‘Medical technology is a driver of health and wealth’

7 Dec 2017

Bill Doherty, vice-president of Cook Medical EMEA and managing director of Cook Medical Ireland. Image: Gary Barrett Photography

As part of Medtech Week, we spoke to Bill Doherty of Cook Medical about the major challenges in the medtech industry today.

Bill Doherty is the vice-president of Cook Medical EMEA and managing director of Cook Medical Ireland.

Doherty joined Cook Medical Ireland as its first employee in 1994. Prior to this, he held senior management positions with Atari, Digital Equipment Corporation and EG&G Electro Optics.

Cook Medical began operations in Ireland in 1996 and will celebrate 22 years in Limerick in 2018. The company employs approximately 900 people at its plant in Limerick and supports more than 600 field-based European staff.

Doherty recently spoke about global marketing strategy at the Medtech Rising conference in Galway, which concludes today (7 December).

Describe your role and what you do.

As executive vice-president, my role is to coordinate Cook Medical’s business in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Like many organisations, Cook Medical has a matrix structure, and I spend a lot of my time ensuring that the various functions and divisions are coordinated, EMEA specific issues are addressed at corporate level, and horizon scanning to try to identify threats and opportunities to the business.

Another focus of my role is participating in local and international forums to discuss and influence the future of the medtech industry. As EMEA is made up of multiple jurisdictions, there is also often a need for country-specific solutions. I spend a lot of time travelling as I believe communicating with employees, customers and other stakeholders is very important, and gives me a view of the business from different perspectives.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I try to follow a structured working day – however, it’s important to be flexible and accessible. I am not driven by deadlines and appointments but I try to find time to think longer-term and to meet with others to understand their issues as well as soliciting their advice and input. I have always adopted a hands-off approach to management, and believe in hiring strong people and letting them manage their areas of responsibility without too much interference.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

I think the greatest challenge for the medtech industry is to demonstrate that medical technology is a driver of health and wealth, and not simply a cost for healthcare systems. As populations age, it is becoming more difficult and expensive for governments to provide high-level healthcare for all its citizens. The challenge for the industry is to demonstrate better clinical and economic outcomes for patients and for healthcare systems globally. Medtech has a role to play in partnering with healthcare systems to help drive efficiencies in areas such as logistics, procurement and IT.

A more immediate challenge for the sector is the new European medical device regulations, which will bring substantial changes to the European regulatory environment and will add a new level of complexity to placing devices on the market in Europe. While some of the new regulations are to be welcomed, I am concerned that other provisions could stifle innovation or, at the very least, make it very onerous for start-ups to survive through to commercialisation. This could also have the effect of diverting venture capital away from medtech due to the progressively longer lead times and increased hurdles to bring a new product to market.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

Like many in the sector, I see emerging markets as an area of growth but also one with different challenges and opportunities. Many emerging markets have complex supply chains with multiple layers, which results in reduced efficiency.

There is a trend of diverging regulations in these markets, with some larger emerging markets setting up regulatory environments that favour local manufacturers. While there are many challenges in these markets, there is a growing population who want better quality healthcare and can afford to pay for it, which ultimately leads to increased opportunities for the medtech industry.

We are also seeing a move towards personalised healthcare. This is still very much a developing area but there are opportunities for medtech to offer patient-specific solutions.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Fate or accident – I’m not sure, but I happened to be in the right place with the right experience when Cook Medical decided to set up an operation in Ireland. It has been a tremendously rewarding journey and there is no doubt that those of us who work in medtech are extremely fortunate and get a great buzz from seeing how our products help to improve and save lives.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I recall in my early days being captivated by a very eloquent physician who convinced me to work with him to develop a new product. After almost a year’s work, we launched this product and didn’t sell a single unit. It wasn’t that the product didn’t work but, as it was an aide to using an existing product, customers weren’t willing to pay for it and expected it for free. I learned that good ideas can come from anywhere and that it’s important to separate the idea from the person, take the idea on its own merits and eliminate personal bias. This is where market research is invaluable.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I try to empower my team and then get out of the way. I see my role as setting direction and making sure that we continue to have a strong culture. While we are a large company, we are still a family-owned business and try to maintain family values in a global world, which means we look out for one another and for our communities. From a business perspective, this means ensuring that we put patients at the centre of our entire decision-making process.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

There is undoubtedly a gender imbalance in STEM and this is a huge cost to industry and society in general. I think there are numerous reasons for this imbalance but, certainly, a lack of female role models and societal norms are among them. I believe it is in society’s interest to try to address this imbalance in business, education and in the home.

Many of Cook Medical’s highest-achieving engineers are women. I would encourage girls setting out on their career path to consider engineering. It’s a rewarding and varied job that has real-world applications.

Who is your role model and why?

I admire people who are themselves and enjoy what they do. I don’t have a particular role model but I admire people like Richard Branson – he has enthusiasm for his work, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he is not afraid to do what others might regard as silly in his personal life. I think it’s important to take business seriously but to allow time for the frivolous things in our personal lives.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I primarily read for relaxation and tend to favour historical novels rather than business books. One book that has always fascinated me is The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. It’s a tough but rewarding read and gives great insight into power and especially what people will do to achieve and keep it. My favourite author is Bernard Cornwell; I really enjoyed his most recent series, The Saxon Stories, which depicts the struggle between the Saxons and Vikings for control of England.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I remember business with telex and fax machines so, from a technology perspective, email and WebEx have become indispensable, not to mention mobile phones. I’m fortunate in that I work with a large company, so I have a lot of support.