Medical Devices Leader In The Spotlight – Todd Usen, Chief Executive Officer at Activ Surgical
This is another short interview in this miniseries of discussions with some of the leading minds in Meical Devices. This week I was fortunate enough to speak with Todd Usen, CEO Activ Surgical. He is someone I admire immensely. Todd is incredible, a whirlwind of action , with a sharp mind and an amazing energy that draws people and his team to him.
In this interview he explains what drew him to work in this field , how he feels inspired daily by the people around him and what motivates him and his team to make a difference in this space.
What led you to take on the role you have today?
Genuinely, the key factor that played such a dramatic part in my decision to be part of this world was my mother developing MS when I was a young child. For the last 20 years of her life, my mother was bedridden with a mind that was sharp as ever. She went from being in remission and being a formidable force of nature to the point where she was so seriously affected it was painful to see and even worse for her to experience. Then one day remission stopped. As a child it drove me crazy with frustration and curiosity – I just couldn’t understand how such a disease could affect someone so much and that is really what attracted me to this field. I never really toyed with the idea of being a doctor, but when the opportunity to interview for a major med tech firm while I was in college was presented, I jumped and have not looked back. I believed that medical devices and technology could help people like my mom and so many others. My own view is I do this not just for the patient, not just for the surgeon but for them AND the patients’ family and friends. When you think about it , in any operation, the surgeon is probably nervous, the patient is generally the only calm person, once a surgery begins, because they are sedated, but the family are anxious as they await the surgeon’s conclusion on completion of the surgery. I want to help surgeons have a good day of delivering news, to patients’ families, ideally every time, by enabling them access to technology which increases their capabilities and their confidence in the OR.
What makes you want to leap out of bed on a work day and get on with matters at hand ?
I’m incredibly lucky – for me, work is almost like a hobby! Coming to this role was a challenge since it was something completely different from what I was doing. My leadership style did not change, but the environment in a start-up versus a multibillion dollar company is very different – I wanted to prove to myself that I could lead well in a start-up. Just because I had worked in very large companies successfully , didn’t necessarily mean to me that I would be successful here. It drove me on. I like getting the team involved in the decision making , giving the brilliant people, the opportunity to make decisions they may not be involved in otherwise in larger organisations.
I love hiring superstars – my ego can cope with the fact I am not an expert everywhere and that is cool. I look at many of the sales and marketing talent I hired over the years who are now Presidents and CEOs and I am so proud of them.
It’s easy for me to get out of bed. I have no time to waste.
What is it that your team do that you find so motivating?
I was employee #9 at Activ Surgical and now we are 61, and I love to sit with an engineer and physically watch what they do and what they can do. It’s humbling to watch the talent and skills up close every day; because of size and bandwidth I never had that in my previous roles. I would sit with VP’s and directors, but rarely the opportunity to sit with many of the stars that keep the company going. On a daily basis, I am reminded that I am nothing without my team . I love walking at lunch time with the team on an individual or small group basis and just listening and asking questions- it’s an eye opener. I realise how much I really don’t know!
Why did you choose your company in particular– what was it that made it special ?
At the end of the day, I have always been fortunate to have multiple opportunities, what was most appealing about Activ Surgical is the technology, the people that were on board, and the knowledge that I felt I could bring of how to commercialize and scale this company into something that will make a difference in healthcare.
Collaboration drives innovation in my opinion – what opportunities do you see out there in the medical devices world to be more innovative in offering patients and surgeons a more joined up solution
At the end of the day, every patient no matter where they are in the world, should have the confidence that their surgeon has the most important information, and the same information, to successfully produce a positive outcome. Today that is not always the case. There is a lot of hardware out there and some tremendous robotic and laparoscopic systems, but until a robot or a scope can identify things that a surgeon cannot identify and allow the surgeon to be comfortable with his / her decision making in that case, there will be no changes to outcomes. The third leading cause of death in the world is preventable medical errors. 26% of those errors are preventable surgical errors, not one of those patients is terminal when they enter the operating room. This is due to situational awareness or "those things" that a surgeon cannot readily identify during surgery. At Activ Surgical, we believe we can help surgeons identify "those things" that are most affecting negative outcomes.
If you had a found a time capsule from the future – it’s from 2032 – what do you think your it would show your market to look like/ what might be different for patients / surgeons ?
I believe that surgery will be very similar to the way the car industry has progressed. We did not go from a traditional car in 1912 to an autonomous driving vehicle immediately. In the last few decades alone we have seen rearview cameras, Sideview mirrors with little red lights to indicate and identify oncoming traffic, vibrating seats to make sure we stay in our lane should we unexpectedly leave the lane, these things provide the driver information that the driver has never had in the past. Whether that driver is a 17-year-old with a new license or the driver is a 55-year-old that has a lot of experience. The same should be available in surgery. Why do we not give a laparoscopic surgeon more information such as real time blood flow identification, critical structure identification, vein versus artery information, large vessel identification in order to produce better outcomes? No matter how much experience the surgeon has, this information will be valuable, just as a rearview camera is valuable to an experienced driver.
Finally, what song would get you jigging on the dance floor ?
Hard to argue with Earth Wind and Fire or the Jackson 5.
That's yet again to another wonderful leader for his time…….I hope like me you all enjoy this piece – and look out for Todd’s dance floor go to tune!