Next-generation life sciences leadership in Scandanavia

Next-generation life sciences leadership in Scandanavia

The rising generation of life sciences executives in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden will take the helm at a time of great opportunity and even greater challenges for the industry. Will they be up to the job?

The next generation of Scandinavian executives faces a dramatically evolving environment of economic, demographic, social, technological, and digital disruption that will buffet their organizations and test their leadership ability. This report takes stock of those challenges, explores how these leaders see those challenges, and examines how well prepared they are to meet them.

The industry challenges ahead

From start-ups to multinationals, Scandinavia’s biotech, medtech, and pharma companies are poised to make significant breakthroughs in multiple therapeutic areas, technologies, and treatments. But the industry and its leaders also face major challenges, including:

  • Rapid digitization of life sciences and healthcare, opening the way for nontraditional entrants, e-health, and a big-data arms race
  • A looming talent shortage in areas from R&D, IT, and market access to senior leadership with a truly global mind-set

How well prepared is the new generation of leaders to convert these challenges into opportunities to reimagine leadership, talent management, and organizational practices? What new ideas and perspectives are they likely to bring to the companies? And what might they need to do to enhance their ability to lead alongside their more senior colleagues and eventually replace them?

The C-suite leaders

To answer these questions, we analyzed the demographic and career data of more than 100 senior life sciences executives from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, between 35 and 45 years of age, drawn from all sectors and functions of the industry, who are excelling in their careers at a relatively young age. We then delved deeper, conducting in-depth interviews with 30 of these executives who serve in the C-suite or are on a clear path toward it. Our questions asked how they view their companies and the issues they face, how they manage and lead, and how they think about their lives and careers.

What we learned

The executives’ perspectives on those concerns and other critical issues are far from unanimous and indicate both acute insight and blind spots.

Our survey and in-depth conversations revealed the following insights:

Many executives may be ignoring or underestimating the magnitude of disruptive forces on the horizon and the difficulty of managing through them. The most important question on the minds of next-generation executives is how to make their company’s business model viable in a future where change is the only constant. When we asked executives about managing in an environment dominated by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), 7 in 10 of them were not ready to concede that it is a major strategic concern.

Many executives say the pace of digital transformation is too slow. Our respondents conceded that their companies have a long way to go in the digital realm, with about four in five agreeing that their firms need a more robust digital culture.

A majority of leaders gauge success by quarterly results, but a substantial minority appear ready to reject short-term thinking in favor of the longer view. Six in 10 of our respondents agreed that “solid numbers are the essence of our entrepreneurial activities, which includes measuring them in shorter intervals.” Although the industry faces rapid change, it still depends on long-run R&D, motivated by the imperative to innovate.

Most respondents said they are satisfied with their corporate career, though it may occasionally involve some struggle. Nearly 5 in 10 respondents said their careers are on an upward trajectory, possibly toward the CEO role. But more than half also said that merit is only one of several factors that figure into success.

Scandinavia has a long history of innovation, world-class educational institutions, established and emerging industry clusters, cross-border collaboration, and a research infrastructure that includes information-rich health-records repositories and biobanks. In a few years’ time, the leaders profiled in this report will fill the most important positions in the region’s life sciences companies. To keep the industry vibrant, they will need to create new business models, lead relentless innovation, and move their organizations toward patient-centric and outcome-based healthcare, all while accommodating daunting social, demographic, and economic forces. It’s a tall order, but these fast-track executives are looking ahead with confidence.

About the author

Martin F. Holm ( is a principal in Heidrick & Struggles’ Copenhagen office and a member of the Healthcare & Life Sciences and Private Equity practices.

The author wishes to thank Catrine Frost for her contributions to this report.

Stay connected

Stay connected to our expert insights, thought leadership, and event information.

Leadership Podcast

Explore the latest episodes of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast