Q&A with Tania Zieja, the CFO of life sciences consultancy Halloran

22 September 2021 Consulting.us 7 min. read
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Tania Zieja has been with Halloran Consulting Group for close to a decade, working her way up to Chief Financial Officer. A discussion with Zieja on how she helped drive the rapid growth of the Boston-headquartered life sciences consulting firm, and her views on the key trends impacting the firm’s life sciences clients. 

Could you provide some background on your role and Halloran Consulting Group?

I’ve been with Halloran for nine years now, overseeing finance, accounting and human resources. In 2017, I vetted and orchestrated the reengineering of Halloran’s back-office systems to achieve greater efficiency and faster results. The real-time data, flowing into business-critical financial reports, dashboards, and projections, give Halloran the agility to achieve its yearly revenue, margin, and staff targets. 

As such, I have been able to help grow Halloran from a $5 million company to a $35 million company and significantly increased our net profit. Lastly, thanks to our systems allowing us to make data-driven decisions, we’ve been able to increase our profits in such a way that I was able to execute a sale to an employee stock ownership plan to make Halloran an employee-owned company.

Tania Zieja, Chief Financial Officer, Halloran Consulting Group

How did Halloran Consulting Group pivot its strategy to successfully navigate the challenges brought on by Covid-19?

Since we became a fully cloud-based company in 2017, we were able to seamlessly go from operating in a hybrid model to a fully remote model literally overnight. The biggest pivot was leaning into a variety of engagement tools to keep our staff connected with one another and finding a new way to interview and onboard our new employees.

How did Halloran Consulting Group leverage technology to help adapt to this new strategy?

We have hired more than 50 people over the past year using Zoom to interview and onboard, where previously, we were flying people in from all over the country and spending hundreds of thousands on non-billable travel. Sage Intacct [a ERP-solution for consultancies] helped because we were able to use our data and dashboards to see what the travel cost savings would do to our bottom line. We are not going back to in-person interviews or in-person onboarding.

What specific benefits did Halloran Consulting Group see that technology helped with in the past year?

We have been able to be fully remote and operate as if we were in person. We have used many different technology platforms to make this happen, and it has led to a more engaged staff with very low turnover, streamlined and efficient back-office procedures, and a significant increase in our net margin.

Why is implementing technology in the life sciences consulting industry important, especially in a post-pandemic world?

Productivity is almost always improved after the implementation of technology solutions that streamline data and eliminate redundancies, especially with respect to human capital involvement and antiquated processes. 

The life sciences industry is naturally risk averse-especially when it comes to patient safety and regulatory oversight, and in the past ten years, the industry has become increasingly complex as the products under study are for more challenging diseases and are developed using increasingly complicated protocols and more deployment of outsourcing much of the labor. 

When a life science company outsources to a contractor (called a CRO), these large companies who take on the day-to-day responsibility to conduct the clinical trials are built for efficiency to improve their profit margins, and universally they are extremely reluctant to embrace the technology innovation that will both reduce their scopes of work and minimize their standardized approach to everything. Their highest margin activities are mostly laborious in-person visits to every single physician site conducted monthly.

The pandemic jolted the industry out of its risk-averse mindset because the risks of having 70% of the products in development halted by the global shutdown were higher than the risks of adopting technology solutions that enabled the clinical trials to continue. This has forced companies to “think out of the box” and embrace the technology solutions that have been around and fully supported in concept by the regulatory bodies.

We have just begun the journey, but some forward thinkers created a large industry working group to create universal definitions, change management, and adoption practices. Our journey has begun, and the overarching goal is to continue on the path to a more technology-supported efficient process.

What is your perspective on how the life sciences consulting industry is evolving?

Building on all of the information given in the prior answer, the consultants who are more staffed with deeper domain expertise are in much higher demand than general big-named firms. Here is why: the pandemic woke the world up to how medicines are developed with a singular focus on medicines and vaccines to treat Covid-19. In parallel, the investors in the world pivoted from other major investments like travel and hospitality to life science companies. 

This has created an industry frenzy that is fueled by the massive amount of capital that has been diverted into biopharma, medical device and diagnostic companies (especially small pre-commercial companies). Literally, every company with a relatively seasoned founder team and some good science can raise massive Series A funding rounds. 

However, every company cannot find seasoned operators to take the products in their pipeline further because it takes technical expertise that can only be brought with years or decades of experience. The CROs referenced above are more “doers”, not thinkers. The thinkers are in short supply, and our company has been around for 20+ years, is highly respected for our expertise, and available on-demand for these well-capitalized companies to move their development forward.

In addition, the small companies can more easily adopt some of the technology solutions referenced above, but they don’t have the ready expertise to make the switch. Lastly, new players who represent large industries (big tech and national pharmacies) are jumping into the fray to take advantage of the industry. All of these are opportunities to engage consultants to get from concept to reality as quickly as possible.

About Tania Zieja

Tania Zieja joined Halloran Consulting Group in 2012 as Acting Controller, with increasing responsibility and was named CFO in 2019. With more than 20 years of experience in accounting, Zieja manages Halloran’s human resources, accounting and finance departments. 

Prior to joining Halloran, she worked at Cambridge Biomarketing, Baystate Health, and IBM where she successfully upgraded and implemented accounting systems as well as managed client billing and financial reporting responsibilities. Zieja graduated cum laude from the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in International Accounting and Spanish and a minor in Political Science.