We have a two-for-one this week: Glen Gardner (left) and David Winwood (right) of Gardner Innovation Search Partners, a recruitment firm specialised in tech transfer, are both joining the show.
Gardner tells us why he set up the firm and Winwood reveals why, after two and a half decades of leading tech transfer offices, he was attracted to recruitment. They ponder everything from the great resignation to the complexities of salary levels, and even get candid about a few opportunities where the candidate didn’t work out.
The list of people recruited by Gardner Innovation Search Partners is long, including current AUTM chair and previous guest on this very podcast, Ian McClure for University of Kentucky, so Glen and Dave are trusted voices in the ecosystem and I’m very glad they’re sharing some of their wisdom with all of us today.
Thierry Heles: Glen, David, welcome.
David Winwood: Thank you.
Glen Gardner: Thank you, honoured to be here.
David Winwood: Indeed.
Thierry Heles: I look forward to our discussion. To start with, can you give me an overview of Gardner Innovation Search Partners?
Glen Gardner: Sure. This is Glen Gardner. I started in recruiting about over 20 some years ago, probably about 25 years ago coming up to that. I started as an information technology recruiter. And I was recruiting cybersecurity people for a very large research and development company in Columbus, Ohio called Patel, which has about $8bn in government R&D and runs about a third of the national labs in the United States. I was recruiting cybersecurity people for them. And one day they said to me, “Glen we like the way you recruit, can you help us find someone to commercialise the intellectual property from the supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory?” Really with a glazed look over my face – I didn’t understand what they said, but I have a nuclear engineering degree so I’d heard of Oak Ridge National Laboratory — and I said, sure. And let’s do that on retainer and flash forward 20 years here, we are.
Thierry Heles: Amazing. What motivated you to set up the firm then?
Glen Gardner: I stumbled across the recruiting business. I didn’t really know much about the recruiting business and a friend of mine that was in it said that he wears shorts and Birkenstocks to work and he can come and go as he pleases and he can live worldwide.
And I thought, that sounds like a pretty good program. And so that’s why I started in the recruiting business.
Thierry Heles: Amazing. David, what brought you to Gardner Innovation Search Partners?
David Winwood: Glen and Lisa and I met one another 20-plus years ago when I was at the Ohio State University. And so Lisa and I worked together and I think Glen saw me give a presentation on IP and tech transfer right at the time that Patel had engaged him to do that search. And so the three of us have known one another for a very long time at this stage. It’s 20-plus years. Throughout our various career changes and our paths to get us to this point, we’ve been in touch over the years and had discussed maybe having me join the firm when the time was right.
I think we initially thought that the time was right in March 2020, and we were ready to go. And then something happened that made us change our minds, stuck around and waited until July of last. And you know why I wanted to do this, I had been 25, 26 years in the tech transfer business after having done almost 15 with startup companies and the university tech transfer community, frankly, has just been my personal and professional community for such a long time that I knew that I wanted to do something that would keep me connected with that very tightly community-focused business.
And so this was a perfect opportunity. People I know both on the company side and then on the client and candidate side. So it seemed like a great opportunity.
Thierry Heles: Amazing. When I look through your CV in researching this interview I saw you, obviously you were at UNC Chapel Hill, Ohio State, Louisiana State, past president of AUTM. Was there anything in particular that interested you in recruitment?
David Winwood: I think it’s back to the community aspect. Again, I don’t wanna sound too sentimental about that, but it really is a very tightly knit community that is supportive of one another. If you send questions out to the community lists, you’ll get a lot of assistance, you get a lot of help and pointers, and that’s just one minor aspect or example of that circumstance.
But I think it really seemed to me having known Glen over the years, and a couple of other folks who were in the business, it just seemed like a really good use of my network and my ability, I hope, to connect people. It seemed also a little bit like a logical extension of what I’d done in terms of connecting people and trying to bring them together to help build this community and to strengthen it if we do this properly.
So just all of these things aligned at the same time and again, allowed me to continue to build on and keep involved with a very strong professional community
Thierry Heles: I want to move back to the firm. I think we’re going to talk quite lot about recruitment, so perhaps start with a big-ish question: How does the recruitment process work when a client approaches you? What happens?
Glen Gardner: Great question. One, I think we’ve met, since we’ve been in this community for so long we’re very known in the community. So I guess the “sales process” is much easier now because we’ve probably had cocktails with these people at past AUTM meetings or LES meetings or around the world.
But basically, a university or national lab or possibly someone from industry, but more universities and national labs, they’ll either reach out or they’ve responded to some kind of outreach that we have. And they say, “hey, we need this tech transfer person, or we need this IP person, or we need, whatever it is in this broad community that we call tech transfer” and Lisa, Dave and myself we have a meeting with them to define what they’re looking for. We help them write job specs, create detailed questionnaires. We gather deal sheets, but we don’t operate a whole lot different than any other search firm in the world. We just have a very narrow domain.
And the other thing that kind of separates us is we’ve been building this network in our database — so my 9,000 LinkedIn connections, Dave’s 4,000 LinkedIn connections. Lisa’s 5,000 LinkedIn connections — and then we’ve actually gone out to every university, mainly in the United States, but around the world, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and we’ve indexed every single person’s name, LinkedIn profile, email address, phone number. And we’ve indexed them onto specialised lists. We divide them into life science people, to physical science people, to leaders, to venture people, to startup people, to i-Corps people, to operations people. So we’ve indexed — and we’ve been indexing and we’re still doing it, it’s a long term project — every RTTP, every CLP, we’re working on the IM300 list now. So, we just indexed all these people and so, I guess our proprietary database is really what sets us apart right now. And when we kick off a leadership search with one push of a button, we can push out an email to every tech transfer leader in the world.
And the last email that we pushed out, I think it was about 1800 people, we had an over 100% open rate, which means people opened it twice. We had quite a big forward rate. The statistics that I’m most proud of is we had a 0% opt-out rate.
David Winwood: That is impressive.
Thierry Heles: How do you do that? Because I don’t think I’ve ever achieved that with any email sendouts.
Glen Gardner: Well, I guess over the past couple years, once we started doing this I think my opt-out people, in my database of 15,000 people, I think it’s approaching about 50 people that have opted out. And one of the people that opted out said, “hey, some of these positions are not exactly, but if you really see something, just give me a call”. And so, even one of our opt-out people… We had a very high-level leadership search, I knew he’d be interested in, he was very happy that I called.
How many other tech transfer recruiters have you ever heard of in the world? That’s my question.
Thierry Heles: I don’t think I’ve come across someone who’s quite on the same level as you, to be honest.
Glen Gardner: Right? The large search firms, the corn fairies of the world. These large retained search firms, the higher ed search firms, like WittKiefer, something like that. A lot of times, they have the relationship with the president of the university and the university won’t know of us. We have gotten beat out on searches and I’ve had to play cleanup for some of these firms in the past, where after a year they can’t figure out what tech transfer is. And then they call me, “why didn’t I hear about you a year ago?”. So, that’s happened quite a few times the past.
Thierry Heles: You’ve mentioned something else that I wanted to pick up on in your answer, which was the deal sheets. Can you tell me about what that requirement is and why you have that requirement?
Glen Gardner: Yeah. At the end of the day, tech transfer’s about getting deals out of the door, right? For the good of mankind to make money for the university, to enhance the faculty. And I think one of the most important things that we can get from a tech transfer people is, “okay, how many deals have you done? How many exclusive licences have you done? How many MTA agreements have you done?”
We’re looking for volume. We don’t need to know the specifics – obviously from a confidentiality standpoint, we don’t really care that you did a $3.2m deal with Novartis. We’re really looking for the fact that you did an excess of $1m upfront, what your role was, if you were first chair, if you were second chair. And it’s gonna depend on the university, obviously if you’re coming from a high-throughput university your deal sheet will be bigger instead of if you’re coming from a low-throughput. So at the end of the day, the slate of candidates that we present to the client, they’re all gonna have a resumé CV, a deal sheet, and a very in-depth questionnaire. And these samples are all on my website.
And so, that process is gonna make it very easy for our end clients to stack these, let’s say 10 people, in our candidate pool together and look at them all side by side, figure out which ones that they like the best.
Thierry Heles: Does that mean if you’ve built that database of thousands of people that you always recruit from within the sector, or do you ever have new people coming into the profession?
Glen Gardner: There’s always new people coming into the profession, which is a whole different topic that you may want to talk about. Not maybe with us, but maybe with the folks at LifeArc, maybe people with the folks at the AUTM Foundation. And when I gave my career talk at the past AUTM meeting, there is such a shortage of tech transfer people. Cause I think if you look, there’s probably only about 5,000 people worldwide that really do and understand tech transfer. So it is a small list and every day I’m coming across new people, or maybe they’re coming from licensing in industry, or maybe they’re coming from licensing in pharma, maybe they just finished their postdoc and they were in a fellowship and then they’re moving over to a full-time. So we’re constantly updating, growing our database. And frankly, we still have about 10,000 people in our database to get indexed, to get on these correct lists that we need. So the work is never-ending.
David Winwood: Could I add to that a little bit, just because one of the interesting things here — you ask about people coming from outside of the profession. Up until just very recently, you couldn’t actually say, “oh, I went to school to study tech transfer”. There are now in fact academic courses that are germane or targeted to a career in tech transfer perhaps, that wasn’t the case for many years.
And I give myself as an example or exhibit A. I spent 15 years in startup company work. I used to be a chemist once upon a time, realised I was never gonna be a Nobel prize-winning chemist. But what I really enjoyed in those startup experiences was collecting information from the rest of the research group, whether they were biologists, pharmacologists, or whatever, packaging this material together, understanding it at some level so that it was presentable to potential investors or corporate partners.
And after, I admit, I almost stumbled into tech transfer, realised that was actually a very good preparation for working with a diverse set of academic discipline specialists, figuring out what they do and why it’s important that someone else might wanna write a cheque to support the furtherance of their work and research.
I think I spent 15 years in startup companies, unwittingly preparing myself to do a very similar thing in a university space. Just a thought.
Thierry Heles: I’m gonna stay on you as well. Is there something that you’ve learned during your time in tech transfer offices that you are using today to recruit others?
David Winwood: I think it’s probably, again, back to the community aspect, recognising that this is a profession or kind of a service industry within a complicated environment in the university community, and that this position requires someone with a wish and expertise level in terms of serving other people and helping other people succeed.
That really I think is, if you look at the people we try and recruit and bring into positions, I think that’s one of those maybe intangible aspects that we know it when we see it, we know when people respond on that questionnaire, that Glen referenced, whether they have the mindset that is appropriate for this kind of a role within a much larger organisation.
A tech transfer office inside a large research university is a very small part of the operational components of a major engine. And so, understanding that and being able to figure out how you fit, you have to learn that to have any level of success or to proceed in the industry, I think. And I think we’ve been able to recognise that. I hope I bring that to the table.
Thierry Heles: There’s something else that Glen mentioned that I wanted to pick up on and the elephant in the room, which is the great resignation. How is that impacting the tech transfer sector?
Glen Gardner: I really haven’t seen a lot of people resign from tech transfer. I think it’s the opposite. I think the word innovation is really sparked in the universities. And I think all we see is where universities are trying to beef up their technology transfer offices.
The issue is not people resigning. The issue is tech transfer were so strained during the pandemic but they were all working remote and they were all getting deals out the door and they were doing all kinds of innovations, whether it’s for covid or whatever.
And then the other issue’s where things were getting done quicker. So instead of waiting to fly into Boston, to have a meeting, to meet VC people, everybody can jump on a Zoom meeting in their Zoom shirt and their shorts and Birkenstocks and get deals out the door. And so I think that the more issue today with our community is finding people that want to go back into the office, that will go back into the office.
And so there’s just a change from the leadership at the universities but not really from the tech transfer director. I don’t know if that made sense. It was kind of a long convoluted answer.
Thierry Heles: No, I think it does.
David Winwood: I think it’s right on target because I think Glen, you would say that three years ago you would not have expected an introductory call with a potential candidate to include in the first three minutes, “can I do this remotely?” And I think now that phrase comes up…
Glen Gardner and David Winwood: … first 30 seconds.
David Winwood: And a couple of schools have been able to adopt policies that are attractive. I think some of the state schools have struggled in areas where there are absolute requirements that employees reside within the state, but there’s been a lot of creativity on the part of many universities in figuring out how to address this change in circumstances, because it’s absolutely new.
First of all, we’re technically able to do it because of the technology that you and I and Glen are using right now, which, five years ago, would’ve been unthinkable, but also now just the expectation, “I can do this from home”. As Glen said, deals have been done. And a couple of offices I’m aware of have said we were much more productive when we were working in this environment, which was, I think, probably unexpected from many leadership levels, but it did happen.
Thierry Heles: Is that still true? I know once you’ve made the connections and once you have the disclosures on your desk, it’s then easy to deal with them, to file patents and to negotiate licences. But is the view from leaders that you’d speak to still that it works because if they’re not on campus, are they meeting the researchers? Are they getting the new disclosures?
Glen Gardner: From what I hear, they still are getting the new disclosures and that it’s been easier. Once again, there still is a touchpoint issue. It’s a high-touch field but now instead of driving across campus to go meet with Mr Researcher or Mrs Researcher, they can say, “hey, let’s just jump on a Zoom”.
They can have a Zoom meeting. So it’s just a delicate balance. It really is. I think there’s still a lot more touchy-feely things, which I think people need to get into the office on occasion, the more the merrier. But I just don’t think it’s something that people need to do from eight in the morning to five o’clock in the afternoon.
David Winwood: A couple of offices have made a very deliberate decision to segment their hiring practices. So for those positions where high-touch is important, to be able to actually see someone at least periodically face to face, then those positions will have that requirement built in.
But then where there are other positions, which are negotiating contracts that are between either other contract managers or whatever, don’t really need to have face-to-face interactions. Then they’ve made very deliberate decisions to say, “I don’t need to give up that real estate on my campus because campus real estate is very expensive and high value”.
And if you don’t have to lay a claim to an office suite, instead, you can just connect with somebody electronically, virtually, then you’ve actually done the university administration a big favour by reducing your footprint, your overhead cost for them. So, a few schools that we’re aware of have made that decision for very specific task sets within their office environment.
Glen Gardner: Then some other universities have really taken this time to bring in more industry people into the field, who are used to working remote in the first place and traveling is necessary, but obviously they won’t have to travel as much now. So, I think it’s been a great shift in the community. We just need to figure out how to digest it and staple it out.
Thierry Heles: There was a post from Lesley Millar-Nicholson, at MIT’s TLO, which I’m sure you’ve seen on LinkedIn, where she talks about a high turnover at her office, which has apparently led to questions from others and maybe even the executive, “what’s wrong at MIT?” and then others chimed in to say it’s similar at their offices.
There’s a few questions that arise from that. Do you think generally offices are aware that other people have the same challenges? Is it talked about outside that LinkedIn post?
Glen Gardner: I think it’s universal across the industry and everyone’s kind of clamouring for the same. Think about it. Your average tech transfer person is a PhD in something. They mostly have MBAs and they may have JDs. And the fact, have they done an exclusive patent licence and negotiated exclusive… it’s a very narrow skill set. And obviously when you’re dealing with the PIs at MIT, there’s a whole other level.
Part of the, I hate to say it, but Lesley hired my firm and we recruited three people to her team. So the first position we recruited her operations person there and that went real smooth. The second person was a senior licensing manager to head the optics portfolio and the third search that we did for her, the number one candidate ended up pulling out at the last minute. And then they ended up hiring the number two candidate, and then they came back to hire the number three candidate and that search didn’t go through for whatever reason.
So, I think a little bit of Lesley’s frustration was from us and we feel bad, but it’s just such competitive world. The salaries, living in Cambridge are very high.
Everything just has challenges. Nothing’s linear in my business. My product can change their mind. My product’s spouse can change their mind. My product’s kids can say, “I don’t wanna leave my junior year in high school”. A deal’s never a deal until the cheque clears obviously.
Thierry Heles: That makes sense. You’ve essentially answered one of my other questions, which was, has a recruitment ever not worked out?
Glen Gardner: Once again, they went with the number two candidate, what where we’re dealing with the Cleveland Clinic right now and the number one candidate just at the last minute, he got a very large bonus with his institute and ended up pulling out. Cleveland Clinic just couldn’t match. Everybody liked each other, but it just didn’t work.
So we’re going back and they’re talking to more people, we found more people. So the only searches we’ve ever canceled got canceled due to covid. Other than that, we’re gonna work day and night until we make the client happy.
Thierry Heles: Is the recruitment process and these challenges, are they the same at all levels or is it more pronounced at perhaps executive positions where a large bonus is more likely?
Glen Gardner: It’s funny you say this and I shouldn’t answer this like I’m gonna answer it. You would think that the executive levels would be the hardest ones to recruit.
Absolutely, 100% not true. Tech transfer as a whole is very flat. So, everybody wants Lesley’s position. So Lesley’s position is gonna be one of the easiest ones to fill because everybody wants to be the executive director of the technology licensing office at MIT — not everybody’s qualified.
Once again, Lesley is a wonderful leader. She’s a thought leader. She’s fantastic. But on the other hand, how many people can do cradle-to-grave deals with no adult supervision in optics or biotech or whatever. And then those salaries for these worker bee levels are lower. So when we get a worker bee position, we cringe, because we get paid a third as much, because the salaries are lower, it’s 10 times harder to get people to move. They’re already making X and there’s just not much of a delta between the new position, so… Is that a surprise to hear?
Thierry Heles: Not after you’ve given the answer, no. It’s not what I expected, but it makes complete sense. I remember when Lesley took the job at MIT and I asked her what attracted her to MIT and her answer was basically…
Everyone: It’s MIT.
Glen Gardner: So we’re trying to focus our efforts over here. I’ve spent the last 20 years getting to know every Lesley, every Orin Herskowitz. We placed Ian McClure, we’ve placed just lots and lots of directors. Every Todd Sherer, all these leaders around the US. So we know all those. And generally what happens is we’ll get positions below them, but what I realised about four or five, maybe seven years ago is, where I don’t have the connections are at the C-suite at the universities, at the president, chancellor level, at the vice provost for research level.
And so before the pandemic we started going to an association called the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. So this is more of where those university leadership people are going. So I can meet the vice provosts of research. So we can do more searches at Lesley’s and Todd Sherer’s level because those are the searches that we wanna do. Those are the searches that we wanna do.
We do the other searches because our clients, they lean on us for that, but if I could only place 10 Lesleys a year, it’d be the same as placing 20 worker bees a year.
Thierry Heles: Are the challenges the same across regions or is it more pronounced in places like Boston where the salaries are necessarily higher?
Glen Gardner: Yeah, I think that’s… We’re just wrapping up a search in Sydney, Australia for a university. It went very smooth. We had people that we’d reached out to. So we had people in the candidate pool from the UK, Australia, US, all over the world. I think it’s very similar. We’re currently in the final stages of a search for Stanford University for the director of the physical science licensing portfolio.
And once again it comes down to salary. Because it’s just so expensive to live in the Bostons and Silicon Valley, but we’re in talks with another university in the southeast and they want to fill this position at X and we’re like you could probably do that, but really all the people that we’re talking to are already making X.
So then, how do we get people to take pay cuts or lateral moves to go to that university. So, we’re getting much better at pushing back and telling our clients that they’re out of reach and then in the words of MIT and Stanford, we just can’t go any higher because of the equity in the team.
Thierry Heles: That makes sense. This is an open question to both of you. What are some of the trends that you’ve observed in tech transfer recruitment over the time that you’ve been doing this?
Glen Gardner: I’m not sure if I have a trend. I guess the major trend is I’ve been doing it for so long, I know about, oh yeah, so and so from this university, so we really know, and then maybe we’ve met them at AUTM or maybe, this person we find is a little bit more finicky there, and this person’s a little bit more outgoing here. So it’s just the subtle non-verbal things.
I think the big trend is diversity, equity and inclusion, for darn good reasons. And we did some statistics on this and if you look at our candidate pool for life science searches, the male to female ratio is about 50/50. So finding more women in this is interesting. The other interesting thing is when we separate, like for the Stanford search, we’re doing physical science searches, it’s closer. It’s actually a little… it’s not quite 60/40 but physical science searches there’s just not a lot of people in the physical sciences that are female. So diversity, equity and inclusion is a very big challenge. We’re working very hard on that. So I’d say the diversity equity and inclusion issues are probably one of the most challenging things that we are dealing with now.
Dave, any thoughts from your side?
David Winwood: Yeah, I think that’s a good overall assessment. Obviously I don’t have as many years under my belt in straight recruiting as Glen does, even though in the time that I managed offices, I recruited people for 20-plus years. But I think that whole thing that Glen mentioned earlier about offices are very flat and one of the things is people have gotta figure out now… We will be asked quite frequently “how many people are gonna report to me in this position, because it’s important I have that on my resume, otherwise, this is not seen as a logical upward step or progression in my career”. And so that seems to be a question, and I don’t remember having that asked of me when I was recruiting from the inside if you will.
Maybe Glen could reference that, but I know that’s become quite a frequent question for folks to say it’s important to me that at least it appears, or that I am actually now moving up into a managerial status rather than staying at the sort of pseudo-entry level or just above entry level and lateral move is not gonna look good on my resumé.
Knowing what the managerial expectations are is maybe one thing to throw in.
Glen Gardner: Yeah, I think that’s a very good point: the hierarchy and a lot of places are trying to figure out how to give people career progression and growth and more leadership opportunities. That is another big challenge that we’re dealing with now.
David Winwood: And in part that’s driven by the expectation that you wanna keep hold of people, because it takes a certain amount of time before people understand the institution, its own peculiarities or intricacies. And so you want to be able to train people and have them absorb the institutional knowledge and then go on to be real contributors to the office and you wanna be able to keep hold of them.
So to do that because of the hierarchical and flat nature combination we need to figure out how you can do that and keep them in your institution rather than invest not only the money but the time and the energy to bring them up to speed on your own institution. So you wanna be able to provide for them an attractive path to feel like it’s worth thier while staying there. They don’t have to move out to move up in their career.
Glen Gardner: There’s also one other trend that I bang my head against the wall about: it’s getting people from industry, in industry or law firms or other sources, into the… We’re mostly focused on tech transfer. The AUTM community, that’s who we honed up and saddled up with.
But the industry people that I’ve talked to, I placed a pharma gentleman that went from pharma to WARF at University of Wisconsin. When I met with him, WARF invited me in, I was visiting a friend in Wisconsin, so I went and met the gentleman and talked with the folks at WARF.
He says, “yeah, it really took me about a year to figure out this academic tech transfer stuff”. And these are bright people that are all taking pay cuts from pharma to come into academic tech transfer. So most of them say, yes, it does take some time to learn this. And a lot of times our clients, they know they need to get a diverse viewpoint. That’s the other thing.
So, getting people from industry, from law firms, from places like intellectual ventures, from IP value, I find that people from intellectual ventures that I’ve talked with are just unbelievably bright. They’ve done all kinds of complex deals. And then I present them to one of my academic clients and they’ll say “we can’t have a patent troll here. I don’t think that’s the right thing. I want people to be more open-minded to things and just hopefully see things different”.
And the other thing that I’m trying to push is, here in the United States visas are an issue, but what I’m trying to tell my clients is if we open this up to Canadian people, to people from the UK, to people from Australia, people from Singapore, people from India — China tends to be an issue because of export control, so there’s some other issues where they can’t bring those people.
We’re trying to tell our clients to be as open-minded and diverse as you can from both just the traditional diversity things, but really it’s more from a technical background too.
Thierry Heles: Is RTTP often a value-add or maybe even a requirement or do they still not really care about that?
David Winwood: It’s difficult to get it as a requirement, yeah. I may be biased in this. I think it’s something that I would look for and appreciate if I’m selecting someone. I think one of the challenges that you have is it’s not a question of professional licensure. It’s not something that you need or can impose to allow someone to practice in the profession.
And so having it included as an absolute requirement from an employer’s point of view is quite difficult, but having it as a preferred, like to have, it will be good to know that you have completed this process, I think is if I’m hiring anybody, that would be definitely on my checklist.
It’s just one of those things, it will take… When we were planning this 10, 15 years ago, 10-plus years ago when I was on the board and the committee working on this, we recognised that would be the challenge we would face making it a requirement would be difficult, making it a very nice to have and I’m gonna look out for that when I hire people would be something that we should hope to accomplish. And I think we’ve pretty much done that.
Glen Gardner: Then from my side, there’s also the CLP. We’ve talked about RTTP but there’s also a CLP. So we’ve worked at indexing and there’s not many, I don’t know what the number of RTTPs and CLPs in the world, but I think they’re both around between what maybe 700 and maybe a thousand people worldwide that have one of the two or both.
So we look for them and we like them. But at the end of the day I fall back to our questionnaire and deal sheet. Personally, I put higher value on that than the RTTP or CLP, but I do think it’s a great baseline out there.
Thierry Heles: We’ve already talked a little bit about money, salaries. You also created the technology transfer salary survey. Can you tell me a little bit about this and if you have any numbers, what are the salaries that people expect in tech transfer?
Glen Gardner: The salaries they expect are high. The salaries that are out there are too low. And that’s universal. So what happened is over the past 20 years, so salary’s always an issue everywhere and everybody wants to know what are people making?
And so if you’re at a private university, that number is usually not possible to get, unless it would be like the executive director that’s on the form, the tax form 990. Sometimes I can get those. But for public institutes, a lot of times this is public information. So over the years, I’ve kept an informal list of people’s salary.
So if I place someone at a private university, that number won’t go on that list. But if I got it from public means I will put it on that list. And I keep that and people have always asked me, our friends had AUTM they’re working on a formal salary survey. And hopefully it should be put out, I think this year, but the last salary survey from AUTM is 2017.
So we just kept getting this, what is the salary? What is the salary? And so finally, a school in Canada said, “hey, can we pay you to do somewhat of an informal salary survey?” And at AUTM, I floated it by Stephen Susalka, CEO of AUTM, who we did recruit there, Ian McClure, the current board chair of AUTM, who we recruited to Kentucky, and a lot of our other leaders. Everybody wanted the same thing.
So, we created a Google Form and I think we had about 40 or 50 people respond. And so what I realised is I don’t wanna be in the salary survey business and I’m not real good with, I can barely use Excel myself. So it was pretty challenging but we did get a lot of information. So I put it out there to everybody. We did it because this client wanted us to, we didn’t really wanna do it. We lost money doing it, which is fine. It was a service to the whole community. But I think I’d be much happier when I see AUTM’s salary survey come up.
David Winwood: Which will be much more rigorous and analytical in its collection and presentation. But this was really needed. As Glen said, a client just was struggling to persuade their upper administration that they were out of sync with current levels. We’ve had an inflection point, obviously in inflation and salaries and expectations to keep people. If in fact they do manage to get a job that can be performed remotely and it’s a raise, well then how do you keep hold of them?
You can’t say, “look at the great place”. You have to provide more money, I guess, was one of the challenges that this particular client was facing. So it was something we needed to help a client figure out how they could create a position that would be attractive to the appropriate kind of candidates.
Glen Gardner: And that’s the other thing that I’ve become very good at is saying no. And then there was a large school on the west coast that approached me and I just, at the end of the day, I was like you’re gonna be upset. We’re gonna be upset. Because your salaries… and once again, it’s not like we’re trying to get a bigger fee and it’s not like they don’t wanna pay their people more, but their administration, their hands are tied.
And I turned down six different searches because I just know it would be heartache. So I’ve become a lot better at saying no nowadays, unfortunately. It’s sad cause I wanna help everybody. I just know if it’s gonna be unsuccessful for all parties, it’s better just to tell them that it’s gonna be unsuccessful for all parties.
Thierry Heles: Yeah. Do you have seen salaries generally go up quite a bit over the last few years or are they stagnant over the pandemic?
Glen Gardner: I think they’ve gone up a little. You know tech transfer leaders are really trying to get things up because I know I’ve talked to quite a few tech transfer people that bumped up from academic tech transfer to pharma, say, they’re doubling their salaries. They’re going from $150,000 to $300,000. And that’s not the driver in this community either. People understand the salary limitations within academic tech transfer, but they love the mission of tech transfer.
They love working at the university. They love working in this collegial community. They love maybe that they’re not traveling as much. So I think salaries are going up, but it’s never gonna match the salaries in industry or law firms or VC firms or strategy firms. There’s other career paths and tech transfer by nature is a very broad field, so people can do a lot of different, unique things after their career in tech transfer.
Thierry Heles: And then I suppose universities offer a lot of other benefits. They tend to have good PTO and maternity leave.
Glen Gardner: Then more specifically, we placed a gentleman, the director of intellectual property at Cornell University years ago. And he was at a patent firm. He was a partner in a patent firm and we were recruiting him. I said, “just, please don’t even tell me what you’re making, here’s the salary that Cornell’s offering, I don’t even wanna know what you’re making, cause I’m sure you’re taking a giant pay cut”.
And then he was supposed to start in July, but at the end of the day, he had to start like he had to start a month earlier because Cornell has a very good tuition reimbursement. So I know Cornell has a good reimbursement. Rice University, Stanford has that. So he had two or three kids that were gonna be in college. So he had to get his clock ticking so quick. So that’s why he started a fiscal year early. He started a month early, so he could get his clock ticking to get those benefits which are substantial.
Thierry Heles: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. College fees are nothing to be scoffed at.
Glen Gardner: Especially at Ivy League schools.
Thierry Heles: Very true. Yeah. I’m not sure what Cornell charges, but I imagine it’s in the tens of thousands for a degree.
Glen Gardner: Yeah, exactly.
Thierry Heles: We’ve covered pretty much all of my questions. Was there anything else that you wanted people to know?
Glen Gardner: What I want them to know is I’m very humbled and very honoured to be in this profession. I do not have a PhD, JD, MBA. 20 years ago, I was sitting in the back, there’s an incubator right outside Ohio State. It’s now called Rev1 Ventures now, it was then called Tech Columbus. And I think it was before Patel engaged me for my first tech transfer search.
But Dave was up on the podium and I used to go there cause it was interested in startups and all that good stuff. So I was sitting in the back of the audience. He’s talking about this thing called Bayh-Dole and commercialisation, whatever the thing… I had a glazed look over my face and so I’m just so proud and honoured to be in this industry. The people I’ve met are fantastic.
It’s literally taken me around the world. Like I said we’re doing a search, our second search, down in Australia. I didn’t get to go there, but I’ve spoken on tech transfer in China. I flown out by the Chinese patent office to do a talk on tech transfer careers in China. I was invited to speak on careers and tech transfer in Turkey. I did searches from the King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia. I got to visit the Masdar Institute, which is now Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi.
We did a search for a national lab in Kuwait, the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research. Canada. I’ve talked to people, out of Chile, out of Columbia. I never in my life would think that this is what I’d be doing.
So I’m really honoured and humbled to be part of this community. And it’s such a collegial and nice community — that’s the most important thing for me. I truly like the people.
Thierry Heles: Yeah. Yeah. David, do you have any final words?
David Winwood: I think Glen just wrapped it up nicely there. It’s a superb community. It’s been, again, 26-plus, 27 years now I’ve been involved in it and it’s been a very good decision for me.
Thierry Heles: I’m sure everyone is glad to still have you, even if you are in recruitment now. Glen, David, it’s been fantastic talking to you both. Thank you so much for taking time.
David Winwood: Thanks Thierry, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Glen Gardner: Thank you. It was an honour.