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Medtech CEO shares leadership lessons with Stanford Biodesign

DSC_0162Mike Mahoney has worked at health care companies ranging from start-ups to multinational organizations, including Boston Scientific, a medical device company where he is currently chairman and CEO.

As the featured guest at Stanford Biodesign’s From the Innovator’s Workbench event recently, Mahoney shared advice and lessons he has learned during an interview with Uday Kumar, MD, director of strategy for biodesign and the founder of several medtech start-ups including iRhythm Technologies, Inc. Here are some highlights:

  • How to stand out in a crowd: Throughout his career, Mahoney said he has distinguished himself by his willingness to tackle challenges well outside his comfort zone. “Early on, I noticed that those who took the hairiest jobs and did well with them were able to differentiate themselves. And I learned that when you take a tough assignment and are successful, you become more willing to take another tough assignment. You build confidence internally, and you welcome bigger challenges because you believe in yourself and your team.”
  • Lessons on leadership: “One of the most memorable leaders I worked under set incredibly tough metrics and goals. But he had a leadership style that fostered collaboration and authentic, open communication, and it inspired people to do anything they could to help the company.”
  • Top take-aways from running a start-up: “Every dollar counts,” Mahoney said. “At a big company, you typically don’t have to worry about the balance sheet quite as much... or about making payroll.” Mahoney also underscored the importance of calculated risk-taking. Recalling his work at an internet start-up, he said, “When other companies in the space began folding all around us, we took risks to convince competitors that we needed to combine forces to survive.”
  • Potential pitfalls of consensus: When that consolidation left Mahoney with a diverse and divided board of directors, he learned that moving the company forward expediently meant settling for less than 100 percent consensus. “You don’t have to win the vote 10-0,” he said. “You can win 6-4 and try to push the ball forward more quickly.”
  • On hiring: When Mahoney took charge of the orthopedics division at a major medical device company, he was new to devices and knew little about orthopedics. However, he believes this fresh perspective was an asset that ultimately helped him make unorthodox, but successful strategic growth decisions. As a result, he said, “I challenge my leaders to open up their lens in terms of who they want to hire... It’s so easy to just hire from a competitor in your field. But to me, that’s probably a mistake.”
  • Being innovative in health care: While Mahoney encourages all innovation, he notes that a particular area of interest is the interaction of sensor technology, big data and diagnostics. “Keeping people out of the hospital is a big focus for us, and should be a priority for the health care industry overall.”

Previously: Innovator addresses sleep-disordered breathing at Stanford Biodesign event, Abraham Verghese: "Leadership is not about knowing — it's about listening" and Lessons from the top: Science's Marcia McNutt offers hard-won wisdom on leadership
Photo by Stacey Paris McCutcheon

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