As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Noel Keck.
With nearly ten years of extensive experience negotiating contracts and budgets in the clinical research industry, Noel Keck currently serves as the Executive Director of Contracts & Client Solutions at Raleigh, NC based CliniStart.
She has worked for the world’s largest Clinical Research Organization (CRO) and for some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical sponsors.
Noel has experience in multiple therapeutic areas such as Oncology, Rheumatology, Endocrinology, Infectious Diseases & Immunology and is a subject matter expert in the global Fair Market Value (FMV) compliance program.
She is a graduate of North Carolina State University and is proficient in the Spanish language.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
North Carolina is where I call home, but I was raised in rural Georgia where I spent most of my time outdoors and immersed in nature. I later attended North Carolina State University’s Social Science school, and upon graduation, I landed my first job in a criminal defense law firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. I did not know it at the time, but this job would be key in creating my foundation which later brought me into the world of clinical trials and research.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first started working at one of the world’s largest Clinical Research Organizations (CRO), one morning I was trying to reach the elevator before the doors shut. I realized a nice gentleman was holding the door to allow me enough time. He smiled and we began having a friendly conversation. That same morning, I was feeling lucky because I happened to find the cheapest gas price in the area. We began chatting and I decided to share such a helpful tip of where to find the cheapest gas so he could also take advantage of the deal. I shared more details than necessary — exact location of the gas station, the price I paid, and the gas station name. He was attentive and gracefully thanked me for such a tip as we exchanged goodbyes.
Later that day, I joined an in-person company meeting in which the CEO was scheduled to present. As he approached the podium to begin speaking, I realized he was the same gentleman from my elevator experience.
While I never forgot my company’s CEO after that day, I learned from that point forward how important it is to familiarize yourself with your company leaders.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I owe my success story to a friend with whom I worked while I interned in college. We both went to lunch one afternoon and he asked if I had a job arranged after graduation. My time left in my last college semester was shrinking and I didn’t have concrete plans. He helped prepare me for job interviews and guide me to a local law firm in which I wanted to work. Over the years, this firm became such an instrumental part of my life, helping to shape my future and teach me life skills I continue to use until this day.
I have realized how much of a difference it makes to have someone believe in you, support you, and never give up on your abilities. For that, I am forever grateful.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose? Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
It is widely known in this line of work that finalizing contracts and budgets can be rate-limiting, complicated, and time-consuming. The vision of our company CliniStart was to ease this burden and drive exceptional concierge contract and budget services to our clients by applying our employees’ collective and substantial knowledge gained throughout a decade of experience; and we did just that! Through advanced technology, software, and extensive experience, we are successfully minimizing this burden for our clients and in turn, helping to expedite the drug approval process for potentially ill patients around the globe. We understand that science and medicine are dynamic and are in a continuous state of change, so it is important we meet the needs and expectations of this fast-paced industry. As a result, it is exceptionally gratifying when we see the impact our work has on human beings every day.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
In a world which relies so heavily on processes and accurate data collection, automation and artificial intelligence are technology innovations which have all rocked the pharmaceutical industry. For example, existing medical systems have been exchanged and are now considered outdated, interpersonal interactions have decreased by moving to remote, technology-based systems, and the pace of the drug approval process has drastically changed.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
To make sure we acclimate to this ever-changing industry and help our clients do the same, we utilize our software to expedite metrics, fast-track negotiation timelines, and set our clients’ needs as our number one priority.
While we adjust to different working atmospheres and no longer have the same access to interpersonal relationships, we also like to meet with our clients on video via Zoom.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Nearly three years ago, I found myself spending nearly 70% of my work week manually updating systems with simple updates and duplicating efforts by sending the same information in emails to colleagues. I then realized the loss of productivity and the potential for growth if I was able to remove such a large administrative burden and apply that saved time elsewhere in the process. It was then that a light bulb lit in my brain, allowing me to piece together that the clock is always ticking for participating patients in clinical trials. Those extra saved minutes could potentially mean the difference between life and death.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
From a company point of view, business has become incredibly fast-paced. Twisting disruptive technology into a more positive light has given our team time to switch our focus on being more productive from a business development perspective and of course has allowed for more time dedicated to our clients.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Change can be scary. Having a solution-driven leader with the ability to adjust quickly and analyze how to mitigate potential consequences is crucial for any business during disruption.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
We have certainly experienced uncertainty in some way or another within the last year. It is now more important than ever for leaders to unite, be transparent, and motivate employees to support one another, whether by orchestrating safe team outings, community events, or arranging one on one meetings. Happy teams build success!
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Yes, allowing everyone to be a part of the big picture. Assigning task ownership to employees in a company allows each person to have purpose with a chance to contribute. In my experience, this forms a positive atmosphere, especially through turbulent times.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Technological disruptions can easily turn catastrophic in businesses. I have seen businesses undergo disruptive changes resulting in overloaded employees struggling to balance high workloads, lack of appropriate staff, poor planning and prioritization, insufficient training provided for new technologies, and low morale leading to high turnover rates.
I do not know if there is one right answer or particular solution to avoid these problems. However, I do believe these can be mitigated by one key approach: provide support and respect for company employees. I find that this can help keep a consistent team who will support each other and work cohesively.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the three most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
That is a tough balance to juggle the role of a business leader and stay afloat during a disruption. But here are my thoughts:
1. Keep an open mind:
When learning new technologies, I think it is important for a business leader to keep an open mind at all times. For example, while it may be comfortable to use a familiar technology in your business, learning a new system can push those comfort levels, yet in the long run save time and money. As I mentioned before, change is scary; however, it is imperative to embrace and accept when you are in business.
2) Cost efficiency / smart spender:
This is key. In business, each month of revenue may not flourish as well as others. Because of this reason, it is smart to prioritize business necessities and spend wisely — shop for the cheaper option when selecting office needs, pay close attention to company billings, or avoid unnecessary purchases.
These small savings can be a lifeline during turbulent changes!
3) Maintaining your team:
Who you hire for your company and how those employees are treated can steer the direction of your business. It is quite common to lose employees during industry disruptions and I am a strong believer in positive results and low turnover when keeping reliable, happy employees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that is relevant in your business?
“We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”
The future of science and medicine is uncertain, exciting, and potentially ground-breaking. Through this uncertainty, CliniStart is proud to be a part of the industry, excited to aid in the development of scientific and technological innovations, and most importantly, honored to help contribute save the lives of human beings every day.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow our website, reach out to our CEO, Sam Searcy or feel free to email me directly: