Some thoughts for medtech leaders in 2022
Starting our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wonder when it will ever end. Four words stick in my head: “This stuff is hard.” (That’s the G-rated version.)
It’s tough when things don’t go your way, but you must learn to accept the situation and persevere. Keep on working at it, and it will eventually get better. As Dylan Thomas wrote in a poem I memorized when I was young: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
The past year was a lot about aspirations colliding with hard truths. We thought vaccines and masks would beat COVID. The vaccines have saved countless lives, but they didn’t prevent new variants — and too many people have refused to be vaccinated, anyway. Masks help, but humans are social animals and can’t wear masks indefinitely without losing something.
So we must carry on and dare to hope. All plagues end, and this one will, too.
COVID-19 has been medtech’s moment as the industry supplied the products needed to protect people and save their lives. It’s also been an exciting time for pharma, with its COVID vaccines and new coronavirus treatment drugs.
Life sciences companies will continue to play an essential role in what I’m hoping is the beginning of the end of this pandemic. Innovations such as mRNA vaccines, better personal protective equipment, digital health and telehealth advances, and more could prove to be the pandemic’s silver lining, enabling us to live happier and healthier lives.
I’ve written about medical devices for nearly a decade, and one of the things that I love about medtech is that it can be so ambitious. Abbott CEO Robert Ford exuded optimism during his recent CES 2022 keynote, the first ever given by a life sciences leader: “Technology gives us the power to digitize, decentralize and democratize healthcare, create a shared language between you and your doctor — and put more control of your health in your hands. We’re creating a future that will bring you and your loved ones care that’s more personal and precise. It’s happening right now. And its potential is no less than incredible.”
But medtech has faced its realities. COVID tests, for example, have continually been in short supply in the U.S.
Leaders need to have answers in these times. Medtronic CFO Karen Parkhill, who is on this issue’s cover, had some of those answers for her company in early 2020. “When the pandemic hit, we didn’t know how bad, how long it was going to affect us,” she told Managing Editor Jim Hammerand. “We needed to quickly decide whether we were going to cut back on R&D, on manufacturing, on our employee base. I took the lessons learned from stress tests in the financial services sector and quickly showed that Medtronic had the financial stability to withstand very severe stress from COVID.”
Medtronic CEO Geoff Martha described Parkhill as a steadyhanded and compassionate leader, and a BTIG analyst credited her with clearly communicating expectations to investors.
The world’s largest medical device company, however, is working through its share of challenges. Medtronic has had supply chain and manufacturing problems hindering the development of its Hugo surgical robot, delays in renal denervation clinical trial results, and FDA warnings about issues at the diabetes business. Other major companies are grappling with their own supply chain snarls, recalls and the like.
Martha displayed humility bundled with confidence at this month’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. “I feel a mix of disappointment and anger. And, I feel deeply accountable for this. … But, it’s important to reiterate that, while these programs are delayed, they are still expected to be meaningful growth drivers going forward.”
That pretty much sums up the traits I’d like to see more of in leaders this year, qualities I will try to embody more as a manager and human being: optimism, decision-making based on facts, steadiness, empathy and compassion, a willingness to admit mistakes, and the courage to persevere and win. Here’s to 2022 being everything we hoped 2021 would be — and more.
– Chris Newmarker, Executive Editor