February 8, 2024

Advice from Mark Murcko — Building great teams and companies

It was incredible to have the renowned scientist Mark Murcko attend the BioBreakfast meeting in Pittsburgh this week.  He’s so down to earth and generous with his time!  For me, the highlight of his talk was when he described the essentials for building a great company:  

  • Great science
  • Addressing an important medical need
  • Great team
  • Just enough management and oversight
  • Enough money to do the right science

As a recruiter, I was especially excited to hear how important a great team is.  Mark described a great team as “smart, hard-working, resilient, diverse, listens well, confident yet humble, motivated by the right things, realistic”.

A terrific question was asked by an attendee – how do you make sure you’re hiring the right people?

Mark’s response was right on!  “Ask their references – how does this person respond in adversity?”  

When things aren’t going well, will they curl up in a ball or will they rally the troops and offer solutions?  As part of my interview prep with my candidates, I suggest they consider a standard behavioral question from my clients:  Tell me about a time when the project went south and how did you respond?  Or the time that the experiments failed?  Or you lost power?  Or you went over budget?  

We all have setbacks with both our personal and professional projects.  Does anything ever go according to the original plan?  Not usually.  When you tell the story of your setback, don’t forget to share the details of your comeback!  It’s not what happens to us, it’s how we respond.  So as we prepare for interviews and consider these questions, don’t hide the setbacks.  Be honest and be vulnerable.  The candidates who have encountered challenges, pivoted, persevered, and discovered a solution will be in high demand with great companies looking to hire great candidates.