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Voice of Industry

Voice of Industry: Success in all Sizes

Don Kennedy spent the first half of his orthopaedic career—nearly two decades—in marketing roles, rising to vice president for large, international companies like DePuy and Sulzer Medica. At NASS 2013 we found him in the new exhibitor section, manning the booth with a Ph.D. candidate and passionately describing the technology of the startup, Element Orthopedics, which he leads as President.
Periodically, we seek to bring you insight and lessons learned from industry veterans. Mr. Kennedy was kind enough to lend four decades of experience in the orthopaedic industry to our recent set of questions. What we found were several business tenets that apply to all orthopaedic companies, big or small.
ORTHOKNOW: You have an extensive history in this industry. What advice would you offer a young person entering the ranks of an orthopaedic company in marketing, sales or research & development? 
Don Kennedy: First, congratulations on choosing a career that will positively influence people’s lives. What you do and the contributions you make will matter to your coworkers, your company, healthcare providers and our industry. While it is the responsibility of your company to support, encourage and guide you, it is your own responsibility to make your very best effort, every day.       

ORTHOKNOW: Who is your business “hero” or mentor? What was the most important lesson you learned from him or her? 
Kennedy: Fortunately, I have been associated with teams of individuals who have functioned as mentors and constantly provided lessons to use, reuse and share with others. You could write a book about what I learned from two management groups at DePuy, and then later in my career when I shifted to work in smaller, entrepreneurial business. Two men at Spineology introduced me to essential elements of business when using investors’ money to get started.  
While there are many important lessons, the ones I look to most often deal with getting things done, making daily progress on the things that are most important. Understanding goals and priorities and then translating those goals into details and actions moves things forward. It’s important to keep in mind what can be done and not allow those things which you have no influence over to deter your purpose or slow your sense of urgency.                                     
ORTHOKNOW: What has been the best thing about growing your company? What has been a significant challenge?
Kennedy: Taking a technology concept step by step to realization, shaping the business strategy to commercialize the products and financing the whole operation has been very fulfilling. The toughest part has been not knowing what I don’t know. This is where early stage companies can make mistakes that are not all that easy to recover from. Constantly sharing information, asking questions and seeking advice is the only way to find out what you don’t know. The axiom “everything you know, you learned from someone else,” is 100 percent accurate.            
ORTHOKNOW: In your opinion, what will orthopaedic technology look like in five years? What do you expect will happen to the market, worldwide?
Kennedy: Certainly constant improvements in materials, designs, instrumentation and technique are the essence of our industry. Over the years, our industry has made meaningful improvements or adjustments by virtue of information learned via clinical research. More and more, the improvements and enhancements made to devices have solid and tangible association with sophisticated clinical research and outcomes. This takes time and lots of resources; globally, the companies that can and do invest in research will lead our industry. 
ORTHOKNOW: What potential trends or changes in the orthopaedic and spine industry excite you the most?
Kennedy: The ones that benefit the patient the most, that physicians will embrace, and that will be recognized as having valid economic benefit for the payors. This can apply to current products, as well as technology advancements. Working to optimize patient satisfaction, physician engagement and ultimately prove economic savings or efficiency is our business.
From where I sit, the developing trend is on early disease/affliction detection, diagnosis and intervention. Waiting to watch seems to be something we all know well, and it has a higher price associated with it. An example of this is the Fragility Fracture Network and its “capture the fracture” initiative. The network has taken a long term look at morbidity and mortality associated with osteoporosis, and has taken steps globally to slow the occurrence and impact of osteoporosis through collaborative work amongst healthcare professionals.       
ORTHOKNOW: On the other hand, what trends and changes cause you concern?
Kennedy: Globally, market access has always been a challenge. However, the amount of time, energy, resource and organizational focus required to get a product into a market is growing disproportionately to the market need (patient population). It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out where that winds up. 
ORTHOKNOW: What is one thing that you wish we’d ask you about? 
Kennedy: Working at a startup, your network of contacts and daily life revolves with others who are doing the same or similar work. Fostering and sustaining innovation is a topic that interests me and many others that I work with. This pertains to startups, small, medium and large organizations, and it touches all aspects of these organizations. As difficult as it seems to get a company started, I suggest it is even more difficult to operate a large organization and foster innovation effectively and efficiently. 
Why? In a startup or large entity, the most important factor is striking and maintaining equilibrium between progress and process. It is known as the “tooth to the tail” ratio. The teeth are where progress is made; the tail is what supports that progress. The longer the tail is, the more time, energy, effort and steps are needed to get resources to the teeth, where the action happens. The point being, if you keep that ratio in check, you will have the ability to lead via innovation.                          

Don Kennedy is President of Element Orthopedics

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