Dr. James D. Esinhart, aka Jim, has spent much of his career working in the fast paced, highly competitive clinical research arena. When he wasn’t busy building teams to run companies, he was acquiring other companies on their behalf. While Jim thrived at that frenetic pace – becoming a key player in the biopharmaceutical research, medical devices, and contract research organization (CRO) industries – he also watched as his professional and personal lives blurred together.
In September 2017, Jim found himself on the other side of the bargaining table. He negotiated the sale of Chiltern, the CRO, he helped shape into a global provider, exited the company as its CEO after 11 years, and put the brakes on work as he knew it. What also vanished was an important part of social network, his business friends. Replacing the corporate day-to-day was a stillness this self-made executive quickly seized, allowing him to “kick back until the New Year.” During that time, he reflected on his career and reengaged in life by taking time with his wife and four daughters, and reestablishing friendships outside work. Those months gave Jim the necessary time as well as the peace of mind to discover his next passion and career move – helping people and, in what is a first for him – starting his own consulting company.
Adjusting to life post sale and exodus, and consulting for the biopharma and medical devices industries, are subjects he discusses in a recent interview with Jim Baker, CEO of Sumus. While the newly-minted business owner describes the transition and change in pace initially as “tough,” he provides suggestions on how to accept both and ultimately find fulfillment in life as well as in work. Those suggestions include, ensuring that you fit your business in your life plan, not your life in your business plan; and integrating an exit strategy in your management approach.
For Jim, switching from working for others to working for himself is, in the words of Yankee great Yogi Berra, Deja vu all over again. The reason is that Jim is utilizing some of the same qualities that made him an influential corporate leader. “The most success I’ve had,” notes Jim, “is when there is a gap in understanding, and I step in and get both sides effectively and objectively aligned.” No easy task when there’s lots of moving parts involved and money on the line. “What it takes,” he adds, “is a combination of listening and restating what both sides want…getting it approved… taking a disciplined approach… focusing on gaps in the market … and delivering on what was promised.” Teamwork and fairness are also priorities for him.
There is no doubt that Jim has been an effective CEO. In his years at Chiltern, he successfully completed seven acquisitions and expanded its workforce from 850 to over 4,500. For smaller CROs looking to sell to the market, Jim says it is important to be part of a broader ecosystem, to provide complementary services to other providers, to look for like-minded companies, and to do all with humility.
These days, Jim is working at a more deliberate pace, making business calls in the morning, working out at the gym, and meeting with and advising clients. He also is making strides in recapturing his pre-business social skills, expanding his circle of friends; and “recognizing and respecting the key people around him,” mainly his wife, Susan, and his daughters in whose worlds he has become an active participant.
So what formula for success in business and life will Jim share with other corporate leaders? Find a job you really love, recognize what you love about the job is usually the people, and find time to develop friendships with those people that will survive outside the workplace, he says. Doing so will help you discover a healthy middle ground between working to live and living to work and, he explains, keep you from being lonely at the top.