Her responsibilities include executing the company’s business plan and strategy, integrating operating functions, driving continuous improvement, interfacing with sales to secure new business, sustaining and cultivating the company’s core values and culture and leading special initiatives to drive growth and ensure resources and technologies are in place to support growth and ever-evolving customer and market needs.
Stichter has worked in contract manufacturing for over 25 years and has held positions in engineering, operations, quality and executive management in both privately held and public corporations. She embraces the fast pace and challenges associated with growing a business, applying technology to streamline processes, driving continuous improvement and developing teams to deliver creative solutions that improve lives.
What first drew you to medtech? When did you first know you wanted to be in the industry?
Stichter: When I relocated to Minnesota, I was employed by a company involved in the production of products for automotive, consumer and medical markets. Since my experience was in the automotive and industrial markets, initially I was assigned products and customers in those markets. I soon learned more about the medical market and was assigned to work with medical products and customers. I really enjoyed being involved early in the development process – sometimes starting with conceptual idea that required industrial and mechanical design – and working with a cross-functional team, that included the customer, to develop products that could be manufactured and eventually released to the market. The automotive industry provided with a strong foundation in automation, assembly, continuous improvement and root cause methodologies that I have been able to leverage throughout my career, however, the ability to work on products that sustain or improve lives provides me with a greater sense of personal fulfillment.
What projects, past or present, have made you love what you do?
Stichter: I have participated on teams responsible for the design and manufacture of products such as pacemakers, point-of-care diagnostics, ventilators, pain management and surgical delivery devices, to name a few. The range of products and the technical challenges provided by each offer the opportunity to continually learn and apply specific know-how to support ongoing advancements and product evolution. I welcome and embrace the challenges the medtech market provides to our team, and business, as we grow and continue to develop robust solutions that address customer and market needs.
What projects are you most looking forward to?
Stichter: We are working with a customer to develop a wound care product that will revolutionize post-surgical care for a multitude of procedures. The device not only reduces the propensity for infection but also improves healing and increases patient mobility. Our team has had the opportunity to be involved since product inception and has enjoyed the ability to provide input into the product’s design for manufacture and assembly and have been privy to user feedback (nurse, physician and patients) throughout the development process. This level of participation increases team engagement and provides us with a strong connection to the product, customer and end user as we all better understand the impact of our contributions.
What are some of the barriers women face in today’s medtech industry, if any?
Stichter: The barriers to entry into the medtech industry are minimal due to the significant number of women already employed in this segment and their proven ability to navigate and successfully participate in and lead organizations. The types of roles available in the medtech industry provide women the opportunity to develop, advance and expand their impact in both technical and/or managerial positions.
Describe your biggest leadership challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
Stichter: My biggest leadership challenge was integrating an engineering team as a result of an acquisition, while in parallel to relocating several separate locations into a single new facility. Since the acquisition involved the purchase of a competitor, although the technology used to produce products was quite similar, the methods, systems, team structure and business approach differed. We intentionally focused on establishing and building strong relationships with people, learning more about the products and systems and being present and accessible on a frequent basis to ensure people felt a sense of belonging and to answer questions. Small teams were formed to discuss how best to integrate different aspects of the business and processes, for example, engineering change forms. Instead of selecting one company’s form over the other’s, representatives from both companies were chartered with developing a new form that captured the best practices from both companies. All engineering team members were welcome to participate in weekly team events (Fun Fridays) to build both professional and personal relationships and were involved in plans for the new building (status updates, visiting the new site, reviewing office layouts, etc.). Once the entire team was onsite, a celebration was held with employees and their significant others to celebrate the new space and to recognize the hard work and dedication involved to come together as a unified team.
Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson you have learned that has guided you in your career?
Stichter: I have been very fortunate to have worked in many industries and for many great organizations and have learned something from each one of them. The most important lesson, and one that resonates most with who I am, is to actively listen and value the contributions of all employees. I have worked with many leaders that think they know it all or know best based on either their education and/or title and do not place value on the input nor contributions of others. In my opinion, we each bring a unique perspective to every situation and the power to recognize the strength of differing thoughts and insight makes a significant impact on the ultimate success and execution of a decision.
In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in the medtech industry today? Stichter: I would like to see greater engagement from high schools and colleges to increase visibility to career opportunities in medtech. Teamvantage participates in programs with high schools and colleges to expose students to careers in manufacturing, specifically medtech. As a result, not only the students but the educators as well have been surprised about the variety of positions, skillsets and career options that are available. The implementation of internships and apprenticeships are another great way to expose students to careers in medtech. Teamvantage has utilized both of these options to attract and retain talent. I believe additional efforts can be taken to create partnerships, or an alliance, that would involve OEMs, universities and manufacturers. The focus of this alliance would be to provide students with the opportunity to be part of a team at an OEM or university and then be part of a team at a manufacturing site. This type of exposure would provide a comprehensive oversight in regard the skills and careers required to develop and release a medical product from start to finish. Mentorship opportunities via partnerships or networking with high schools and universities also make a difference. I have personally spoken with several young women and have successfully convinced them to pursue technical or business degrees that have resulted in them obtaining careers with medtech companies.
Why is it important for companies to be more inclusive and have more women in charge?
Stichter: I believe women bring a unique perspective to business due to their compassion, ability to empathize, strong listening skills and eagerness to develop solutions that are good for the whole. In my experience, women strive to be collaborative and are interested in taking action to resolve a situation before it becomes a crisis. As a result, I believe women are more likely to ask the difficult questions, drive accountability to achieve results and more apt to follow through on personal and professional commitments.