Leadership – How to Measure & Motivate in a Startup Environment

podcast episode 229 leadership

Podcast Episode 229

For this episode of the OIS Podcast, we are sharing a panel discussion on Leadership which took place during the last OIS@AAO meeting in San Francisco.

The focus of the conversation was on “How to Measure and Motivate in a Startup Environment” and featured some valuable insights from Adrienne Graves, PhD, Bernie Haffey, Ron Kurtz, MD, Kirk Nielsen, and Andy Corley.

Participants:
Adrienne Graves, PhD, Independent Board Member – Nicox, IVERIC, Oxurion, Akorn, Greenbrook TMS, Surface Pharma
Bernie Haffey, President – Haffey & Co.
Ron Kurtz, MD, President & CEO – RxSight
Kirk Nielsen, Managing Partner – Vensana Capital

Moderated By:
Andy Corley, Principal – Yelroc Consulting

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OIS Podcast Transcript:

Podcast Intro:
For this episode of the OIS Podcast, we’re sharing a panel discussion on leadership, which took place during the last OIS@AAO meeting in San Francisco. The focus of the conversation was on how to measure and motivate in a startup environment and featured some valuable insights from Adrienne Graves, Bernie Haffey, Ron Kurtz, Kirk Nielsen and Andy Corley. Let’s listen in.

Andy Corley:
So, Emmett and I have been talking about having a leadership panel for about five years. Before we get into it I just want to say, 11 years ago when this started cardiology, orthopedics, they had sessions where we could come together with industry but we didn’t have one in ophthalmology where you brought the financial world, the medical world and the industry world together. Now, 11 years later, we have this and I really want to say, Emmett, congratulations and thank you and Bill for all the hard work that you’ve done. It takes an enormous amount of effort to put this together. Emmett, I would like to thank you very much for the coveted 4:40 time slot. It’s wonderful. Okay, so leadership. Let’s talk about leadership. We’ve got a great panel here. We’ve got a small team professional athlete who’s been there. We’ve got a big pharma executive. We’ve got a serial entrepreneur, medical devices. We’ve got a process manager equivalent to…second to none. But I want to start. I’ve asked them all to introduce themselves and tell you a little story about leadership, but I want to start by telling you my own leadership story and how I got introduced to leadership. In 1978, I was a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company down in Atlanta, Georgia, and one of the preservatives in our drugs was causing a lot of problems. The professor at Emory University was publishing studies about the problems with these preservatives. I kept reporting to my manager, Hey, I’m getting killed out here! You know what we gotta do something. This preservative is causing a big problem. Worked my way up to the regional manager. He said, I can’t help you. Worked my way up to the Vice President of Sales, and finally I get the President of the company on the phone. At that stage in my career I might as well have been talking to God himself. I was so nervous. I thought, but finally, finally, I’m gonna the answers I need. I’m gonna get enlightened. I explained the problem to the boss. He said, Corley, your job is to fight adversity not report it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is authority. That is not leadership. When you’re talking about leadership, never get those two confused. So, with that, I’ll ask our panel to start to introduce themselves. Kirk, why don’t we start with you and work our way around?

Kirk Nielsen:
Sure. So, I’m Kirk Nielsen. I’m with Vensana Capital, which is a new medtech focused venture firm that was launched earlier this year. Before that I spent 13 years at Versant Ventures with Bill and Charles Warden and others on the medtech team there. With respect to leadership, Andy asked me to share something back from my vault, which is back when I was playing hockey. The first person I thought of when he asked me was a guy named Ray Bourque. Some of you from Boston and others will know who that is. He’s one of the best hockey players of all time and was the long-time captain, I think for 20 years or so, of the Boston Bruins. When I was out of college, I had a chance to play hockey for a living for a few years and I spent a little bit of that time with Boston playing, there in Boston playing with Ray. This guy was just the consummate leader. He was a lead by example sort of guy. Kind of a role model type leader, which, for me, is the best kind. I don’t have enough time to go into all the attributes that he had but, for me, it was just a lesson in how to lead watch him, you know, lead that team and lead that locker room. And I think what sit out for me is he made every person in that room feel whether they were a 50-goal scorer, they were someone like me who was just trying to stick around for another day or they were the equipment manager. He made them feel like they were just a huge part of the success of that team and created a culture in that locker room where people would go through walls for each other. And as we all know, that’s what leadership is all about. So, for me, who is kind of impressionable 22/23 year-old to see that up close and personal with just a great experience.

Andy Corley:
Thanks, Kirk. You’re the president of the venture capitalist former NHL players association, right? Okay Adrienne.

Adrienne Graves:
I’m Adrienne Graves, and I had a bit of an unconventional route to CEO. I was always interested in math and science, and I was never teased about it, and I never thought it was unfeminine. In fact, I thought the girls were better at math and science than boys because all the way through junior high and high school, the football team and other dudes would come to me for tutoring in math and science as I would have helped you, Andy.

Andy Corley:
Thank you. I needed it.

Adrienne Graves:
So, I went on in college and graduate school and a postdoc studying science, visual science, and right out of a postdoc, I went to Alcon, started visual function lab. That was kind of an unconventional thing at that point, too, because that was in the late eighties and back then it was considered that if you were a PhD and especially if you did a postdoc, the only noble thing was to go into academia. But Alcon recruited me right out of a postdoc to start a visual function lab, and I decided, wow the facilities are amazing. I thought the salary they were paying me was amazing at the time. It actually wasn’t. But I made the jump and it was a very good decision because I became fascinated with the pharmaceutical industry and how drugs were developed and was given a lot of opportunities and different roles and responsibilities and international responsibilities. I did notice though, when I first got there, I got to admit, I did notice there were zero women VPs. I counted, of course I actually counted, the number of VPs throughout the company globally, and it was a huge number. No women. It didn’t affect my experience there but in the back of my mind that sort of planted a seed that I might have to make a move in order to accelerate my path to VP because at the time I thought, well of course I want to be a VP. I mean, that’s kind of the living end, isn’t it? So, I did get the opportunity when Santen, a large Japanese ophthalmic company, decided to globalize and they recruited me as VP of Clinical and then of R&D and then of Worldwide Clinical Development. So, US, Europe and Japan reported to me. I reported to the global CEO in Japan and so, so far so good, right? And then he asked me to be CEO of the US business, and I said no because I didn’t feel perfectly qualified. The rest of the executive team came to me and said, “You gotta do this, Adrienne. We don’t want to report to these people we’re interviewing”. So, I confided in my dear friend, Judy Gordon. I don’t know if she’s out there. Many of you know her. And I told her my dilemma and she basically kicked me in the butt and said, “Are you nuts? Of course you’re qualified and there’s not a man in the world that would turn down a CEO position regardless of qualifications. So just do it” and I did. I was CEO for eight years. I’m awfully glad I did it. I learned so much. It opened a lot of doors to me. I’m now on a number of corporate boards. And my dear friend, Dick Lindstrom was the one to give me my first corporate board opportunity. Most of my boards are in the ophthalmology world, which is still my passion, still my love and it’s wonderful to be able to hang out with so many of my colleagues every year.

Andy Corley:
Thank you, Adrienne. Thank you. Ron?

Ron Kurtz:
My name’s Ron Kurtz, and I’m with our RxSight. My background is I’m an ophthalmologist by training but have been working in industry now for over 20 years. I guess I’m that man that would say to take that CEO position. The first experience was when a colleague Tibor Juhasz and I started a company at University of Michigan. There were only two of us, so one person was going to be the CEO and one was going to be the CTO and I took the former. I’ve continued along that track working and every once in a while, my kids, primarily my daughter, would ask me “what do you do as a CEO?” and it’s very hard to explain. You know, you do whatever needs to get done but I was recently reading a book on primates, primate behavior, where it kind of explained what you do. That was by a pretty well-known primatologist, Frans de Waal, who has studied chimps primarily and looked at their behavior and how they choose leaders. You know, chimps are an Alfa Male Society. Actually, the term Alfa Male was originated with chimps, and people think that that means that there are the big, tough guy that can keep all the other chimps down. But it turns out that that’s not the case, because any one chimp can get destroyed by two chimps. So, the whole idea of being a leader in the chimp world is that you have to be able to maintain connections to everybody else in the troop. The way they do that is two things. One is they spread around the food. When there’s food available, they make sure everybody gets food. The second is there’s a lot of disputes in the chimp world so they have to be impartial. So, the chimps that are successful leaders are impartial and they just make a decision. They don’t do it based on their family connection or anything. This is just a few months ago, and I think that’s what we do as CEOs. It’s not much different than the chimp world.

Andy Corely:
Bernie?

Bernie Haffey:
Great story, Ron. Andy, thanks for having me here. It’s a pleasure and an honor. I am Bernie Haffey with Haffey & Company. The story I’m going to tell is one that goes back to Intralase. Bill Link was our chairman, and Bob Palmisano was our CEO. We had gone through an IPO. We were a public company. So, each quarter we had a report card, a 90 day report card to report in on our sales. I remember sitting in Bob’s office in Irvine towards, you know, I think about 3 days before the quarter end and he asked me how I thought international was going to finish up. I said, Bob, I don’t know. His response was Isn’t that cool how less is often more. What was behind that was the idea that the result was going to come in and I had a choice. I could inspect that result. I could make a call to head of international and spend a half an hour to go through his sales funnel and meanwhile, he’s not producing revenue. We’ve stopped production. We’re inspecting, and that’s cost and generally not quality. So, it was really kind of a mindset that we had that we didn’t want to over inspect. We had a weekly inspection. We weren’t going to do any more than that. We’re going to let people do, you know, what they need to do. As we fast forward to where I am now, in our consulting practice, we’ve engaged, I think, over 40 organizations around the world from the largest in medtech to the smallest in medtech, and this over management of results is something that we see as one of the largest wastes in management. Versus understanding that over inspection can be a detriment and that, really, what’s really important is understanding what drives.

Andy Corley:
I think most people were trained in inspection management techniques and leadership techniques. In other words, there’s a goal. There’s a date. There’s a name and measure, measure, measure where more and more we see process, process, process playing the role as the winning methods to get to an end point. Let me come back to Adrienne real quick. Let’s pull the string on that climb up the ladder a little bit just for all the ladies in the audience. What are a couple of special challenges that you want to share with the team or share with the audience.

Adrienne Graves:
I think there are some special challenges. Certainly, one I alluded to is that women don’t have as many role models in leadership positions in CEO positions. So, I think it’s hard to imagine yourself somewhere where you don’t see a role model. I think that was part of it for me. I thought there was like a certain CEO personality and look. I wasn’t fat and bald, and so I just didn’t see myself that way.

Andy Corley:
Okay. Thanks, Adrienne!

Adrienne Graves:
So that’s one thing – just kidding of course – that’s just one thing but I think there are a number of things that, in it of themselves kind of seem subtle, but that can really affect women. I think we women are scrutinized; women leaders are scrutinized in so many ways that men are not. We’re scrutinized for our appearance, our hair, our clothes, our voice, our demeanor when we’re being assertive or directive. I think for me, I basically ignored all those things. But I think that they can add up for women and be quite undermining for women as they’re climbing the ladder. Then, you know, another thing, women, that our mothers, they certainly have less hours to devote to their leadership responsibilities. Then I think most women who have come up in business and women physicians as well, most of us have had me too moments, and I’m not going to discuss those. That’s a whole other topic. I probably could write a book, but all I will say is it does affect women. I’m hoping that it’s changing in a in a positive direction, but I will just say it’s real.

Andy Corley:
Okay. Thanks for that. I knew she was going be the star of this panel before we ever started. Okay as leaders is it always Vince Lombardi or General Patton or Margaret Thatcher? Let’s run the video.

[Video Plays]

Andy Corley:
I found that video some somehow weirdly inspirational. Okay. So, there would be no Walt Disney without Roy Disney. There would be no Warren Buffett without Charlie Munger. Panelists, how do you make yourself easy to follow?

Adrienne Graves:
Don’t be a jerk! But I think that now this is funny because I’m the only woman on the panel and I’m going to make a sports analogy. As any of us that have played team sports or if you even if you just watch team sports, you know that you’re only as good as your team. I mean, just asked LeBron James, who can score 51 points and lose a playoff game. So, I think, you know, obviously the team is really important and you hire talented people because they’re talented, but then you gotta listen to them. I think that’s the key.

Andy Corley:
Bernie?

Bernie Haffey:
I like the simplicity message. You know that to be a leader, you’ve gotta make it simple, and you’ve gotta be easy to follow. So that was one thing and then the second, the second follower was even crazier than the first guy. He did a somersault and courageous, courageous. He dove under the leader’s legs and he said, Oh, this is the dance we’re doing? We’re going to go even further with that right? And that, I think, is what a great number a great number two does. CEO says we’re going to do this and number two says, well, okay, I’m in 110% on that. So, let’s do more of that. And so yeah, if you don’t have that number two, you really don’t go anywhere because that that number two is undermining and doing everything to say, look how crazy the CEO is with this dance. Let’s just keep doing our stuff.

Andy Corley:
It’s a formal versus informal leadership, right? In any team, sport, company, small group there’s the leader and they’re the informal leaders. They all play a critical role. The informal leaders, in some cases, are more powerful than the actual leader. Harvard Business Review just published a study where visionary leadership fails half the time, right? And it fails because middle management doesn’t buy in. How do you get them in the boat? I mean, how do you, you know, you got a big idea, the boss wants to see it roll downhill, there’s a lot of people waiting with a lot of conflicting agendas. It’s a big deal to get everybody on board. How do you do it, Ron?

Ron Kurtz:
You know, I guess I always come from a technical perspective that it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is, and often times I don’t know what the right thing to do is. The way you figure that out is you get into the details of the project, and oftentimes it’s somebody who knows the details better than you who comes up with right idea, and they’re actually the leader. So, I’m not sure that is an effective principle. but it’s the way things actually turn out. I remember when I was a medical student and I was third-year medical student on a trauma surgery team. It was a very busy night. It was a very busy hospital, and by the end of the night there’d been so many emergency surgeries and admissions that all of the residents, the attendings, they were all in surgery. So, at the end of the day, at the end of the night, I was the only one who knew where all the patients were. And I was the third-year medical student. And the next day, when we rounded, they all had to follow me because I had the detailed knowledge of where people were and what surgery they had, etc. So, you know, that’s how things happen. Sometimes the leader of your team is just whoever has the most information.

Andy Corley:
Kirk?

Kirk Nielsen:
Yeah, I mean, as I said, most of my experience has been with small teams, whether it’s sports or whether it’s business, and in my experience at least I think it goes back to what you said Andy around authority versus leadership. I think as a leader ask yourself the question are people following you because they have to, they’re afraid of finding the next job or they want to get the bonus at the end of the year? Whatever it is. Or, are they following you because they want to? I think Adrienne said it well, which is, I think half of being a good leader is just being the kind of person that people want to follow. You know, be a good person. Be a decent person. Be someone who works really hard as an example for others. I think a lot of people get hung up on kind of the trappings of leadership in terms of telling people what to do, more the authority. I think forgotten is just being a good person that people want to want to get behind again, go through walls for.

Andy Corley:
Yeah, I think the authority versus leadership comparisons an important one, right? You know, the studies show that employees that are unhappy do one of two things. They disengage or quit. Disengagement is a lot more expensive than having someone quit. Right? So, the reason they disengage is they don’t feel like their efforts are contributing to strategy. Right? So, the empowerment of middle managers is just a critical role in this small teams that we lead. Now, in the room we’ve had everybody today from the head of J& J down to one-man shops that are starting up. There are people in the audience that are wondering like Adrienne did. Can I be a leader? Bernie? Can you learn to be a leader?

Bernie Haffey:
I think so. Ron is a good example of that. Had to take a shot at Ron, sorry but no I do. You know, you introduced me as somebody who’s process minded, and I do think in those terms and how you get that middle group in is a huge challenge, a persistent challenge and I do think you need a methodology for that. We know that if you just communicate, that’s naive, right? But, it’s necessary and over communication is necessary, but it goes to role model behavior which is what our video is about. It goes to training and coaching. It goes to reward and recognition. It goes to whether they understand the purpose or the why. If you can put all that together as a tool, you can think in a little bit more disciplined way about how you get those folks on board, then just, you know, sort of pounding the table and telling them they’ve got to get on board.

Andy Corley:
Okay, let’s wrap up. We’re running out of time. One pearl that you would offer a perspective leader. Adrienne, you want to start us off?

Adrienne Graves:
Only one?

Andy Corley:
Well we only have time for one. We could talk about leadership for four days and never cover of about half of it. One quick pearl.

Adrienne Graves:
Okay, well, I think basically the key to everything in life is the relationship. So, I encourage people and young people coming up to form as many relationships, especially with the leaders in your field. Go ahead, meet them. They’re just people too. It’s amazing how your relationships and your friends can help you. Help others too as they’re coming along. I think that’s really the key to success in business and every other aspect of life. But I got to tell you, I got to tell you also smile because it’ll make you happier and it’ll make the people around you happier and the reason that people get promoted…you got to be good. But you’re usually promoted because people want you around so be a pleasant person.

Andy Corley:
Kirk?

Kirk Nielsen:
I would go back to the adage which is A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s. I think a lot of times we see, especially our young CEO’s not surround themselves with the best people that they can for various reasons. I think for me it would come out of that, you know, get the best people on the bus that you can.

Andy Corley:
Ron?

Ron Kurtz:
I guess I would just say, get into the details of whatever project it is and you know, the leadership is gonna figure itself out. But, try to solve the problems and then you know who leads doesn’t really matter.

Andy Corley:
I’d like to thank you for supplying that home video that we watched a few minutes ago is very nice of you.

Ron Kurtz:
Which one was I?

Andy Corley:
And Bernie Haffey take us home here.

Bernie Haffey:
I guess it would just be to be a continuous learner. Look at the evidence that’s out there. Just the way a doctor would look at clinical evidence, leaders can look at evidence. I think Jim Collins and Good to Great did that extraordinarily well and showed what level five leader looks like in an empirical way. I see a lot of leaders that don’t look at the evidence and that’s frustrating, right? Because it’s out there based on results, you know what good leadership looks like. So that would be my lesson are my message would be to, you know, be a learner. Look at what best looks like outside this industry. And look at some of those stories and try to learn from that as well.

Andy Corley:
Thanks, everyone for your attention.

Outro:
Okay. We hope you enjoyed this episode of the OIS podcast. Stay tuned for additional panel discussions and interviews featuring the leaders and drivers of ophthalmic innovation. Don’t forget to visit OIS.net to subscribe to our newsletters and watch company presentation videos on OIS TV.

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