How To Activate Board Members and Senior Executives To Build Thriving Cultural Environments For Scientific Healthcare Companies & Beyond

As part of Slone Partners’ ongoing series of exclusive interviews with scientific healthcare and human capital trailblazers, we’re delighted to present Sarah Larson, Partner & Chief Human Resource Officer at Third Rock Ventures; Russell Campanello, Executive VP Human Resources & Corporate Communications at iRobot; Sanjiv Patel, Chief Executive Officer at Relay Therapeutics; and Coco Brown, Chief Executive Officer at Athena Alliance.

The group collectively participated in Slone Partners’ June programming, a dynamic live panel event in Boston observed by nearly 100 esteemed healthcare-industry guests which focused on the vital importance of culture.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Larson, Campanello, Patel and Brown examined the ways, means, and importance of activating board members and senior executives to build thriving cultural environments, which yielded a wealth of executive expertise and deep context into the complexities of both establishing and fostering thriving corporate cultures. The key takeaway was the paramount importance of activating boards of directors, boards of advisors, and senior executives to participate in attracting and retaining human capital that are vital to business growth and employee happiness.

Sarah Larson moderated the discussion, while Slone Partners CEO Leslie Loveless and Founder Adam Slone hosted the informative evening.

WHAT IS CULTURE? Culture is what a company thinks, how it behaves, what values it holds, what it believes or believes in, and the common mindset that binds and connects its people. The strongest cultures are almost religious, transcending mere missions, getting into distinguishing attributes that create senses of belonging, and connecting people regardless of hierarchy. Ideally, everyone owns it, and everyone lives it. Culture starts in the boardroom and in the C-suite.

HOW CULTURE EVOLVES. Company cultures can deliberately change quickly or evolve over time by senior leadership who thoughtfully alter approaches in what they do and how they do it. Create environments where people love coming to work through thoughtful and strategic decisions. Do companies have to be transparent about cultural shift? Smaller, nimble organizations tend to be more so. Every single person makes a difference. Advice: Create an archetype of talent and passion; show resilience and perseverance as culture permeates downward.

THE IMPACT CULTURE HAS ON RECRUITING. In times of low unemployment where small pools of top talent have abundant choices, culture becomes more vitally important to employees. The best candidates are curious about culture, wanting to understand it more, appreciating the importance of a symmetrical fit to their beliefs, approaches and personalities. Employers who recruit to values and mindsets help to spread workplace behaviors that promote worker satisfaction and happiness. Advice: Be careful about over-recruiting to culture and becoming narrow in thinking. This can result in a “sameness” throughout the organization that inhibits the creativity that invites the best ideas and strategies.

THE VITAL ROLE OF BOARDS. Culture is ultimately the responsibility of the board. Companies that recruit board members who bring positive change, and not just expertise, ultimately have stronger cultures. Board members must also honestly ask themselves “Is this a culture I want to associate with?”, and the absence of board candidates asking culture questions and caring about the answers is a red flag. Advice: Boards should not only have culture committees, but have a CHRO on the board who understands people.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSITY. Diversity is important because it supports creativity and innovation; however, women and minorities don’t want to be recruited merely because they’re women and minorities. New perspectives are born from diversity of ethnicities, ages, genders, nationalities, backgrounds – which tends to bring the best out of everyone. It helps people to work better together and understand more about each other. Advice: If management doesn’t care about diversity, it’s a red flag, because homogeny doesn’t breed culture excellence.

IMPLEMENTING TALENT BRANDING STRATEGIES. Talent branding brings authenticity and humanity to organizations that easily says “who we are” to the world, to clients, and to marketplaces through honesty, storytelling and embracing both strengths and imperfections. Individual people, pervasive culture, values and behaviors help attract candidates as salaries and titles are commoditized between competing organizations. Instead, spotlight talent through company websites, social media and encouraging realness between employees and outside contacts, allowing people to shine. Advice: Utilizing talent branding techniques both internally and externally can both build and reinforce culture while also attracting and retaining top talent.

ESTABLISHING CULTURE IN NEW COMPANIES. New company cultures can be driven by a single founder through personality, understanding that utilizing personality can actually create something the company can leverage as an ongoing foundation. Vulnerability isn’t necessarily a downside as it helps to build trust. Advice: Put in the effort, be intentional, and establish early what the 3-5 things are that drive how “we” work – it will attract others with shared values.

ABOUT SLONE PARTNERS. Slone Partners delivers the leaders who build and propel amazing healthcare organizations – People Are Our Science™. Since 2000, Slone Partners specializes in delivering world-class C-suite leadership, executive, and upper management talent to the most promising and established life sciences, research, diagnostics, precision medicine and laboratory services companies. With coast-to-coast presence in the most active healthcare industry hubs of Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Austin, Research Triangle Park NC, and Washington DC, Slone Partners uniquely and precisely provides an array of executive search and human capital advisory services to exceptional clients. Our full suite of services includes identifying, negotiating with, and onboarding talent, in addition to post-placement mentoring, success monitoring, and culture fit services. To learn more about Slone Partners unique processes and unmatched network of proven leaders, visit

Edited on 7/2/2023