Who Are the Most Innovative CEOs in Medtech?

Jul 12 2011 announces its picks for the five most innovative CEOs in the medical device industry.

Naming someone the “most innovative” in an industry as cutting-edge as med-tech, as we do here as part of our Big 100 list of the largest medical device makers makers, is sure to stir up some controversy. The impulse is to lean toward the stereotypical, lone startup founder, toiling away at a bench in the garage. And sure, we’re suckers for a good bootstrapping story like that, but the reality is that innovators come in all stripes – from entrepreneurs, to turnaround artists, to the more execution-focused executives tapped to lead flagging firms back to prominence.

Truth is, our task turned out to be much harder than we thought. So, after establishing some simple criteria, we asked our readers to help by nominating visionary thinkers who are also disciplined leaders – people who overcome problems with innovative solutions. After reviewing a large field of nominees, we settled on 29 chief executives as our CEO Class of 2011 and sat down to select the final five.

We looked for CEOs with the drive to change the way health care is delivered, whether by creating a first-in-class device, re-shaping a large-cap player or commercializing a breakthough technology. We’re confident that our list represents the best the industry has to offer (with the caveat that we could easily have added 10, 20 or even 30 more names to the roster – but hey, there’s always next year).

With that, here are our 2011 picks for med-tech’s five most innovative CEOs:

GARY GUTHART, President & CEO, Intuitive Surgical Inc.

Guthart has been at the helm of Intuitive Surgical for a little more than a year, but he’s been with the company since it was spun out of the Stanford Research Institute. He was a member of the team that developed the foundation technology for computer-enhanced surgery. Named head of engineering in his early 30s, Guthart worked his way up the ranks at ISRG under predecessor Lonnie Smith, who took a seat on the board in early 2010. So far Guthart has delivered, increasing top-line performance 34 percent in his first year and opening up the da Vinci robot for several new procedures. If the da Vinci truly changes the face of surgery, as the company claims it can, it will likely be under Guthart’s watch.

WILLIAM HAWKINS, President & CEO, Medtronic Inc. (retired)

Hawkins wasn’t a Wall Street darling, and some may be tempted to dismiss his four years at the top of the Fridley, Minn.-based medical device goliath as unremarkable. But the newly retired CEO planted the seeds of a major transition for MDT, from a pacemaker-stent-and-pump business into the chronic disease management company. Hawkins oversaw a series of bets in some very intriguing markets, including regenerative medicine and bariatrics, and expanded the firm’s plays in the heart failure, diabetes and deep-brain stimulation spaces. Although it will fall to his predecessor to execute the vision, we predict that in 20 years people will look back at the moves made during the Hawkins era as truly innovative.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by MassDevice,” Hawkins told us in an email. “Innovation is critical for the improvement of global health. Throughout my career, I’ve been privileged to have worked with many ingenious people and innovative companies, all whom have enabled millions of people around the world to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. At Medtronic we improved someone’s life every four seconds! Thank you for highlighting the importance of innovation as the key to finding solutions for many of the challenges that today confront global human health. I look forward to continuing to work across the industry to bring forth innovations that improve lives and healthcare systems around the world.”

MICHAEL MINOGUE, President & CEO, Abiomed Inc.

Industry observers could have been forgiven for thinking ABMD was a goner back in 2005, when its flagship AbioCor implantable artificial heart failed to win the endorsement of an FDA panel. But the little company out of Danvers, Mass., kept on ticking. Under Minogue, it re-tooled with its Impella line. These tiny pumps are delivered via catheter to the chest to provide circulatory support during heart surgery. Last year, the company reported a nearly 20 percent jump in sales, helped along by a strong set of clinical data supporting the Impella devices, and is approaching the break-even point. It’s been a long journey for a company that’s been around since the 1980s.

“It’s an honor,” Minogue told MassDevice. “I take it as a company award, so to me it’s a reflection of all the great people at Abiomed. It’s great to work in an industry that helps patients and is full of innovative and entrepreneurial companies.”

MICHAEL MUSSALLEM, President & CEO, Edwards Lifesciences Corp.

Musallem made this an easy pick for us, if only because Edwards is on track to be the first to market in two continents with a potentially paradigm-shifting technology: its Sapien transcatheter heart valve. Yes, Wall Street loves him and the sector is hot, but Mussallem also gets high marks for eschewing industry trends toward diversification, hewing to Edwards’ founding focus and core expertise (replacement heart valves), which has lately paid off bigtime. Last year was one of Edwards’ best in the decade since its spinout from Baxter. If, as Edwards expects, the FDA gives a nod toward the Sapien late this year, next year could shape up to be even better.

“I am honored to be recognized as an innovative CEO and attribute this to the more than 7,000 Edwards employees who impress me every day by their deep passion to innovate technologies that save and enhance patients’ lives,” Mussallem wrote in an email. “I feel fortunate to be able to spend my career pursing such an important cause.”

AMAR SAWHNEY, President & CEO, Ocular Therapeutix, Serial Entrepreneur

Amar Sawhney has a knack for turning gel into gold. Over the years, the serial entrepreneur managed to leverage his research in hydrogel technology into six companies, including one snapped up by Genzyme early in the decade and another that Covidien predecessor Tyco Healthcare acquired in 2006. His latest company, Ocular Therapeutix, uses hydrogels in its I-Zip ocular bandage for healing surgical incisions. Applied as a liquid, the bandage changes into a soft, protective barrier that eventually breaks down into tears. There are few in the space with Sahwney’s combination of vision and execution – he’s truly an innovator.