At Its Center
Entrusting its people with autonomy reaps rewards for i-Pharm Consulting
With a people-centered approach to sourcing top-tier talent, the London-based organization strives to realize its mission to change lives “by placing people at the heart of life sciences,” providing tailored solutions for pharmaceutical, biotech and medtech companies worldwide.
Since it was founded in 2008, i-Pharm Consulting prides itself on client relationships built on trust, communication and consistent results. But those key factors are not exclusively extended to its customers and partners; i-Pharm understands that producing client results begins with investing in its own people and affording them that same level of trust and communication, something that Executive VP David Filby has experienced first-hand since joining the organization two years ago.
Filby, who previously spent a decade helping a startup become a global industry-leading agency, joined i-Pharm as its senior VP of US operations six months after the firm opened its first offices in the states and took his current title in October 2021. Driven by his passion for success, Filby’s tenure with i-Pharm has been defined by mutual trust and respect, notably in the form of the autonomy afforded him to build the US operations on the company’s behalf.
The fast-paced growth of his previous company was infectious, and he aimed to bring that same breakneck trajectory to i-Pharm’s growth in the US — something that required the freedom for Filby to do things his own way within the organization’s roadmap without being undermined or micromanaged. And i-Pharm indeed granted him that freedom, allowing him to build the business as he saw fit but still offering support if necessary. And it’s that trust that drew Filby in. “I feel very fortunate to have joined a company willing to give me the space to execute [my plans] but still help and support me should I need it,” he says.
A large part of Filby’s strategy involved the kind of people he would bring on board when launching in the US. To start, his goal was to hire experienced recruiters, not rookies. “It’s a really competitive landscape hiring recruiters with experience, looking for cultural adds, not just a cultural fit,” he says. So he focused on the exciting opportunity i-Pharm was offering to people who had fallen into the wrong environment, such as those experiencing bad management, who were underpaid, or whose companies provided poor learning and development opportunities or were in a toxic environment. “We wanted to provide a mature, trusting, empowering environment with self-motivated people, offering support in all the challenges you come across in staffing.”
It was an expensive, high-risk strategy, but it paid off: The team at i-Pharm is renowned among their clientele as market experts and has become the go-to firm for life sciences staffing needs. In 2021, i-Pharm saw a whopping 95% retention of staff, and as of this writing, 100% of people who joined i-Pharm last year are still with the company.
Because i-Pharm’s internal staff is so experienced (the average i-Pharm employee has six years’ previous industry experience when they join the team), the organization is able to extend to them that same level of trust and autonomy it afforded to Filby — especially after the Covid-19 pandemic upended the standard model of work in early 2020. “We focused on giving everybody a massive amount of trust,” Filby explains. “If you hire talented people and treat them with respect and maturity, giving them that autonomy they deserve, those people feel trusted and want to work.” And perhaps none have a better testament to that employee trust than Aoife Cronin, VP of client services.
Cronin, who originally hails from Ireland, joined i-Pharm 10 years ago when the firm only had a dozen employees total. She chose the firm over a competing offer in the glamorous heart of London, saying, “The initial embrace of culture, support and training [at i-Pharm made it] the right choice for me.” In 2019, she took the opportunity to leave her contract management position in the UK and join the newly opened New York office managing a team of five recruiters and building the business out further. However, when the pandemic hit a year later, Cronin felt torn between her work and her family back in Ireland; her elderly parents were at a higher risk of catching Covid-19 and developing severe complications, and even occasional forays to the grocery store were a frightening experience for them.
But i-Pharm knew how to take care of its own: Cronin didn’t even have to ask before Filby approached her about the situation, offering to allow her to return to Ireland to care for her parents while working remotely. “They appreciated what was going on,” Cronin says. Initially planning to only be gone a month, she wound up staying in Ireland until January 2021 with i-Pharm’s full support — for which she and her family were grateful. Speaking to i-Pharm’s philosophy on work and personal life, Cronin adds, “They have to be in balance … Once you’re meeting goals, what we agreed upon in output, it shouldn’t matter how you get there. If you want to structure your day a certain way that keeps you satisfied, it will keep you motivated at work.”
In the post-Covid world, i-Pharm is committed to continuing that level of trust in its staff. Offices around the world are open, but the company places no pressure on its workers to return before they’re ready. Instead, the staff is invited to come to the office as frequently or infrequently as they prefer, allowing each person to customize their working environment to their own personal style. However, as Senior Recruitment Consultant Danielle Harbula knows well, management knows how to keep teams connected even in the new working model. “i-Pharm keeps the culture strong, regardless of where you are, she says, adding that her office in Charlotte, North Carolina, encourages team camaraderie with happy hours, work outings and volunteer opportunities.
The company also fosters connections between its offices by flying people in to meet with team members they might not have met in person. “I did that in November. They flew me in for a day to have dinner with my team … and be surrounded by people I hadn’t met in the New York office. They keep everyone included and make sure it’s fun for everyone!”
In turn, this connectivity between team members fosters a culture of open communication that is so vital to i-Pharm’s success. Harbula continues, “I never feel like I can’t approach top leadership. They never make me feel less than … I feel like I’m talking to friends. It’s inspiring.” And Filby agrees, saying, “[i-Pharm] is a transparent company, top to bottom.”
Being named a Best Staffing Firm to Work For is very important to Filby as a measure of i-Pharm’s success stateside. “We’ve only been in the US just over two years, so this is our first recognition that what we’ve been building is right,” he explains. “[We] focus on being the No. 1 service provider by hiring the No. 1 talent in the industry … [We use our] people’s insights to make strong decisions and evolve the company as we grow.”