‘One of the biggest challenges in medtech is the potential lack of innovation’

24 Sep 2019

Pat Burke. Image: Cook Medical

Pat Burke of Cook Medical discusses opportunities for research and development in the medtech sector, and how he gets the best out of his diverse team in Limerick.

Pat Burke is vice-president and general manager of Cook Medical’s Irish manufacturing facility, which is based in Limerick.

Burke has almost 30 years’ experience in industry. With a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering from University of Limerick, he worked in the electronics, computers and optoelectronics industries, before coming to the area of medical devices.

‘We’re constantly looking for opportunities to develop new products that that will expand the range of conditions that could be treated in Ireland and globally’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am responsible for the performance and profitability of Cook Ireland’s manufacturing entity, while maintaining compliance to our quality management system and ensuring that products manufactured meet all the global regulatory requirements on the market.

I provide leadership and support to our local team in Limerick in setting out our strategy and objectives to meet our vision.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I like to start work early and am fortunate that I’m an early riser. I have an hour commute and I tend to use some of the travel time to think – this sets me up well for the day ahead. When I arrive in, I use the first half hour to look at some metrics from the previous work day. Once I have that done, I feel I’m somewhat prepared and know where I may need to spend some of the day ahead.

In the last few years we have changed the way we look at our performance in many areas of our business through ‘continuous improvement’ – we use visualisation boards out in the work areas, we have daily team and support meetings across the business and I go to at least one every day. The data it gives is clear, efficient and it highlights immediately any challenges that the team needs to address through problem-solving or escalation for support. I enjoy attending these quick meetings, they are a great way to communicate with teams and give feedback.

One thing I try not to do is work through email. I’ve found if I’m spending too much time communicating and working through emails it is very unproductive. So, I try to keep my inbox as low as possible.

In other words, I try to keep this big job small and stay connected with people in a positive, meaningful way to help and support everyone to meet our vision and objectives.

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

One of the biggest challenges in the medtech sector and healthcare globally is the potential lack of innovation. Innovation is key to the success in the industry and it means that we can continue to deliver life-saving solutions for patients. In order to achieve more innovation across the board we need sensible regulations and there needs to be more investment in research and development.

We also need to ensure that we are encouraging and nurturing a steady pipeline of talent. For Cook Medical, our engineering, QA and regulatory departments are working tirelessly to make our products the best they can be, but we as a company need to give them support and backing in order to do so.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

While minimally invasive procedures are increasingly becoming the norm, we’re constantly looking for opportunities to develop new products that that will expand the range of conditions that could be treated in Ireland and globally.

Minimally invasive procedures can reduce recovery time and may eliminate the need for open surgery and hospital-based procedures, so there is a real opportunity for research and development, and this is very necessary.

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

With the University of Limerick, I did co-op experience at an electronics company and, after I finished, an engineering role was advertised with their parent company in the US. A week after graduating I was on a flight to Houston, Texas. When I first got there I was thinking, ‘What did I just do?’, but I ended up working there for four great years.

Things were picking up at home in Ireland in the early 90s, so I decided to move back and was lucky to begin working with Intel in Leixlip. I later moved to Limerick and that is where I got my first opportunity in management.

I moved a couple times and got great experience in other industries and then an opportunity came my way at Cook Medical over 17 years ago. From the beginning, I remember getting a very positive energy about Cook and its culture and never looked back.

I started as manufacturing manager. The early years were mainly transferring more manufacturing to Limerick from the other Cook sites and growing our engineering and support departments. Cook went through various expansions that gave me great opportunities. I got involved in setting up the Shared Service Centre in Limerick, which is now our Customer Support and Delivery Centre, and managed it for some years.

In 2009, I became the director of operations and took on a strategic project of locating and setting up our European Distribution Centre in Baesweiler, Germany, and just last year as part of the transformation in Cook Medical’s organisation structure, I started my current role.

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

I’m fortunate enough to say that I don’t have a big mistake and have no regrets in my life – there isn’t anything I wish I had done another way. Yes, I have made mistakes and I look at them as learnings to improve on.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I’m a really big advocate of people working together and creating a respectful working environment. This comes through in our vision and I am very fortunate to have such a talented and hardworking team. We work as a team looking across all the entire business and particularly on strategic work.

There is certain work that we often do as a group together. This way of working creates an open and transparent environment and helps us to be better aligned. This process brings through the best in people because each team member brings something unique to the table.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

We’re fortunate enough to say that diversity is not an issue in Cook Medical. We’ve a huge team of talented women working across the business. Take the senior management team, for example: seven out of 11 of them are women.

We also have 28 nationalities working here across all the functions and departments in Cook’s Limerick location. Having a diverse workforce from different countries and cultures means that we can better serve our customers.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

I haven’t had a formal mentor. But someone who was pivotal to my career in Cook would be Bill Doherty (executive vice-president for EMEA and managing director of Cook Medical Europe). Bill has been a great help to me. If I ever need advice or input on anything, Bill is my go-to.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m reading a book that was recommended to me by a work colleague recently. It’s called Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, and it’s written by Jim Collins. It’s a business book and it deals with the transition companies make from being a good company to a great one, but also looks at those who failed to do so.

I also read Steve Job’s autobiography recently. It’s a long one but I found that a good read.

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

I’m a firm believer in using methodologies that already exist and adapting them to suit Cook’s needs rather than inventing new ways all the time. When we started ‘continuous improvement’ at Cook Ireland a few years ago, we visited other companies to see how they embraced it. Steve Jobs referred to a Picasso quotation in his autobiography: “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.

We use a benchmarking tool, MÓR Benchmark Model, that was developed by the Irish Medtech Association. This model is a self-assessment of where we are on our journey to operational excellence. So, we have changed how we work in many ways including how we look forward. We are creating better visibility, accountability and support mechanisms.

These new ways of working require a lot of communication. It’s something we’re getting better at and it’s so important. I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Have we communicated this out? Has everyone seen what we’re trying to do here’.

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