Cissy Young, who joined Catalyst Advisors at the beginning of 2023 as a Partner, has had a
fascinating career journey. Her rich set of experiences in the biopharma industry—from her
scientific training to working on early-stage company formation and financing, to business
development and strategy— has enabled her to quickly assess business contexts and understand diverse perspectives on leadership and talent implications. Her operational
experiences set her up to become one of the most effective executive recruiters in the industry. Her most recent experience as Chief People Officer in a tech-enabled biotech company adds yet another dimension to her unique qualifications and makes her incredibly valuable to our
clients. I recently sat down with her to talk through her career journey and the insights and
perspectives that she has gained.
Tell me about your career path.
After finishing my graduate studies in cancer biology, my husband and I relocated for his faculty position. Without a career track locked and yet entrepreneurial by nature, I knocked on every door at the university and pitched the idea of creating biotech companies out of their life sciences inventions and technologies.
The role that I ultimately created at the university Tech Transfer office became my launch pad to learn the business of science. I networked with venture investors, learned from patent attorneys and corporate attorneys on structuring licensing deals, and shadowed biotech/pharma executives. Along the way, I got my MBA and worked on new company formation projects, which led me to my first operating role in business development. When my family and I had the opportunity to move to Boston, back in 2006, I was thrilled for the opportunity to join the then-burgeoning biotech community in Boston and to continue my career in business development and strategy.
It was perhaps luck or fate, or both, that a leading global executive recruitment firm contacted me on a Head of Business Development recruitment project. Through the interview process, they became interested in me bringing my transferrable skills to build a Biotech/Pharma practice in Boston. While I had limited visibility into what the future held for me, I trusted that they saw a skill match in me. I took a leap of faith and launched into a new career chapter as an executive recruiter. The transition was unnatural and natural in many ways. While I knew the biotech/pharma industry, I had to learn the art and the science of executive recruitment and leadership advisory work.
What made you willing to take that kind of leap?
The scientist in me thrives on learning and mastering new things. The entrepreneur in me prompted me to take a calculated risk. I assessed the variables and I trusted my instincts. I also had enough confidence in myself to figure out the rest. Like previous pivotal points in my career, I started with science, then I learned the business of science, then I learned business development, financing, and new company formation, and then I learned human capital and leadership. All along the way, I picked up new skills and insights that set me up to tackle the next new challenge.
Do you think your unique background enables you to operate differently from other
The span of my experiences gives me a unique perspective on the biotech/pharma industry. My operational experiences inform my approach to recruitment and leadership advisory work. I have a richer understanding of the needs of our clients and the candidates we work with. Speaking the languages of science, business, and leadership, I leverage my experiences to be a more strategic advisor and thought partner to our clients.
What are you passionate about?
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have had mentors and sponsors who gave me opportunities and took chances on me. I am most passionate about women supporting other women. Representation matters in visible and invisible ways. I am now in a position where my visibility in the industry can break down barriers for others, especially underrepresented women in science. Inspiring and supporting other women is one of my personal commitments to everything I do and everyone I interact with.
What inspired you to join Catalyst Advisors?
From the get-go, I felt I had a meaningful philosophical alignment with you and with the Catalyst Advisors’ mission and purpose. From our first conversation, we were aligned on advising our clients on leadership, not just the transaction of recruitment. We push our clients to think differently or think more progressively about leadership. We have a unique vantage point with our “balcony view” on the biotech/pharma industry. We are uniquely positioned to help our clients and candidates with our insights and perspectives.
On a personal level, you and I are also aligned on our core values around integrity,
transparency, collaboration, teamwork, and purpose. I was most compelled to work with you and the team on the basis of our shared values.
What’s one important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
There can be the greatest science, the greatest technologies, and the smartest people in a room; without good leadership or effective teamwork, nothing happens. What motivates me and makes me passionate about our work is the opportunity to maximize the value of leadership and teamwork to improve outcomes for patients and their families.