Diana Marszalek 02 Dec 2021 // 6:00PM GMT
SAN FRANCISCO — Real Chemistry founder Jim Weiss, who has spearheaded the firm’s growth into a $475 million operation, is taking on the new role of chairman. Shankar Narayanan will succeed him as CEO.
As chairman, Weiss will continue to be involved in the operations of Real Chemistry (formerly W2O Group) as a mentor and advisor, and will pursue M&A, partnerships, and the expansion of capabilities.
Weiss will also join Real Chemistry investor New Mountain Capital as an executive advisor, as which he will focus on identifying and facilitating investment opportunities.
Narayanan, who has spent more than two decades working in healthcare and life sciences, meantime, will formally become Real Chemistry’s CEO on January 3.
Narayan’s professional history includes operating and growing organizations centered around healthcare and technology. He most recently served as chief operating officer of Equian, an insurance subrogation firm that was once part of New Mountain Capital’s portfolio. Before that, he led the life sciences business at Cognizant and spent 15 years with McKinsey & Company, where he was a partner in the pharmaceutical and medical products practice.
“This is an exciting moment for the company, our people and our clients, and will help us fully realize the value of what we started,” said Weiss. “Bringing new people, technology and ideas together to create value, drive impact and ignite positive change for our clients is what Real Chemistry is all about and why our mission has never wavered over two decades. Shankar brings the exact right expertise and leadership track record at the right time to continue building a company based on helping clients transform in the post-pandemic age of digital health.”
The leadership changes come roughly nine months after then-W20 Group was rebranded as Real Chemistry in a move meant to reflect the healthcare firm’s expanded capabilities after rapid growth and numerous acquisitions.
Real Chemistry houses W2O, the healthcare marketing and comms firm Weiss founded 20 years ago, as well as the 12 companies he acquired with the goal of making the firm a leader in data and analytics.
The acquisitions (10 of which have occurred since 2019) have made Real Chemistry a roughly 1,800-person company with offices around the world, and expertise in marketing, creative and communications with clinical trial, health economics and outcomes, and value, pricing and access advisory.
Real Chemistry's most recent acquisitions occurred in January when the agency bought Swoop and IPM.ai, sister companies that use technology to identify, target and engage patient groups. Swoop and IPM.ai are housed under Real Chemistry's health technology business, along with Symplur, the social media analytics company W2O acquired in April.
Other acquisitions Real Chemistry has made since it sold a piece of the company to New Mountain Capital in 2019 include the October purchase of influencer and entertainment marketing agency Starpower as a means of accessing high-profile talent to help drive public health messages. Real Chemistry acquired Elysia Group, a health economic and outcomes research consulting firm, in September and Baltimore consultancy Discern Health two months before that. In January, the independent agency group added an advertising agency to its portfolio with its acquisition of 21Grams.
Real Chemistry’s success earned it the number three spot on PRovoke Media’s 2020 Agency of the Decade list. The firm was cited not only for its numbers (W2O Group finished the decade as a $220 million business) but also for leading the industry in making analytics a core part of its business.