As VP of operations at Resonetics, Pearson is responsible for managing four facilities. With a relentless emphasis on continuous improvement, she focuses her teams on creating flow and quality at the source.
Prior to Resonetics, Pearson was senior director of operations at Safe Fleet where she led the operations team to successfully execute best in class service metrics while doubling in size over 4 years. She was a key integrator of new businesses to the platform, drove critical strategic initiatives and led the Continuous Improvement program across the organization. Pearson also led operations and engineering teams to record growth and profits in the switchgear industry at EMI and plastics industry at Ottertail Corporation.
ShPearsonawna earned her BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota after spending a year studying automotive mechanics at Triton College in Illinois. She is a certified Lean Expert and Six Sigma Master Blackbelt.
What first drew you to medtech? When did you first know you wanted to be in the industry?
Pearson: Minneapolis is a medtech hub, everyone knows family and friends in the industry. A lot of the manufacturing here is either indirectly related to or primarily serving med device, and there is so much sense of purpose — it was a natural choice for me.
What are some of the barriers women face in today’s medtech industry, if any?
Pearson: I personally think the main barrier is a perceived one, and women should focus on removing this from their thinking. Earlier in my career I kept wondering, “When am I going to hit the glass ceiling in this business?” With some help from a mentor, I made the conscious decision to change my thinking so that my perception didn’t hold me back from achieving my full potential. This was an important breakthrough for me personally in my career. The lack of women in the medtech industry is related to the lower population of women attending STEM programs. I believe women only earn 22% of engineering degrees, which is quite a low percentage. Medtech seems to be a lot more inclusive than some of the other industries I’ve worked in which is fantastic — and I hope it continues to be that way.
Is there a perception problem that makes women less likely to pursue medtech careers? If so, how can we change that?
Pearson: I think it’s the societal belief that women aren’t good at math and science, which we know is not true. It’s just some of the old thinking surrounding that which hasn’t gone away quite yet. I do think the med device industry is a lot more female friendly and diverse than some of the other industries I’ve worked in. I hope that by encouraging this diversity and inclusion, we will shift the perception and more women will feel empowered to pursue medtech careers.
Describe your biggest leadership challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
Pearson: I’ve been through a number of challenges throughout my career, many of them textbook problems, such as capacity constraints during exponential growth. Usually it’s related to various operational levers that we can manipulate, like adding equipment capacity, variable labor, or new capabilities to create competitive advantage. Sometimes it’s downsizing like so many businesses were faced with during COVID shutdowns. Focusing on operational and engineering solutions that provide our commercial team and ultimately our customers with best in class lead-times, quality and cost is part of my DNA. Today’s current labor shortage is one of the most challenging environments I’ve ever been faced with. People are amazingly resilient and adaptable. I’m confident we will come out of this with break-through solutions that will drive much faster conversion to automation and integration of systems. Here at Resonetics, we have quickly shifted our focus to lean manufacturing and automation opportunities to reduce our dependence on labor. We are fast forwarding these efforts because we have to in order to succeed and keep up with the extreme growth we’re experiencing.
Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson you have learned that has guided you in your career
Pearson: For me, I am an engineer. I have a mechanical engineering degree and started in a technical career path. I love technical innovation and working to create solutions on the production floor through process development, which is where I spent most of my time early on. As soon as I made the decision to move into operational leadership I had to shift and learn more about the people side of things. Part of it was patience, part of it was understanding the involvement of managing direct reports and the nuances that come with people and their individual needs. It took me a while because I like to have a personal connection with everyone I work with. I want my team to know that I care and that their contributions really matter. I want them to feel that they are making an impact every day and I am providing them an environment as their leader to do their best work.
That passion to help people in their career and help them do their best work was an entirely new part of my career and is increasingly important to me today. At this point helping individuals and teams reach their full potential provides an immense sense of purpose for me and I’m thankful for that each day.
The first company I ran as the operations and engineering leader was about $40 million in revenue and had two sites, one of which was focused on medical device manufacturing. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do, the business aspect and the people, it all melded together. The beauty of Resonetics is that even though it has over 1,300 employees in 11 facilities worldwide, all the sites have that small business feel, so you can work closely with the team and see the immediate impact of your work. The team will work on an improvement and once implemented, the results can be seen in the next month’s KPI’s and financials, either in better labor performance, improved quality or shorter lead times.
In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in the medtech industry today?
Pearson: I’ve struggled with how to do more and impact more people in a positive way throughout my career. I’ve spoken at schools and talked about the importance of math and science. Every chance I get when talking to kids I ask, “What is your favorite subject” and if they say math or science, I’m like, “Great, you should consider engineering!” If they don’t say math or science I ask if they like math or science and encourage them to stick with it because you want them to keep all those doors open. The other thing I do now as a seasoned professional in my career is mentoring younger female (and male) team members. This is really fulfilling for me. I think if we all did a few things like these; encouraging children, both boys and girls, to like math and science, speaking to high school students about the opportunities there are with math and science-based career paths, encouraging young team members in the industry through mentoring, we can make a huge difference. A little support and encouragement can go a long way, especially when it comes from those of us who have been successful in the field.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Pearson: I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a very fulfilling and successful career up to this point. I would say these are key aspects: Always stay positive, expect the best from yourself and others, take risks, make decisions quickly and do what you love because passion is key! Focus on solutions, not problems. I encourage my teams to iterate on solutions. When they’re scared of failing, I remind them that a new mistake is always better than continuing with the old one we’re so comfortable with. The more you work outside of your comfort zone, the more possibilities, solutions and growth will open up for you. When you start out, try different things. If something grabs your interest and seems like something you’d love to do, go talk to people who do it, take the role and try it out. I started in manufacturing engineering, then project management as a Six Sigma Black Belt and lean manufacturing expert. From there I moved into quality and lean manager roles and then into engineering and operations leadership roles. As you go, you’ll figure out what work is in your wheelhouse or puts you in the zone. Somewhere in there your true calling will emerge! Finally, I’m a proponent of intuition. I don’t always get a gut feeling, but when I do I follow it every time because it’s always spot on.
Why is it important for companies to be more inclusive and have more women in charge?
Pearson: Well first of all, women make up half the population! Ideally there would be no bias in hiring practices and our workforce would be a sample representation of our demographic. During COVID we had to make some tough decisions at a couple of sites with my last company and reduce staff by 30%. I asked my site leaders to rank their employees (exclusive of their role) and to my surprise there was no bias. They just wanted to keep their best team members regardless of labels. The good news here is aside from hiring and promotions, women and minorities seem to be rated on an equal plane once they’re contributing to the business. As an optimist, this is a tough question to answer. I strive to consider the whole person and avoid stereotypes and labels. When we speak about women being too emotional to lead or men are more mechanically inclined, for example, we are perpetuating the cycle. We exacerbate the belief that there are core differences between us all depending on the labels that society has defined and attached to us. Unfortunately, many of us believe those labels about ourselves and they become obstacles we unknowingly place in our own path to personal growth and success. All of us have unique backgrounds, beliefs and biases. We bring all of that perspective to our teams and ultimately provide more robust solutions.