Medtronic’s Strategic Objective

Accelerating healthcare technology innovation

Interview with Chris Lee

Interview with Chris Lee

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Chris Lee is also a member of the Medtronic Executive Committee. He leads the APAC team, which includes more than 10,000 employees across 20 countries, in Medtronic’s Mission to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life for millions of patients. Before Medtronic, Chris was Regional Head and Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific at Bayer HealthCare. He has a strong record of global leadership in the healthcare sector. He has worked in executive positions across pharmaceuticals and medical technology, instilling his inclusive leadership style, commitment to meritocracy, and proven business results.

What has been the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on your operations and work power, and how did Medtronic respond?

When COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, it immediately impacted our business, industry, and daily lives.

Demand for our products and services began to dry up. Our APAC business, which grew at a consistent rate over the past several years, quickly declined. Hospitals cancelled all elective surgeries, delayed essential procedures, and banned non-employees – including our sales teams, who were used to spending their time in hospitals, supporting doctors in surgery, ensuring our devices run smoothly, and selling directly to staff.

We were worried about our business, but we made the collective decision to protect our employees above all else. We secured all necessary PPE for our teams, prevented them from traveling, and enlisted our medically licensed employees to assist anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms. We immediately introduced an employee engagement program, ‘We are Stronger Together’ to help our people, and their families, through this time of uncertainty. Focused on three pillars – Mind, Body, and Spirit – the program included trainings to upskill our employees and broaden their understanding of our business; equipment to work from home; weekly food delivery credits to offset the stress of working and cooking; and a Family Reunion Program that offers our expat employees paid flights home and extra days of leave to reunite with their loved ones after it is safe to travel.

Beyond that, we revisited our business strategy to see how we could pivot to better support our customers and patients under the new normal. Our Go Digital strategy, which we launched before the pandemic to drive digital transformation across APAC, became even more relevant. It allows us to use data and analytics to develop business intelligence and tools for salesforce effectiveness, to enable virtual training, and to drive customer engagement through digital and social media. We increasingly prioritised these areas and strengthened our digital capabilities even more with the launch of the Medtronic Open Innovation Platform (OIP).

We often see that in times of uncertainty, the reaction is to pull back: play it safe, save money, and do the minimum. Our teams did the opposite. And we showed our partners – and each other – just how far Medtronic is willing to go to support our people and ultimately, our patients. This resulted in a +14-point increase in Employee Engagement and our revenue is back to growth.

Medtronic has been named as one of the world's best working environments for innovators. Would you be able to share a little insight into the market drivers and the necessities that Medtronic is responding to?

At Medtronic, there is the fundamental belief that good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere. We may be the world's largest medical technology company today, but we started humbly: a 25-year-old electrical engineer, his brother-in-law, and a garage-based medical equipment repair shop.

This October, we officially launched the Medtronic Open Innovation Platform (OIP) through an MOU with the Singapore Economic Development Board.

OIP aims to build capabilities and innovations in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, and Digital Health, in addition to the Medtronic Portfolio.

At its heart is MDT Spark, and internal program that we introduced three years ago. Any employee can submit their idea to accelerate revenue growth, drive simplification, or improve employee engagement across APAC. We then provide the funding, senior counsel, and resources to implement the most promising ideas. Of the 531 ideas submitted to date, we have invested in 24. And those have delivered millions of dollars in additional revenue or savings for our business.

The other two OIP pillars are the Medtronic APAC Innovation Challenge (MAIC) and the Digital Medtronic Innovation Center (dMIC). Our dMIC, which will open in early 2022, will prove an immersive space for us to explore new technologies with our partners; MAIC, which we just launched will allow us to identify – and invest in – startups offering innovative solutions to attack the most complex and challenging health problems in the region.

Ultimately, this is our goal in everything we do: to innovate, develop new medical technologies, and improve the lives of our patients.

According to you, what are the most critical emerging technologies in APAC?

We are advancing many technologies here in APAC, but one of the most significant is Robotic-Assisted Surgery (RAS). Surgical robotics will be increasingly important to how we deliver for our patients. Patients who undergo minimally invasive – as opposed to open – surgery, can experience fewer complications, shorter hospital stays, faster return to normal activities, and smaller scars.

Recently the first procedure using the HugoTM Robotic-Assisted Surgery (RAS) system in APAC was successfully completed in India. It was a huge milestone – not just for our India team, but for our teams across the region. Technological developments like HugoTM make minimally invasive surgery more accessible to doctors and hospitals; our training centres and curriculum, like our newly inaugurated Surgical Robotics Experience Center (SREC) in Gurugram, India, ensure that medical professionals know how to use them. Together, they will play a critical role in addressing the region’s future healthcare needs.

But these are just the start. It is not possible for one company to deliver every new technology – but we can bring key players together, to collaborate and open-source innovation. And we created the Medtronic APAC Innovation Challenge (MAIC) to do just that. Through MAIC, we will seek out ideas that can lead to life-changing technologies, better outcomes for growing markets across the region, simplified healthcare, or more personalised healthcare solutions.

COVID-19 has brought challenges for all stakeholders in the healthcare space, from travel restrictions to border closures, supply chain stresses, remote working, and drops in medical tourism and non-essential hospital visits. What have been the key items on your clients’ agenda over the past few months?

From a product perspective, medical professionals across the region (and worldwide) have asked for our ventilators. To meet this demand, we made several unprecedented decisions for our business: we openly shared the design files for our Puritan BennettTM 560 ventilator system so manufacturers – in our industry and beyond – could increase production of our lifesaving ventilators; we partnered with SpaceX and others to temporarily produce a critical valve for our most complex ventilators; and we reached out to collaborators and competitors alike to form the global Ventilator Training Alliance.

More broadly, we have heavily invested in digital solutions to meet medical professionals’ needs. For example, Augmented Reality Vuzix Smart Glasses are one of the tools we are now using to make virtual trainings for HCPs more engaging. The Smart Glasses capture the trainer’s viewpoint and augments it with virtual elements so that trainees viewing remotely can get a more immersive experience despite the distance.

Our Digital Medtronic Innovation Center, opening in Singapore in early 2022, will advance our focus in this area by accelerating our efforts in digital technologies, Artificial Intelligence, and robotics. The ultimate goal is to benefit our customers and patients using technologies to overcome access barriers.

Is Medtronic’s APAC on the lookout for M&A opportunities or other forms of collaborations with start-ups in the region?

Yes. We just launched the Medtronic APAC Innovation Challenge, or MAIC, which gives startups the chance to shape the future of digital healthcare in APAC. Our goal with this initiative is to partner with startups in the region, provide them access to our network, partners, and existing MedTech solutions to ultimately lead to new life-changing technologies and accessible healthcare solutions.

While the MAIC is new, our commitment to advancing the startup ecosystem is not. We held our first Innovation Forum in Korea in 2018, to achieve similar goals. At that time, we received more than 70 applications, of which, two went on to develop commercial pilots with Medtronic. We are excited to build on this momentum across the rest of APAC, as I know it will lead to promising change for the region.

Medtronic has a robust product pipeline in the fields of heart and vascular field, restorative therapies and diabetes. How critical are these products for driving your development in APAC?

There are several trends driving the APAC healthcare market: our ageing population, rising healthcare costs, increasing adoption of digital technology, and shifting consumer expectations. The last one is particularly important; consumers are more informed about their conditions than ever, more engaged than ever, and they expect better healthcare experiences.

You mentioned diabetes, and I think that is a great example of how we are developing products to address these needs. Later this year we are bringing our most advanced insulin pump system to several APAC markets. It mimics some functions of a healthy pancreas for balanced levels through auto correction dosing; allows people living with diabetes to instantly know their real-time sugar levels; and notifies them, their care partner, and doctor, if their levels are too high or low.

We are also bringing Micra™ AV to many countries in our region. It is the world’s smallest pacemaker – 93 per cent smaller than conventional pacemakers and with 63 per cent fewer complications. That means patients have no visible or physical reminder that they have a pacemaker, and don’t have the usual pocket-related and/or lead-related complications.

These kinds of technologies, in which we make it easier for people to address their health concerns, are what will continue to drive our development in APAC.

What technologies have you adopted for planning and forecasting for future pandemic conditions?

As the world’s biggest medical technology company, we are constantly evaluating and adopting new technologies to improve all aspects of our work – and all aspects of our patients’ lives.

But I personally believe that technology is only as good as the people behind it, which is why we are partnering with INSEAD to host the FY22 APAC INSEAD + Medtronic Leadership Camp. It is a customised 8-month training program that will upskill 30 of our top employees in the region to succeed in the future.

COVID-19 showed us that our future APAC leaders will need to be equipped to address the evolving APAC healthcare landscape, readily adopt and integrate
new technologies and solutions, and manage through quick and dramatic change. Our hope is that this program will help give them the tools and critical thinking to do just that.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the company and the life sciences sector going forward?

For Medtronic, I think our biggest challenges are also our biggest opportunities. The first is talent. We want the best people in APAC working with us to improve the lives of patients here in our region. The second is healthcare access. It is varied across our region, especially when you compare developing and developed markets.

We are investing heavily to address both. As an employee, I can confidently say that Medtronic APAC is a great place to work. Our people know that they – and their wellbeing – are our priority, but we want top talent outside our company to know that too. So we have been very focused on boosting our employer branding over the past year, winning awards and being named one of the top 30 Best Workplaces in Asia™ and #1 in the healthcare industry. This has translated into better talent coming into our organisation, and I expect that to continue.

Second, as we saw in the pandemic, healthcare access is unequal across the region and we have taken several major steps to address this. We recently restructured our organisation to increase the autonomy of our local teams in addressing – and quickly responding to – the unique needs of their markets. We invested in new technologies to bring robots into more surgical suites around the region. And we are continuously innovating new technologies, rethinking traditional business models, and improving healthcare delivery to reduce barriers to affordable care.

What are the strategic objectives you envision Medtronic to achieve, over the next couple of years?

Coming out of the pandemic, we have an ambitious new goal: for Medtronic to be the undisputed leader in healthcare technology. This will allow us to attract the best talent, develop industry-leading products, and better serve more patients.

We have several strategic objectives to achieve this: (1) accelerate innovation-driven growth: our product pipeline is the strongest it’s ever been, and we are focused on making it more sustainable – particularly through less invasive therapies; (2) bring our technologies to emerging markets; (3) create better experiences for our patients, customers, and employees; and (4) turn data, Artificial Intelligence, and automation into action.

On a more personal note, you have been with Medtronic since 2012, working in different various roles. What do you most like with regards to working for Medtronic?

At Medtronic we have industry-leading products and breakthrough technologies – but with purpose and meaning behind them. This combination of innovative tech and our Mission, to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life for our patients, is what makes me excited to come to work each day.

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