Sophie Costello (LHS 1996) – Director and CEO of Costello Medical
Last year, Sophie Costello (LHS 1996) celebrated her company, Costello Medical, achieving B-Corp Accreditation which signifies that a company demonstrates a significant performance in social and environmental factors and makes a commitment to balance their purpose and profits. In 2008, Sophie took a leap of faith and founded the company with her husband, after her younger brother George (LGS 2000), suffered a life-changing injury. After leaving LHS in 1996 with A levels in Chemistry, Maths, Further Maths and Physics, Sophie studied Chemistry at Wadham College, University of Oxford before completing an MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise at the University of Cambridge. She then began to work in the industry before starting her own company. Since then, Costello Medical has grown and developed and now employs nearly 400 people with offices in three countries.
We asked Sophie about her career path, achievements, inspiration, her time at LHS and her advice for following your own path and the leap to starting your own company.
Could you provide an outline of your job role?
I founded Costello Medical in 2008 with my husband. It is a medical communications company that works with pharmaceutical companies. We take data from clinical drug trials and analyse it and communicate it to different audiences, for example doctors and patients, in a wide range of formats. When I founded the company almost all my time was spent on delivering the scientific work directly to our clients but as the company has grown (we are now nearly 400 people across 7 offices in 3 countries) my focus has changed. My role is now determining the strategic direction of the company and ensuring it evolves in the right way. I spend a lot of my time speaking with members of the team to help them realise their potential within Costello Medical.
What are your career highlights?
Seeing Costello Medical grow has been a constant source of excitement- we never dreamt we would be this size or with a presence in different countries. Watching our brilliant teams deliver amazing work never fails to inspire me and it is a particular highlight for me that our leadership team is made almost entirely from people who joined us at the beginning of their careers and have grown with us.
Particular highlights are related to our desire to build a company that is a force for good in the world. In 2022 we achieved B-Corp Accreditation, which is an external validation that we meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance and signifies a business that balances purpose and profit. We have also really committed to our pro bono side of the business and in 2022 spent 1487 days of time on work delivered free of charge to charities, representing an investment of around £800,000.
What inspired/ motivated you to build your own company?
My parents ran their own manufacturing company together and so the fun and challenges of building your own business were well known to me. The catalyst for me founding Costello Medical was when my younger brother, George, experienced an unexpected and life changing brain injury. This dramatic change in my family circumstances caused me to re-evaluate my own life. I realised that although I loved the work I was doing, I wasn’t so happy in the company I was working for. Cliched as it sounds, I realised life is short and can change very suddenly and so if you aren’t happy or fulfilled in your work you should try and make a change. Added to that whenever I had considered branching out on my own fear of failure had put me off. When George became so unwell, I realised that professional failure is really nothing to be frightened of when compared to truly challenging events in your family life.
My husband and I had a vision to build a company that would do valuable work with a positive impact and, just as importantly, would be a place where people enjoyed coming to work, felt supported and could build a career to be proud of.
Can you tell us about your memories or your fondest memory of your time at Loughborough High School?
My fondest memories are the friendships I formed at LHS. I joined in the sixth form but made friendships during that time that have been unbelievably precious to me, and my two closest friends are from my time at LHS – we have been through so much together over the last nearly 30 years and there is, I think, something very special about having people in your life who know you that well and fully understand your life and how it has evolved.
How did your time at Loughborough High School influence your life and career?
When I was at LHS and trying to decide what degree to take I was given some very good advice by several teachers who told me to really think about what I loved studying the most and to pursue that. As the first person in my family to go to University I felt a bit overwhelmed about that decision, worrying about what that choice would mean for my future career. But the advice to choose the thing that you enjoy the most was a really good one. I did really like my degree and have tried to follow the same approach throughout the rest of my professional life – to seek out and pursue the work that I find most fulfilling and commit to that. When I made missteps in my career and found myself doing roles that really didn’t feel right for me, that thinking spurred me on to make a change and not give up on finding a job that I really loved.
What do you wish you had known when you were in Sixth Form?
I wish I had known that it was ok not to have a fixed plan, and not to know exactly what you are going to do in the future. I think it is easy when you are that age and looking to role models to imagine they all had a clear path mapped out that they executed perfectly. But in fact, my career and that of most people I know isn’t like that – it is full of twists and turns.
I also wish I had known about the huge and varied opportunities there are to work in the healthcare sector. As someone with a love of science and a passion for healthcare I thought my options were to become a doctor or to do bench research – in fact there are so many more career opportunities out there.
What advice or job search tips would you give to current pupils thinking about entering a similar sector to yourself or hoping to build their own company?
For pupils with an interest in the work that Costello Medical does (which is very wide and varied) I would just encourage them to pursue a scientific degree and select the subject that most inspires them. When we are recruiting at Costello Medical, we are looking for strong scientific skills but the exact degree matters less – we want people with a passion for the work and the right attitude.
For anyone wanting to build their own company I would say go for it! Starting Costello Medical is one of the best decisions I have ever made. My advice would be to make sure you are working in an area that you love – running a company is really a lifestyle choice and you will be living and breathing it most of the time, so you need to be passionate about it. And importantly listen to advice but listen most carefully to the people you trust the most. When I look back at the early days of Costello Medical the most valuable advice came from my parents and from close friends who ran their own companies; people who knew me well and who believed in me.
What are the key skills you need for your job role/to work in your industry?
To work in the medical communications industry, you need a strong scientific skill set coupled with an ability to work under pressure. The work we do is important and has to be correct and our clients have really high standards that we have to meet. As a client facing business, good interpersonal skills are really important as our customer service is just as important as our scientific rigour.
For my role of running a company, I think you have to be very clear on what you are trying to achieve and the type of business you are trying to run. The decisions I have to make rarely have a definitive right or wrong answer, so I have to be clear about the values of the company and use them to guide my decision making.
What ambitions would you still like to realise?
Costello Medical has surpassed all of my ambitions and the team I work with are always amazing me with what they achieve. We don’t have growth targets and have allowed the company to grow organically driven by the passion and ambition of the people in the company. I would just love to see us continuing to do more of the same and to help more people develop careers that they really enjoy.
What have you done outside of your career that you are most proud of?
I have four young children aged between 5 and 10 and so with that and running Costello Medical I don’t have very much time to do anything else. I always feel proud of myself on the rare days when I get the children to school with the right uniform, snack and kit for the day! More seriously, I do feel proud that despite my company being a lot of work with the potential to be all consuming I have managed to find balance so that I can be there for my family as well.
Who inspires you?
My sister-in-law, Jo (LHS 1999) who is married to my brother inspires me. Although her life changed dramatically when George sustained his brain injury, she has approached every day since with positivity, love, fun, resilience and incredible generosity of spirit. Her attitude to life is something I admire so much and she is an inspiration to so many people.