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  • Alex Hattaway

5 tips from medtech leaders for the next generation

DeviceTalks guests offer advice for building successful careers in the medtech industry.

When interviewing senior executives on our DeviceTalks podcasts I always start by asking how they got into medtech.

Starting at career square one allows us to walk through the decisions that led to their success. I like to spend a few minutes examining those critical crossroad moments when the guests chose to leap into a new opportunity.

These interviews are full of lessons and tips for younger medtech professionals to equip themselves with experience and insights that will help develop them into leaders of the future.

You’ll need to listen to our past episodes for every bit of great advice. But we pulled these particularly helpful tidbits to help you build your successful career.

Tip 1: Run to the fire

Michael Mahoney surprised many when he left a senior role at Johnson & Johnson to take the CEO role at Boston Scientific. Boston Scientific was struggling, with a market capitalization almost a tenth of the $67 billion it sported near the end of 2022.

Mahoney was comfortably positioned as group chair of Johnson & Johnson’s medical device business. But Mahoney saw an opportunity to be a turnaround CEO.

“You have to be willing to run to the fire,” Mahoney said.

He looks favorably upon executives who took on the tough task of turning around a declining division or market rather than leading a large, steady business. “I encourage our people that it’s not always the size of the business that matters, it’s the complexity.”

Kate Stewart, VP and GM of ENT at Stryker, moved from her native Australia to Amsterdam to help manage the growing ENT business. As managing director of the Europe neurosurgery, ENT and craniomaxillofacial businesses, Stewart helped oversee the combination of Stryker’s ENT, Neurosurgery and CMF businesses in Europe. At the same time, the group was growing through M&A and had to integrate ENT products from recent acquisitions of Scopis and Polyganics NV.

“That was through a time of significant transformation,” she said. “And I knew that not only would our family grow personally by taking on that experience, but professionally, certainly that would be a moment in my career that would really help me learn and grow and become a better leader through the amount of transformation that we had to lead through.”

Tip 2: Get out of your comfort zone

Like Stewart, some executives point to their decision to accept positions outside of their native countries as career accelerants. Celine Martin, chair of the Cardiovascular & Specialty Solutions (CSS) Group at Johnson & Johnson, said the global company gave her many opportunities outside her native France.

“I lived in Europe, then moved to the U.S., East Coast [and] West Coast,” she said. “I touched many functions. Big companies. Small companies. Companies that were acquired and companies that were divested.”

Skip Kiil, president of Medtronic’s cranial and spinal business, spent six years playing professional baseball in the minor league systems of the Phillies, Reds and Yankees before selling medical devices for Stryker. Then, in 2009, he took the post of general manager of Stryker Japan, an international trajectory that would move him and his family to Rome, Geneva and London. A mentor told Kiil that every year spent working in a country where you don’t speak the language is worth three years of experience in a country where you do.

Kiil said leading a business and employees outside the U.S. exposed him to different healthcare markets, physician communities and reimbursement systems.

“You get a good understanding of global healthcare, the policies, and how those policies are executed,” he said. “Universal healthcare is very different than what we operate with here in the United States.”

The overseas posts also helped him sharpen his communication skills.

“You’ve got to be concise and consistent with your message because your message is being translated into multiple languages,” Kiil said.

In Japan, for example, Kiil said he spoke enough Japanese to follow conversations, but his success depended upon conveying a simple, clear and focused message that would be passed on by native-speaking subordinates. “You had to be bright, be brief and then be gone,” he said.

Tip 3: Always change at least one thing

Martin has spent her entire career with Johnson & Johnson. But the breadth and depth of the large global company afforded her the opportunity to assume many roles in different businesses selling different types of medical devices.

Each new job adds skills to your career “toolbox,” she said, and any career move should change at least one of these variables: job function, company (or a business within a larger company), industry (orthopedics, cardiovascular, and other specialties) or geography.

“When you move, think always about the move afterwards, but try to always move one variable at a time,” she said.

Mahoney moved within companies and changed companies — GE Healthcare, GHX, Johnson & Johnson and now Boston Scientific — when the opportunity was right. But he says changing employers isn’t the point.

“There are great leaders at Boston Scientific who’ve been here for 30 years,” he said. “They’ve always found ways to reinvent themselves. They change divisions, move overseas. They constantly improve themselves.”

Tip 4: Don’t be too humble

Andy Pierce, group president of medsurg and neurotechnology at Stryker, calls the company a “career playground” that “loves talent and loves giving talented people new experiences as long as you’re engaging in the dialogue and pushing yourself and those around you to be better. That gets noticed in our company, and you’ll get tapped on the shoulder to do more.”

Pierce, who worked his entire career at the company, says part of your career-boosting strategy should be letting your superiors know what your goals are.

“There is a humility gene that runs through Stryker folks and sometimes that humility gene just says, ‘Put your head down and do the right things, and your time will come,’” he said. “Well, most of the time that’s true. But it is a good idea to share your thoughts with your manager.

“Don’t speed,” he warns. “Be great at what you do, understand what great looks like in your role. Go out and get it and make your ambitions known, and things will come along OK. But become a master of your universe. That’s not just learning, but how you have ambition and drive to achieve. That shows up well for people that want to grow in their career.”

Tip 5: Develop resilience

Stryker’s Stewart followed career opportunities in London, Amsterdam, San Francisco and now Minneapolis. Each geography presented an opportunity to develop resilience to new workplaces, neighborhoods and customs, she said. The ability to absorb change became even more essential in 2020 when the pandemic unleashed waves of uncertainty.

“What is remarkable to me is how leaders who are successful always make people feel like things are going to be OK,” Stewart said. “… Despite the fact that we may have very difficult decisions to make right now, or that it may feel very unsettled, helping people to feel like things are going be OK in the long run is so incredibly important for us as leaders.”

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