by Phil Schneidermeyer

Pharma CIO Taps Into the Silicon Valley Talent Pool

Sep 29, 20143 mins

AstraZeneca's global talent network includes a new center designed to recruit 'tech brains' from the Bay Area.

Talent compass pointing to the most highly skilled jobs hiring
Credit: Thinkstock

Dave Smoley is the CIO of AstraZeneca, one of a handful of pure-play biopharmaceutical companies that spans the entire medicine production chain: discovery, development, manufacturing, distribution and global commercialization. He joined the $25 billion AstraZeneca, which employs more than 50,000 people worldwide, after a lengthy stint as CIO at Flextronics International. In an interview, Smoley–a member of the CIO Hall of Fame–described his approach to IT staffing at a time when the pharmaceutical industry is undergoing major changes.

When you joined the company last year, what was the opportunity? What were the challenges? I joined at a time of massive transformation. The CEO, a PhD who previously ran Genentech, is an innovator and an entrepreneur. To succeed and grow, the AZ culture needed to change. The life sciences industry is evolving rapidly, and the company needed to accelerate the pace of change internally.

How would you describe the IT organization you inherited and your vision for it? Like many IT organizations, ours was roughly 70 percent outsourced and 30 percent [in-house]. My vision for the group was to double performance at half the cost. We would become more efficient and more effective by reducing the amount of work sourced externally and strengthen our internal technology and operations capability. We could reduce spending and simplify and streamline the process by using fewer third parties.

How does hiring talent help you achieve those efficiencies? I spent seven years serving as CIO of a Silicon Valley technology company, so I have seen the power and speed that comes from being a part of that tech ecosystem. Our CEO had a similar experience at Genentech. We needed to have a physical presence in the Valley to recruit innovative talent and to partner with technology vendors and investors.

To lead that organization, I moved the CTO role there and recruited a Bay Area veteran, Shobie Ramakrishnan, from She spent her 20-year career in the Valley and worked for Infosys and clients like Apple and then Genentech/Roche. She will rapidly grow a local technology team of senior architects and senior solutions leaders and also develop our external tech partnerships.

What skills are you looking for in Silicon Valley? The Silicon Valley location is an important additional node on our global IT talent network. We also added a node in Chennai, India, where we are recruiting 1,300 IT professionals. These two new nodes complement our existing presence in the U.S., Europe, China and Japan. In the Valley, we are recruiting “tech brains.” Their role will be to establish a persistent, active presence in the area to nurture partnerships with innovative thinkers and companies. They will be working with tech firms, VCs, universities and life-science companies to be sure we are pushing the boundaries of science and technology in our industry.

How do you compete for talent against the likes of Google and Facebook? We are not competing with Google and Facebook because we are looking for different talent. We are looking for individuals who want to save lives. AstraZeneca’s culture is very focused on putting patients first, and on scientific leadership. We attract people who want to apply their technology expertise to transforming healthcare. There aren’t many companies in the Bay Area where you can do that.

Phil Schneidermeyer is a partner with Heidrick & Struggles, where he specializes in recruiting CIOs and CTOs for all industries.