SN at 10: David Coleiro

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Posted on 28th January '20


As we start the new decade, for many, it’s a time of deep reflection…

Listing the most important moments, and the most profound achievements of the 2010s abound!

I’m not really one for looking back, but here at Strategic North, we have another reason to do so. Founded on the 4th January 2010, bar those four days, our business life (so far) has spanned the entire decade.

And so, as myself and my three co-founders started the business around my kitchen table, on a cold and snowy winters’ day; could we have envisaged where we’d be now?

Before I answer that, it’s worth looking back at how the world has changed since then.

In technology, the iPhone 4 was Apple’s latest addition to their smartphone range, Spotify had yet to launch in the US, Netflix had shipped well over 1 billion DVDs (but was just building its digital offering), Siri was still in development, and the first Tesla model had only recently been delivered to customers.

Politics seems to have changed beyond all recognition too. Donald Trump was hosting season 10 of The Apprentice back in 2010. This was the last year that he donated to the Democratic Party! At the start of the decade, he also predicted Barack Obama would start a war with Iran as he was out of ideas and wanted to boost his election campaign. Oh the irony! Boris Johnson was in his first term as Mayor of London and not a Cabinet Minister yet. Brexit was barely an idea, let alone a coined term – or a reality!

I am delighted to say that the world of healthcare and medicine – which is so central to the work we do, was, and continues to be in the midst of the next innovative revolution wave!

Ironically, in early 2010 Merck terminated development and began preparing to out-license the phenomenon that is Keytruda! I am delighted (as I am sure are Merck and the many thousands of patients who have benefitted from the treatment) that they reversed that decision. From this, a raft of ground-breaking innovations such as immunotherapy, cell and gene therapy, gene editing, and 3D printing of human organs (which still baffles me!) have fundamentally changed the world of medicine today.

These innovations have had a significant impact on patient outcomes: the 10-year survival rates for testicular, prostate, and breast cancer in the UK are now 98, 84, and 78% respectively. That is truly wondrous.

Back to Strategic North – having the opportunity to work with our clients is a genuine privilege, but what about the rest of the progress we have made?

Working on global projects? Absolutely. From day 1 we were set up to deliver on that scale. Three of our first ever projects had the following objectives:

  • Define the 10 year future of the global respiratory market
  • Build an archetype model of the major healthcare markets and the most appropriate marketing tool for each (it was complicated!)
  • Build a brand positioning and strategy for a ground-breaking cancer immunotherapy

So, that level of scale and scope was always our proposition. But I would not have believed that we would grow the reach and capability to run workshops and market research across the continents; from New York, San Francisco, and Panama, to Rio, Paris, Basel, Berlin, and also Tokyo, Beijing and Sydney!

A team of 50 and growing? Well, yes and no! Growth has always been a core principle. Not to build a massive behemoth of a business, but because growth enables us to attract and retain the best people and work with the most innovative brands and companies. This enables us to stretch and grow as individuals as well as a business; I genuinely believe that I’m a stronger consultant today than I was a year ago, and that I’m helping others in the team to do the same. For someone as ‘experienced’ (old!) as I am, that’s a pretty good spot to be in.

That said, our plan when we started at the turn of the decade, was to take the plunge, get working with great teams and see how we’d go over the next 6-12 months. We’d know if we were doing the right thing within that time-frame, and know whether there was the potential for more. With the strategy of controlled growth (which we’ve always had), the size of the business grows accordingly. But what about the expertise and qualities of the people in our business? With our third graduate programme set up for 2020 – I simply could not have envisaged that.

There is a saying in our hometown which I have always loved:

‘This is Manchester… we do things differently here!’

And it’s one we have embraced. From the inception of the business, we have always aimed to work differently. Not different for difference sake, but to create a different type of consultancy where robustness and creativity of thinking, quality of delivery, financial sustainability, and positive culture could all be combined. It’s something we work on daily. We know to stay competitive we have to keep evolving and getting better, which we strive to achieve.

It’s not to say it’s been an easy ride. Strategic North is a labour of love, sweat, and tears. I believe it means a lot to everyone who works here. As you grow a business, the next challenge is always around the corner; the prioritisations to make, and new areas to balance. The world we live and work in, and our industry changes constantly. Each year I wonder how we will achieve our goals. I still think back to 2013 (many of you in the world of healthcare consultancy will remember it well!) – when the entire pharma industry went into restructure; projects were cancelled, new opportunities disappeared as priorities were reassessed, people shifted roles and moved on. It was a tough, tough time but we came through it stronger for the experience and importantly made changes to our business to help us weather future storms.

What still amazes me today, and maybe it shouldn’t by now, is the great work we get to do on genuinely critical projects for strategically important brands; and importantly, the outcomes they achieve.

Team Photo

That means that our clients’ brands are successful and that many patients and their families health and lives are improved as a result. We know from the work we have done over the last decade that clinical needs have been better understood, and that discovery scientists have focused their work in new areas. Therefore, numerous clinical trials have been designed (and re-designed) so that the benefits of the brands we work with have been more positively communicated, meaning that more patients have got access to these amazing innovations. All in all, that is the fundamental purpose of Strategic North and it makes it all a pretty good way to have spent the last 10 years of our working lives.

I hope this article does not come across as being self-congratulatory in any way. I read a statistic on Inc. recently that 96% of businesses fail to survive a decade and so, as I look back over the last 10 years, it’s mainly with a huge sense of gratitude and celebration, which I hope comes across as you read this.

I do feel genuinely fortunate to get to do this as a career – at such an outstanding place of work. And I’d like to thank every single person who has touched the life of Strategic North along the way. Thank you to all the client teams who have entrusted us with their brands and who have collaborated so positively with us, everyone who has worked in the business and supported us along the way. Thank you all and onto the next 10 years! 2020 is shaping up to be a great year and I’m more excited than ever to explore where that takes us.


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