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Healthcare and Life Sciences

Disruption in healthcare and life sciences

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Senior healthcare and life sciences executives expect mounting disruptive pressure in the coming 18 months, fueled by the cost of healthcare, technology, and external innovation. Yet only 45% say that their companies are well prepared to weather the disruptions they anticipate. Among the key factors that executives say prepare them for marketplace disruptions are the caliber of their people, their innovative use of technology, and their superior understanding of customer needs.

These are among the findings of a new Heidrick & Struggles survey, which surveyed 82 senior healthcare and life sciences leaders, 62% of whom were CEOs, C-suite executives, chairmen, or board directors. (For more details about these respondents, see sidebar, “About the survey.”) The survey examined the most significant sources of disruption in the sector and how prepared companies are to respond. Our findings underscore the high importance that sector leaders place on talent and the acquisition of new capabilities as a means of preparing for the challenges ahead.

Key findings

Of those surveyed, 85% think that their company faces more disruptive pressure today than it did 18 months ago, with 91% anticipating the pace of disruption in healthcare and life sciences to increase over the next 18 months. Yet fewer than half (45%) feel that their company is well prepared to face market disruption.

The following were among the top factors that were rated moderately or extremely disruptive to business in the healthcare and life sciences space, according to survey respondents (see figure):

Disruption in Healthcare and Life Sciences

The majority of respondents who said that their companies were prepared for disruption noted the caliber of their people as the top reason for this belief, followed by their innovative use of technology and superior understanding of customer needs.

However, fewer than half (48%) of senior executives in the life sciences sector say that their company attracts the best talent in their market. Further, while most executives cite talent as important, only 38% express moderate or extreme confidence that their company has a sufficient level of talent to successfully deal with disruption in the industry.

More broadly, senior healthcare and life sciences executives cited the growing importance of data and analytics capabilities as the most significant source of anticipated disruption and change to their company over the next 18 months, followed by the speed of technological change in the industry and increasing customer expectations for service, convenience, and cost.

Nonetheless, 50% of the respondents expressed either moderate or extreme confidence in their ability to innovate enough to successfully deal with disruption in the healthcare and life sciences space, indicating some optimism.


One of the key findings from our work with influential companies across the world is that successful senior leaders harness the power of predicting how trends and contexts may intersect to form new opportunities or threats. We call this skill “ripple intelligence.” Healthcare and life sciences companies that succeed will be those that see the “ripple opportunities” presented by these disruptive forces. By embracing these uncertainties and mobilizing, transforming, and executing with agility, these firms will retain differentiation and achieve and sustain leadership in changing markets.

Sidebar: About the survey

Heidrick & Struggles conducted a survey of 82 senior-level executives in the healthcare and life sciences sector to understand how organizations are preparing for and responding to market disruption. Of the respondents, 73% were from the United States, with the remainder from other regions globally, and 43% were C-suite executives, of which 28% were CEOs/chairmen.

The remaining respondents were board members (19%), presidents (6%), partners/owners/principals (9%), VPs/SVPs/EVPs (18%), or others (5%). More than half (54%) of those surveyed work at organizations with more than 10,000 people. Survey respondents come from companies in healthcare systems and services (28%), pharmaceuticals and medical products (54%), and private equity (9%). This survey builds on previous Heidrick & Struggles research, including our work on accelerating performance, an in-depth examination of many of the world’s largest companies that highlights the attributes of top performers.

To learn about these and other findings in more detail, flip through the interactive report above or click the download button for the PDF.

About the contributors

Jimson Cheng ( is the regional managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice for Asia Pacific and the Middle East; he is based in the Singapore office.

Andy MacLeod ( is the regional managing partner of the Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice for Europe; he is based in the London office.

John Mitchell ( is the global managing partner of the Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice; he is based in the Miami Beach office.

Rohit Yadav ( is the practice management director for the Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice; he is based in the Singapore office.

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