendaring, meetings management, travel and expenses and miscellaneous office/culture-building efforts.”
Editor’s note: For academic faculty, ‘grant submission’ also often makes this list.
While this narrow “specialty scope” description of a business administrator may hold true in some enterprise organizations, the professional evolution of this position over the past eight to 10 years (particularly in the life sciences industry) is egregiously disconnected from the current reality of what a business administrator has the strategic capability of delivering on, not only for the CEO and their executive team, but for the company as a whole.
This unique “manager of the miscellaneous” secures business value in the following ways:
- Provides clarity of CEO leadership values and translates them into operational programming and communications
- Prioritizes management of limited time/resources among C-suite members
- Improves team dynamics through consistent/clarified communications
- Increases speed of consultative decision making within a quickly evolving organization
- Saves money (via delay of full-time hires) as temporary general and administration skill gaps are filled through completion of the most critical cross-functional projects that may not neatly fall in any one company function
Below I am sharing a more cohesive list of capabilities the role now encompasses and that translates into immediate value for a fast-scaling (and many times, resource restricted) start-up:
- Executive-level and company-wide strategic meeting management and facilitation (streamline of relevant communications, increase speed of decision-making, improve team dynamics)
- Board meeting/investor/advisor/scientific advisory board liaison and coordinator (agenda/content management, governance documentation, sub-committee organization, draft board of directors communications)
- Company infrastructure project management (source, select, and implement in partnership with other functional leads)
- Internal (draft CEO memos, quarterly all-staff meeting messaging and content management, crisis communication drafts, etc.)
- External (vendor liaison with communications firm and legal consultants for public relations, LinkedIn and social media posts)
- Culture and people cultivator (employee engagement initiatives, distributed network team-building events, translation of leadership vision, mission and values into tangible outputs)
- Human resources (recruitment branding, onboarding infrastructure, basic policies and procedures, human resource/labour law vendor liaison, if a human resource consultant has not yet onboarded)
- Information technology partner/implementor/trainer
- Company yearly life-cycle deliverables management (corporate goal setting cadence, performance management cadence, budget-planning cadence, etc.)
- And yes – strategic day-to-day calendaring and travel/expense management on behalf of the CEO
The newly evolved administrator, who is thoughtfully recruited (see an editable job description) and authentically integrated into a biotech executive team, will create space for you (as the CEO), the extended executive team and the company as a whole to deliver at a higher capacity than you ever thought possible.
In Part II of this series, we will explore how you can set the broader business administration function up for success as your company continues to scale.