We chose to back our people and pull together

By David Filby, Senior Vice President at i-Pharm USA

December 2020

We chose to back our people and pull together

I’m now nine months into my new role as SVP of i-Pharm Consulting, still based in New York and taking on an ambitious growth plan for the life sciences recruitment market in the U.S.

It’s been a year of reflection for me, making a big career change and experiencing a different start to life with i-Pharm than expected! So I wanted to share why I made the change and what building a business in lockdown has been like. 

In almost ten years with my last agency, I witnessed rapid growth across three continents, launched new offices and headed up its NYC venture, all the time absorbing knowledge from some of the best in the industry. The company is without doubt a big recruitment success story.

When I left, I felt ready for more autonomy and exposure – I wanted to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. I interviewed with 19 CEOs and bought into the honesty and balanced approach of Stephen McAnaney, i-Pharm’s CEO. The brand and its focus on quality and integrity has the potential to be best in class. Plus, growth is infectious so I could only move somewhere with ambitious plans.

I walked through the doors of i-Pharm in March and two weeks later walked out again into lockdown. Everything I’d planned with the team for the first six months changed – none of us had dealt with anything like this before, switching to 100% remote working, adapting plans and trying to grow a business with no one in the office. But I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved.

We were at least prepared, technology-wise, for remote working – it’s a fairly common practice in life sciences – but adapting other ways of working was harder. With limited visibility on the team, the assumption that nothing is happening and people aren’t working, is an internal battle. But with that sort of mindset, remote team working will break down very quickly. 


I’ve had to learn a higher level of trust and empowerment to allow me to stay focused on what’s important, and to have empathy for people’s working from home circumstances.


I’ve had to learn a higher level of trust and empowerment to allow me to stay focused on what’s important, and to have empathy for people’s working from home circumstances. Not being able to overhear wins in an office doesn’t mean they’re not happening. We’ve worked hard to provide platforms for communication between colleagues and to encourage catch-ups – with no agenda – to replace the water fountain conversations everyone was missing. As a leader, I had to take responsibility for being the storyteller to ensure success was still recognized and lessons still learned across the team. With this, we’ve all stayed knowledgeable about the business and maintained a feeling of togetherness.

Knowing we can perform like this means there’s no rush to get people back into the office if they’re not comfortable. We’re sticking with our completely flexible remote working policy and have supported candidates to make changes too – in fact, remote working is becoming the norm with clients across the life sciences industry.

We made the decision at the start of this pandemic not to react by cutting staff or reducing commission – instead we chose to back our people and pull together.

What the team has achieved is extraordinary – 50% of our people had less than four months’ experience at i-Pharm and 20% were fully remote hires – yet with their hard work and commitment, performance in Q3 grew by nearly 270%. Q4 will grow 150% again.

But the numbers only tell part of the story. For me, 2020 will go down as a once in a generation opportunity to hire exceptional talent – people with huge potential who’ve become available through no fault of their own this year. While other agencies protected their P&L (and I don’t blame them) we seized an opportunity to build our leadership team and infrastructure – doubling our headcount since April and hiring experienced people capable of grabbing the opportunities ahead.

It’s been a tough year personally at times – I’ve been away from the UK for eight years and this is the first time I’ve truly felt homesick. It hasn’t really felt like New York here, but at the same time I’ve seen the city pull together and find more local support and appreciation. Still, I’m looking forward to some normality with family and friends next year.

On the i-Pharm front, I honestly couldn’t be prouder of how our people have worked together this year and what we’re set up to achieve in 2021.

We’re planning further expansion in the U.S. and I’m looking to add to my team with Senior and Junior Consultants, as well as a Head of Internal Recruitment to support our growth plans. If you’re interested in hearing more and discussing your own career goals, feel free to reach out.