Exactech’s Retiring Founder and R&D Leader Shares Lessons Learned

By Carolyn LaWell

Exactech’s Retiring Founder and R&D Leader Shares Lessons Learned

A few months ago, Gary Miller, Ph.D., gave a commencement speech to the University of Florida’s graduating engineers. It was a fitting honor for a man who has dedicated decades to the field of engineering and was on the verge of a new chapter himself.

Dr. Miller recently announced that he would retire as Exactech’s Executive Vice President of R&D and transition to Emeritus status. He is an Exactech founder and has served as its innovation leader for the last 36 years, guiding its efforts from its first product launch (a cemented hip) to the $300 million+ joint replacement and enabling/digital technology company that it is today.

Throughout his career, Dr. Miller told the graduating engineers, invaluable practices led to his success and the success of his teams. While innovation was rooted in all his work, he couldn’t truly understand and solve problems without clear spoken and written communication, cross-functional collaboration and the continuous pursuit of learning new things.

“Please realize that it’s not only about inventing,” Dr. Miller told the graduates about their professional pursuits, “but let’s face it, reinventing yourselves to meet new challenges and create that wonderful new normal you want to live in.”

It’s sound advice to examine and deploy, no matter what stage in your career.

We asked Dr. Miller to reflect on his professional journey, the orthopedic advancements he’s experienced, and the lessons he would pass to the next generation of engineering leaders.

Founding a company is a significant personal and professional decision. What drove your early conversations? What excited you the most about venturing into industry?

Dr. Miller: In the mid-’80s, Bill Petty, M.D., and I were working together on academic research and consulting with an implant company to improve their knee instrumentation. There were frustrations along the way, as the sales and marketing folks were pushing for “me too” solutions which, in my mind, were not improvements for the surgeon. I thought that paying close attention to the surgeon experience and the literature would lead to truly evolving improved devices and instrumentation.

Bill picked up on it and soon suggested that it was a great vision for a new orthopedic device company and wanted to form a company. He and his wife Betty invited me to join them in the venture, which is Exactech.

It’s probably not surprising to hear from an engineer, but for me, the most exciting thing about it was the chance to extend research from the lab to practice – actually designing and building implants and instrumentation and making them available to surgeons and their patients in the hopes of improving outcomes.

What developments or advancements excite you the most about the future of orthopedics?

Dr. Miller: Data mining through the use of machine learning (artificial intelligence and predictive analytics as applied to clinical outcomes) is incredibly exciting. We have a new suite of products and systems dubbed Active Intelligence.

I’ve learned that a major part of a disciplined and effective design process is validation of the design. If we can continue to collect accurate and unbiased detailed quantitative data on patient outcomes and feed that back into our design process, it can make meaningful improvements in evolving patient outcomes going forward.

We are now heavily involved in developing new tools for data gathering and sharing that are emerging to feed the “analytic engine.”

A major question in my mind is, who will support these efforts? National registries are struggling for support, and the “medical community” seems to be leaning on industry to fund the effort. The creation of a sustainable program worldwide to make patient outcomes data available is the next big hurdle for all the stakeholders, in my opinion.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Dr. Miller: Communication and collaboration is a powerful engine for discovery. It has also been said that history is one of the greatest tools in problem solving. It’s important to be a lifelong learner. As we are seeing, artificial intelligence is a tool that can mine that history to help predict and improve outcomes for the future.

What are the key attributes of a successful R&D leader?

Dr. Miller: Be a great listener. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with the smartest and most diverse people you can find and listen to them. Be flexible in recognizing that not everyone processes the same way you do. The servant-leader model has worked well for me. Don’t ever forget that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” so always keep learning and listening to others who might uncover what we don’t know.

The full interview is published at BONEZONEpub.com.