AI or Executive Search? pharmaINSIDE interview with Christine Konlechner-Leeb, Client Partner

How did you get into the healthcare industry? Who were your influences?

After graduating from the University of Economics and Business, I first started my career as a brand manager for the SWATCH Group, moving laterally to the pharmaceutical industry a few years later. At that time, my entry into the industry was supported by Mr. Helmut Hasibeder, then Managing Director of Takeda Austria, as well as Roman Gamerith and Clemens Schödl. I am still in friendly contact with these mentors to this day!

pharmaINSIDE Interview with Christine Konlechner-Leeb, Client Partner at Pedersen & Partners

What was your motivation for switching to Executive Search?

I have worked for twenty years with some of the biggest names in this field, including Abbott, Sanofi, Philips and Thermofisher Scientific on an international level, taking care of the commercial business. These companies want the best teams, and they will stop at nothing to find employees who are the best fit for them.

Personnel are at the heart of each company – a business is only as successful as the people who run it. At some point I decided that I wanted to focus more on people than products, which is why these days I bring people and companies together by building bridges for them. This gives me the opportunity to communicate with the smartest, most successful, and most interesting people in the field, and to gain insights into new technologies and learn something new every day.

The market is very dynamic, and we are witnessing many new developments, especially in Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Robotics Surgery, Nanotechnology, Radiomics, Genetics and Telemedicine. It’s never boring.

How do you see the industry in general and the current developments now? Prosperous? Dragging? And why is that?

Recruiting companies that have been active in Austria for many years, especially in the classic pharmaceutical sector, now often have problems finding candidates who are willing to change, and off-limits companies are also becoming a hurdle in this respect.

Increasingly, Austrian companies are also commissioning service providers who truly work internationally, meaning that they can offer a more comprehensive view of the candidate market.

The life science industry in Austria is a small market; many positions, especially in the scientific field, but also in the commercial field, can no longer be covered with Austrian candidates alone if you want the best of the best. This means that a somewhat broader perspective is needed.

Very often we hear from market participants that it is becoming increasingly difficult to fill vacancies due to a lack of suitable candidates, but we don’t have that problem – if anything, quite the opposite! Through our international network, we have contact with talented people who are willing to change and relocate. Austria is an interesting location.

How do you see the change in the industry in terms of personnel?

Executive Search has changed a lot. What we are seeing here is a dynamic development: a transformative process, moving away from the traditional personnel consulting with a psychology angle, towards using industry experts as sparring partners for staffing decisions.

The search for talent has evolved; it’s about understanding what our clients are doing, getting to grips with their technologies and gaining a deeper understanding to be able to carry out competence checks. Of course, this is about professional competence, but it is even more about personal competence. The notion of the traditional “position” into which people are to be fitted is an outdated model, because now we think about the role itself, the tasks it covers, and the individual competencies that are needed to be able to successfully fulfil them.

Do you have a special focus in your client portfolio?

At Pedersen & Partners, global industry-dedicated practice groups work in synergy with on-the-ground teams in the geographies in which we operate. Client Partners who are focused on topics such as life science, finance or real estate meet regularly to exchange information on the latest developments in the markets. In this way, we ensure that we can offer our clients appropriate insights and market know-how.

Personally, I enjoy working with start-ups, scale-ups, and medium-sized companies. The dialogue and exchange with the respective teams is exciting, direct, and personal – after all, it’s all about people.

At Pedersen & Partners, we generally strive to develop sustainable long-term relations with our clients based on our three pillars: trust, relationship, and professionalism.

Your company is multinational. What advantage does this have for your clients in the dense market of executive search?

At Pedersen & Partners, we work globally as one team and can therefore recruit for the international branches of our Austrian clients abroad and vice versa. Our clients have a local contact person, and we take care to bring in the required market expertise regardless of geography – the “Best Team Forward!”

We are an executive search and board-level search firm, but of course, we do not only search for C-level positions. We get mandates to fill key positions that are of importance for the future development of the company, roles with a complex profile or for a niche area of the business. Suitable candidates for such roles cannot simply be found with an ordinary job advertisement – it takes much more know-how, project focus and active networks in the respective area to be able to attract the right kind of talent.

What qualities or preparations do you expect from an applicant? How deep does the preparation have to be?

We do not expect this kind of preparation from our candidates – often, they do not even know which company we are talking about in the first place. Our conversations with professionals are not conducted like classic interviews, but more like eye-level conversations. It is important for us to understand the candidates’ ideas and ambitions, as well as those of our clients. We build bridges, and these bridges must be firmly anchored at both sides to be sustainable. It’s not about just mediating someone.

Does individuality in the person’s profile count as much as an “impeccable CV”?

I would like to turn this question back on you and ask “what, to you, is an impeccable CV?” The classic CV, unfortunately still requested by many HR managers, is a rather outdated model.

We are always more interested in the person who stands behind the CV, than whether they hitchhiked through South America for eight months, or took care of their elderly parents for a year. Interruptions are normal; they may have no bearing whatsoever on a person’s qualifications, or they may say a lot about that person.

How do you think the industry will develop? Will the doom-mongering about AI be confirmed?

In many areas, AI and other technical tools provide excellent support for talent acquisition activities, especially in large companies. High volumes of applications for job advertisements and through career portals can thus be successfully managed.

However, I don‘t think that AI will make our particular recruiting techniques obsolete any time soon. Executive search is not off-the-rack, but made-to-measure. We are skilled tailors, measuring each individual, ensuring the perfect fit.

Christine Konlechner-Leeb

Christine Konlechner-Leeb is a client partner with Pedersen & Partners. She focuses on leading Executive Search and leadership mandates in the sector of Life Sciences and MedTech in Europe. Ms. Konlechner-Leeb brings along more than twenty years of experience in commercial roles with international companies where she focused on business development and sales on pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices and diagnostics.



By Herbert Pachler, pharmaINSIDE