The first 10 years of CHR: A CEO’s reflection

Earlier this year, we celebrated CHR’s 10-year anniversary with a wonderful dinner in the historic and imposing dining room of King’s College in Cambridge. During this event, I took the opportunity to share some reflections with our team as CEO and co-founder. In the weeks leading up to the event, I reflected long and hard about this significant milestone and the rollercoaster ride that transformed us from a modest three-person operation into the CHR we know today: a company of 150 people with a global footprint.

What drove us to set up the company? What had I learned?

When we set up Cambridge Healthcare Research a decade ago, we had two founding aspirations:

1) to provide outstanding service and value to our clients
2) to create an environment and culture where smart people would thrive and excel.

These have always been and remain simple to articulate but incredibly complex to realise. We certainly have had to overcome a range of challenges during our journey and I’m sure that we’ll face many more, as we continue to scale the business.

As you may imagine, at the beginning, with just three of us, it was somewhat chaotic; and gaining market traction and defining our positioning took a lot longer than we expected. But we never gave up. Starting a consulting business often seems easy. Although many think that all you need is time, maybe a laptop, and you re ’ in business; consulting firms, in addition to facing some of the normal challenges of start-ups, often face additional challenges, which make the failure rate in this sector even higher.
We can conclude that while starting a consulting company might be simple, staying in business and, more importantly, growing, presents much greater challenges.

So, what has allowed us to grow CHR?

The short answer is that we demonstrated a singularity of purpose in going the extra mile, we were resilient, and we approached every day with relentless curiosity and passion.

The resilience of an organisation, its ability to recover from outright setbacks and embrace “successful failures” is deeply rooted in its purpose. I’m not sure that we talk enough about failure or the qualities that allow us to overcome failures. The emphasis typically lies on success and growth, yet for many businesses, these aren’t guaranteed outcomes. From lost pitches and projects to difficulties in market penetration or attracting the right talent for growth, the road to success is frequently fraught with challenges and obstacles which provide valuable learning opportunities and ultimately enrich the journey and make it truly rewarding.

At CHR, there has never been any doubt about our purpose, and that is the source both of our successes in good times, and our resilience and courage in difficult times. From the day in 2013 when CHR was born as an idea over cheap sandwiches to the day in 2020 when CHR was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise; and right through to 2024, having reached this milestone, our fundamental purpose of serving and empowering our clients while supporting and nurturing our employees remains unchanged.

Our values, which have grown and matured alongside us, are reflected in our focus on developing and embracing a “growth mindset”. This to me is more than just keeping an open mind to new business opportunities and to the needs of our clients. It’s also about remaining true to our core value of excellence while focusing on sustainability. Revenue and client relationships are important aspects of commercial sustainability, but we are also living our growth mindset in an exciting new dimension. Our CHR for Society and Sustainability Taskforces and EMPOWER network exemplify our commitment to being more than a business focused on revenue and profit; we are also committed to making a positive impact on society and the environment and empowering our employees to make a meaningful difference beyond work. It is also about building an environment that allows people to bring their whole self to work and enables them to explore their true potential.

At CHR, and across the professional services sector, we place great emphasis on building strong relationships and forming genuine partnerships with our clients. When I reflect on this, it fills me with pride to think that some of our projects started in 2016 and are still active today. We have supported those teams for almost a decade, helping them launch their product and effectively navigate the challenges and opportunities of their market. Some of them going on the journey from clinical development to blockbuster drugs. These enduring partnerships underscore our commitment to our founding aspirations and the significant value that we can add to our clients.

The last ten years have also been a significant personal and professional journey for me, and I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it has meant for me in terms of resilience and developing a growth mindset. While I rarely use quotes – often struggling to recall them when needed – one that resonates deeply with me as I look back on our journey is from Eliud Kipchoge, one of the greatest marathon runners of all time and the first person in recorded history to break the two-hour barrier over a marathon distance. He said: “I am just going to try to run my personal best. If it comes as a world record, I would appreciate it. But I would treat it as a personal best.” This is ultimately all we can do and expect from ourselves and from each other, in life and business, to go out and give it our best. In 2016, a few years into the CHR journey, I embarked on a deeply personal challenge. I spent 52 days rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean. During this adventure, I applied the same principles and mindset to overcome the countless challenges and fulfil my goals. Each day, as I stepped onto the deck to row, I committed to giving my best effort, guided by what my mind, body, and the conditions of the ocean around me permitted. This wasn’t about delivering short-term heroic efforts, which could risk the success of the whole journey, but rather it was about consistent performance that compounds over time to achieve sustainable progress and that allowed me to ultimately fulfil my dream of rowing across an ocean.

In summary, these are my reflections on what I have learned over the past decade:

Dedication Pays Off: Achieving worthwhile goals requires consistent effort.

Clarity of Vision and Purpose: Maintaining a clear and focused vision is key. It’s not just about having goals, but about understanding the deeper purpose behind what we do, which aligns our efforts and drives us towards success.

Embracing Setbacks: Challenges and setbacks are inevitable parts of any journey. They are not just obstacles but opportunities to strengthen our resolve and enhance our capabilities.

Patience in Progress: True success and growth don’t happen overnight. They require patience and the understanding that meaningful change takes time.

Investment in Culture and People: Investing in culture and people is vital. Integrity is non-negotiable and having guiding values will keep you on course. The success of any journey is a team effort, you don’t want to journey alone.

With the support of my colleagues and the wider CHR community, I have many more goals for our company to achieve. Yet, as we mark this 10-year milestone, it’s the perfect moment to celebrate our achievements, reflect on our journey, and look forward to where I want us to be in the decade to follow.

Matteo Perucchini is the CEO and co-founder of CHR. Matteo lives in a small village in Cambridgeshire with his wife and two very energetic young children. In his free time, he loves to stay active through trail running and functional fitness racing. Though the countryside is now home, his passion for the ocean continues to inspire his personal and professional life.