For The Record with Andrew Kris, Founding Partner, Borderless

October 4  

People describe me as a “seasoned advisor and business leader”. They mean I have enough experience to place business issues in context, to challenge and advise on strategies and people, and, when needed, attract the right executives.

In an earlier life I served on the Management Boards of a large global industrial company leading units in life sciences, chemicals, plastics and construction products. I have managed businesses of all sizes across 20 countries and have enjoyed living in the UK, Belgium, France, Hungary, South Africa and Switzerland.

As a recent HRO Thought Leader of the Year nominee by the HRO Association, I enjoy a parallel life as an author and commentator on global developments in shared services and outsourcing. I also advise Corporate Boards on business transformation and chair a not-for-profit international school.

Born in Hungary and educated in the UK, I can find my way around in English, French and Hungarian, and if necessary, in rather poor Dutch.

If you prefer to work with an experienced consultant, who tells it like it is and retains a human touch, call me for a conversation.

Give us Borderless’ elevator pitch.

Borderless is a global executive search and leadership consulting firm focusing on finding leaders in the top three levels of organisations – specifically within the life sciences sector, and within the global chemical value chain. Many of our consultants have formerly worked as executives within the sectors in which we operate.

Borderless means just that; we operate seamlessly on a global level. If somebody in Minnesota needs a senior executive, we will of course look within the region and within the United States, but not only there. Our global networks allow us to search worldwide to find the right person for the role, and bring them to wherever our client needs them to be. We work across the biotech, pharma, and biopharma field, as well as diagnostics and medical devices. Many of the clients that we serve are members of the Medical Alley Association.

As a leader, how has your role changed during COVID-19?

Borderless got its name for good reasons. Our consultants are based in 10 countries around the world. We have operated as a business in the cloud since we were founded almost 20 years ago and we have maintained our networks virtually since then. All our systems rely on internet technology and support remote working. We have always worked in the way that COVID-19 is forcing us all to do right now. So, the dreadful impact of this pandemic has not caused us to change the way that we work, with the exception of our global hub in Brussels, where of course the necessary safety measures and social distancing are in place.

Furthermore, our experiences have helped us to support clients that now need to work differently, and together, we have been running Borderless Live webinars on this topic. The 50-60,000 executives around the world, who comprise our community, have been keen participants and appreciate the agility and insights such a network brings.

While communication via video has been around a while, our clients are now learning to use it more effectively than before. Physical meetings have always been an important element when bringing on a new executive. Now, several of our clients have been through the entire hiring process and on-boarding without a single in-person meeting.

How have you pivoted your company to address the needs that have risen since the onset of COVID-19?

As we hoped, our business model has remained incredibly robust. It has also been interesting to see that the global life sciences sector seems to have been less affected than so many other industries. The sector has remained relatively buoyant throughout this period, and we have not seen any significant diminution in executive search, though COVID-19 has highlighted shortcomings within some organisations.

Under the ‘old’ normal circumstances, general managers were capable of running subsidiaries all over the world quite effectively, but once faced with today’s crisis, some have been found wanting in several respects.

A number of clients tell us that COVID-19 has led them to reassess their senior executives’ capabilities to manage in a different world. They expect to see substantial changes at the top level of many of their regional and central organisations as a consequence of having some of the weaknesses in management highlighted.

What are the big milestones to come in the next few years for Borderless?

We started the year quite optimistically. We see all the threats around the world – not least, the global political situation, which clearly impacts all economies. Our view is that if we can sustain the level of business of the last two years through this crisis year of 2020, we will be doing very well.

We tend to build our own team by bringing in people who are already experienced in the sector. Our number one priority is to sustain our teams and to maintain the energy in the business through our people. That serves our business well and provides clients with continuity in our relationships.

As to future performance, similar to many clients, we have no more than a month or two of visibility on what lies ahead. Just based on this, I think we will continue to do well.

What does leadership look like to you?

Good leaders have great followers. You can’t lead if you don’t have anyone behind you – or even leading alongside you. A team works well when it’s encouraged by you as a leader and supported to do the very best that each person can.

In our environment it’s personal values that make the difference. If you show and live your values through your behaviour and in the way that you operate, then your team will tend to reflect your example. And provided those values are appropriate not only from a business perspective, but also from a human perspective, then I think your business will go in the right direction. That does not mean that you have to be extroverted. There are wonderful leaders who are far from being extroverts, who do extremely well and who exemplify good human values in their behaviour, and positive business values too.

There was a great example of that recently on Borderless Live from Joanne Kamens, who has built a non-profit entity in the life sciences sector in Boston called Addgene. She developed a sustainable business, which has been at the top of Boston’s best companies since 2016, by implementing all of those things that she believes in, which are essentially solid human values that ultimately serve society.

And that is the purpose of a company. I have never believed that creating shareholder value gets anybody up in the morning. That really is a falsehood. People get up for other reasons and do their jobs for different motivations. Earning a good living is part of that, but so is the satisfaction you get from making your contribution.

What are the Borderless values and purpose? What is getting you and your team up and out of bed every morning?

We are careful to bring in people to Borderless who share particular values and a work ethic, rather than people to whom making money is the sole objective. Making money is a consequence of what we do, not the sole purpose.

Conversations with clients and their business is incredibly stimulating for all of us. Add to that the infinite variety of human factors that are intrinsic to our work, our curiosity and thirst for learning is thoroughly satisfied. Through all this we are constantly reminded of the responsibility we carry when attracting someone to a new role. Care and attention and understanding the realities of the situation our candidates are stepping into, reduces the risk of job change. When a person is preparing to move their family across countries for a new opportunity, it is critical for everyone to be truthful and realistic that the move would be right for the executive and their family, as well as the client.

We are privileged to have the potential to positively change people’s lives as well as make a good living for ourselves in the process. In the end, we are running a business, but it is a business with purpose and firmly held human values.

What is the best advice you have received in your career?

To do something you enjoy. The basic principle is that if you do something you enjoy, you’re going to do it well. And if you do it well, people are bound to pay you.

I’m always shocked at how easily people are prepared to move companies, excited by the prospect, but without having done essential due diligence. We, as a third party, have a professional obligation to insist on it, and undertake it ourselves. There are clients we no longer work with because we ourselves are not comfortable with the kind of cultural or ethical environment we would be proposing people to move into.

As an individual you owe it to yourself and to your family to do sufficient due diligence and to ask the right questions to understand who you would be working with, what kind of culture you would be walking into, what it is really like to work in that environment. People often don’t pay sufficient attention to the qualitative, soft side of making a move.

There’s a good reason why the executive search takes a long time. It’s more than just practical mechanics. Human processes require time for reflection and time to digest.

What is the worst?

Go for the highest paying job.

What is one personal goal for the upcoming year?

I only have one goal. And that is to continue to enjoy life, and to enjoy what I do personally and professionally.

How do you relax / decompress?

I read a lot, mostly about technology. I tend not to differentiate between personal and business aspects in the sense that I look for stimulating my thinking about the world and how we can improve the things we do. I also enjoy reading biographies. Seeing what people have done with their lives always astonishes me. It would be great to emulate some of those individuals.

One of my favourite pieces of reading is The Economist. It’s a great source for business, finance, technology, as well as the art world and so on. They also have wonderful obituaries of people you may never have heard of but who have done the most surprising things with their lives.

What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

My Minneapolis-based colleague Linda Stone and I were drawn to Medical Alley membership because of the immense talent that exists in Minnesota and the diversity of the organisations innovating in healthcare and medical technology, as well as manufacturing.

We know many companies who are members of the Medical Alley Association and we felt that it must be an interesting community to contribute to. We feel that it’s not only sensible to be a part of Medical Alley from a pure business perspective, but it also allows us to give something back through our experiences in the Borderless community.

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!