GHP August 2015

ghp August 2015 | 47 industry insight Why Smaller Pharma Firms Are the Place to Be You don’t have to work in the industry to know that big pharma is facing big challenges. The on-going threat of the patent cliff, along with a slowdown in the rate of research and development, has meant things aren’t looking as positive as they once were for the major players. However, as these companies look to cut costs, one of the methods they have adopted is, in effect, to outsource early-stage research and development to smaller firms, which has naturally led to increased employment opportunities. So with this in mind, what are the benefits of working for a smaller company over a larger one? It almost goes without saying that working for a smaller firm will give you a greater chance of shaping and steering its direction than you would get at a major company. Working for an organisation like Glaxo or Pfizer, for example, can make it difficult to feel like you’re having a big impact on the business as a whole. However, at a smaller firm your work is likely to have a direct correlation to the success of the company and you’re considerably more likely to be recognised for your efforts. In a similar vein, you’ve also got more chance of having your voice heard. If you have a strong belief that the direction the company is taking is the wrong one, or you spot a potentially profitable gap in the market, then working at a smaller firm can mean your opinions will be listened to. At a larger organisa- tion you’d first have to fight through layers of middle management before getting to senior level and even then your idea may not be heard, let alone adopted. As a result of the increased exposure, and partly due to the fact that you’ll have less competition, working for a smaller firm also gives you a much higher chance of securing a promotion and climbing through the ranks in a shorter space of time. This also obviously depends on your individual qualities, your ability to take responsibility, your boss and a range of other factors, but generally you’re likely to have greater access to development opportunities at a smaller firm. SMEs are also more likely to promote from within than their larger counterparts as the damage that could be caused to company culture by one bad external recruit is considerably worse in a smaller business. Another consideration to take into account is that projects move at a much quicker pace at smaller companies. If you’re feeling frustrated by having to cut through masses of red tape and fight against bureaucrats at every level, a smaller firm may be for you. Here, there are fewer stakeholders to seek ap- proval from, meaning that projects can be undertak- en at a much faster rate, which will only benefit the company’s position in the market. A factor that you perhaps haven’t considered is that working for a smaller pharmaceutical or biotech firm can also potentially give you access to a serious amount of money in the future, as many organisa- tions choose to offer stock options to their employ- ees. Let’s not pretend that everyone who works for a SME in this field will become a millionaire, but in this industry smaller firms can grow into big ones in a short space of time. All companies need is one ‘blockbuster’ drug or scientific breakthrough and they could be following in the steps of firms such REDX, which is already an AIM listed company just five years after its creation. For the sceptics, just consider that the founding employees of Apple and Google are now worth millions of pounds, at the very least. And while a smaller pharma firm may not have the potential to grow to the size of these businesses, you could profit if your employer were to strike gold. Of course, working at a smaller firm isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and there are factors that should be taken into account when considering a move. For one thing, smaller companies are most at risk of be- ing affected by market conditions, particularly those that focus on one or two ‘blockbuster’ products. This can mean that the organisation could potentially be bought out or face difficulties in a downturn. For sales staff in particular, working at a smaller or- ganisation can also create additional challenges, not least that you won’t have a hefty expenses account to impress potential clients with. You’ll also have to consider that you may not have the robust marketing team to support your sales activities and won’t be able to rely on your brand name in the same way you would at a major firm. There’s also the issue of the company not having as much cash to invest in technology and products for its staff. While you won’t be limited to an old Bunsen burner and lab coat, it’s likely that smaller firms won’t have the absolute cutting-edge resources that a Glaxo, Novartis or AstraZeneca have access to and for technical roles this can be an issue to consider. In very rare circumstances you may find that some of the smallest companies might not be on formulary with insurance providers, which would significantly affect your ability to take the product to market and sell it. However, this is something that can be clari- fied before committing to work for the organisation. While you may face some challenges working at a smaller pharma firm, the majority of these factors are rather minor and are outweighed by the potential to have greater responsibility over your work, improved chances of securing a promotion and the ability to potentially earn a significant amount of money fur- ther down the line. So for professionals looking for a new pharma role, maybe it’s time to forget the major players and look to the smaller firms. As the sector continues to evolve it’s likely that more nimble and agile companies will prosper in the future, so get on board while you still can.