Diversity of Thought, Experience Fuels Innovation

Neuromodulation team benefits from a wide variety of skilled contributors.

Strategy and Strength|Apr.26, 2021

Extraordinary medical advances rarely result from a person sitting at a table and developing life-changing technologies. Rather, they grow from numerous and varied perspectives blending -- and clashing -- with one another; reexamined, revised and reinterpreted repeatedly until a working prototype is developed.

And then the process begins again. And again….

The same is true of an organization, like Abbott Neuromodulation, that is responsible for bringing to the people who need them, medical devices that use pulses of electricity to the brain to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor; products that deliver spinal cord stimulation for treatment of chronic pain, and more.

To properly meet the needs of patients from a variety of different cultures, experiences and perspectives, one needs a talented team with a similar breadth of vision and ability throughout the leadership ranks.

Here are a few of those people.

"We are here to protect the public health"
Jenn Wong was not raised to head up anyone's Regulatory team. At least she didn't think she was.

Jenn Wong was an engineer. The daughter of two engineers, Wong responded to a question about when she first thought about following in her parents' footsteps, "I never thought I could be something besides an engineer."

And, on paper, it seemed to be a good fit. "The mindset was pretty ingrained. I was always looking at things with that logical, systematic problem-solving lens. It played to my strengths. As it turned out, I soon had my sights set on a different career. One that used a lot of the same skills but fascinated me even more."

After graduating with a degree in Bioengineering, she went on to pursue her MBS at Keck Graduate Institute through a program that focused on getting products to market. She was soon hooked on a new passion, with her life taking an unconventional, but far from unintentional, turn. "While studying there, I learned that I liked getting things done, I adapted well to changing environments and I was a problem-solver. All these personality traits fit in well with being a Regulatory professional and I loved it from the start."

Fortunately, familiarity with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) supported her growing interest in handling all the details necessary to put technologically-advanced products in the hands of the people who needed them. "There are so many scientific details involved in Regulatory considerations that the more comfortable you are with STEM, the better job you will do," Wong said.

Since coming to Abbott, Wong has only grown more passionate about the importance of her team's role in bringing Abbott technology to patients. "We are here to protect the public health. That is the cornerstone of the Regulatory profession. We really must understand the technical aspects of the product and as this discipline evolves, we are able to be more predictive in how we assess our products to continue protecting our patients before there is potential harm," she said.

"Totally new ways of solving problems"
Her passion for Regulatory work has only fueled her desire for new ideas and perspectives. "I really enjoy the work we are doing in Neuromodulation because we are at the frontier of medical science. Our leadership is determined to bring a wide variety of voices to the table," said Wong. "We know we have to find totally new ways of solving problems. The last thing we want to hear is, 'that's the way we've always done it,' and you avoid that with an array of experiences.

"The environment in which we work is only becoming more complex and, because of that, we have to actively seek out the simplest, most elegant solutions available. The simplest things really are the hardest and require us to go through many iterations of some ideas to be certain we have the best one. We strongly believe that diversity of voice and experience is the best way to find those answers."

The value of different voices
Anne-Karen Hunt knows about diverse voices. After all, she is the International Head and General Manager, Neuromodulation, responsible for the commercial business for 27 countries. That's a lot of voices (in a lot of languages), and she values them all.

"In prior positions at other companies, I found myself in situations where I couldn't trust that all the people that should have been heard, actually were. I knew I needed to be with a company that not only allowed different voices to be heard, but actively sought them out," Hunt said. "In some companies, encouraging a range of opinions or a diversity of cultures and experiences is a Human Resources checkbox. One of the things that made me want to join Abbott was that these topics are always very relevant and baked into the leadership experience. There is a culture of respecting people's differences."

And that thought process is not limited to any one level of management. "Some things, like unconscious bias training and having a variety of different candidates, both internal and external, on the slate for new job openings should be, and is, the norm at every level of our organization," said Hunt. "It's only by expanding our range of backgrounds and experiences that we can increase creativity, productivity and grow over time."

Being a team member means getting in the game
After more than three years in Neuromodulation, Hunt is determined to ensure the team is always getting better because she knows how important it is to never let up when it comes to encouraging the free expression of ideas. "Having talented people with different ideas only works if they are encouraged to speak up," she said. "They not only have to be in the room, but drawn out to actively add to the conversation. Keeping the discussions open isn't enough, so we pull everyone into problem-solving."

"We take great pride in our neuromodulation products and the impact they have on people's lives," Hunt added. "It takes a lot of different types of people to find the best solutions for a wide world of challenges."

"A billion-dollar startup"
Salma Jutt, divisional vice president, Chronic Pain Therapies, Americas, is one of the Neuromodulation leaders finding those solutions. After earning her MBA from Pepperdine University, she took the scenic route to Abbott, joining the company 15 years after first being recruited, honing her talents at a large pharma company and some start-ups before joining the medical devices team.

"I was looking for a company that was nimble, and on the front edge of science, while also being an established player with a great reputation. From the time I first met with Neuromodulation leadership, I recognized that I shared their vision and that I could help make it come alive," Jutt said.

"It was clear that they wanted to do things differently. They were focused on the patient's needs first and saw the importance of rapid, constant innovation. To accomplish these things, they needed to attract and retain a lot of talent."

Jutt knew that she was a good fit from the start. "Abbott Neuromodulation is a fast-moving, highly competitive business, with new challenges and a constant need for transformation. I've heard it described as a 'billion-dollar startup' because it can respond well to changing conditions, while also benefitting from an established reputation. It was a hybrid of my experiences."

"Our people drive our results"
"One of the things I like about our business, is we aren't looking for more people who think just like the people who are here," Jutt said. "We are always searching out different perspectives and people who add complementary talents. We bring in as many different skill sets, with as many different viewpoints as we can because that's how you grow. Our job is to drive results for patients, physicians and the organization. Our people drive those results.

"At the end of the day, we serve a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. It's important that we do so by bringing together many different talents and viewpoints, building a culture that recognizes them and what they do for others."

We are only as good as our people
Patient-centric, innovative products that can help reduce a lifetime of chronic pain or allow movement disorder patients to better control their bodies and lives never come to fruition from a single mind, or mindset. It takes a talented team to develop extraordinary products; an organization that includes a wide variety of education, training, experiences, perspectives and cultural and social backgrounds.

Technology drives our business, but our people drive our technology. In the words of Salma Jutt, "We are only as good as our people."