S03 E04

Switching From Pharma To Medtech


Lindsay Williams

Vice President and Managing Director

Stryker Canada

In the fourth episode of our third season, Peter Brenders, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, talks with Lindsay Williams, Vice President and Managing Director of Stryker Canada, about her past career in pharma, diversity and inclusiveness in the life sci industry, and the role of medtech during the pandemic.



From the National Pharmaceutical Congress, this is the NPC Podcast for February 24th, 2021. This program is all about discussing and considering the purpose, process and people of the pharma industry during the Age of Covid. Today, we'll continue our healthcare conversation by answering questions sent by listeners like you. 


The NPC Podcast is presented in cooperation with Impres, Impres best in class commercial solutions offer top line and bottom line growth with maximum sales force, flexibility, speed and efficiency. Learn more about their next generation commercial model at www.impres.com


On today's podcast, our guest is Lindsay Williams, Managing Director of Stryker Canada. Your host today is Peter Brenders, the CEO of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation. 


But first up, here's Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies.




Thanks Liona. 


That stirring soundtrack from an old filmstrip is supposed to make you think of North America's industrial might. When the subject turns to medical and surgical equipment makers. There are a few names mightier than Stryker, which has been in the healthcare game since 1941. When that audio clip may have been recorded, so much of equipment is different today with innovative technologies for emerging applications, such as neurovascular therapy, Lindsay Williams took over as Managing Director for Stryker Canada last month after spending most of her career in pharma. 


Here she is discussing opportunities and challenges with Peter.




Welcome to the NPC podcast. I'm Peter Brenders, your host. 


In our continuing look at the purpose, process and people in pharma in Canada, this episode explores our sister world of medtech and leadership in our life sciences industry. We have an exciting guest today. Many of you know her from her many years working in pharma and you may also know her from her expertise in market access and government affairs. Now she's in the big chair as the Canadian Head of one of Canada's largest medtech firms, Stryker Canada. 


Joining me today is Lindsay Williams, Vice President and Managing Director of Stryker. Welcome, Lindsay.




Hi, Peter. It's great to be with you. Thanks so much for the invitation.




Glad you're here. And so for our audience that might not be familiar with Stryker, maybe you could start by giving us a little overview or a little bit more information on Stryker.




Sure, I'd love to do that. 


Stryker is actually the last name of our founder, Dr. Homer Stryker, who was an orthopedic surgeon in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where our global headquarters sits today. And he began to invent medical devices when the ones that he was using weren't meeting his or his patient needs. And now it's a global medical technology company primarily focused on three areas: orthopedics, which is where we started, medical technology, surgical products, and then neuro technology and spine. 


It's really the first place I've worked in a company that all employees know the mission. And you can ask anyone what it is and they'll tell you that it says: together with our customers, we're driven to make health care better. It's very inspiring to have employees who really work to the mission.




Gonna ask you how big you are in Canada, like what's your operation look like?




Sure, we have just under 700 employees in Canada. We have four manufacturing sites, and we're headquartered in Waterdown, Ontario, near Hamilton. And let me just give you a picture of our products. They range from hip and knee implants, and a robot to help surgeons actually do that procedure, to hospital beds and ambulance stretchers, and most things in the operating room. So from lights and operating tables, drills and scopes and chances are that if you've had a hospital procedure, you've probably encountered a Stryker product. So it's really an exciting place to work.




Wow. So Stryker is truly a large player in our country and a key player from what you said of all the products in the space that's in there. Now our life science ecosystem, many players and facets, and I'm sure a lot of folks want to know the difference between medtech and pharma and more of an operational day to day basis. Now, you've worked many years in pharma and now you're running a large medtech player. So give us the inside scoop. How different is medtech from pharma?



Well, it's true there are similarities. Both medtech and pharma are really critical drivers of better health outcomes for patients. And also major contributors to the Canadian economy with, you know, high value jobs and manufacturing sites that supply the globe. But I found some differences as well, I would say the primary difference is that the pace of innovation in med tech is much faster. We, for example, launch several new products throughout the year. And in pharma, as you know, you might be lucky to have one product launch in a year, the development cycle is much, much faster. 


So those are also done very much in collaboration with our healthcare partners, our surgeons, for example, who are holding a drill, they help us understand what would make that experience better for them. And so they are standing with us to improve products and make products that work better for them. And our employees are also very much in those settings. So they're actually in the OR, they're considered part of the broader healthcare team. So in that way, I think we're a little closer to those health care practitioners.




So, the system sees you as a partner, your staff, your field force is actually, in the facilities working with the clinicians.




That's right. That's right. 


And a lot of our products are also custom. So for example, if you have a facial injury, and you need some reconstruction, an implant can actually be designed to fit their own facial structure. And those implants are manufactured for that specific patient. In knee implants, one of our top knees, they are 3D printed. So the technology is very impressive. And you know, when one of our commercial partners may be introducing me to one of the product launches, more often than not, my response is: "that is really cool."




You're listening to the NPC Podcast, I'm Peter Brenders, your host. 


Yeah, no kidding. So I'm just thinking like, you're 3D printing your implants, your devices like, wow, I'm totally thrown by that. And so I can appreciate then sort of the innovation, but it's that partnership within the health system that I want to dig into a little bit more. 


If you guys have been in the system, partner hand in hand, if you will, with the clinicians and the surgeons, so what did Covid do? How has that affected your operations?I've heard so many other companies we've had on the podcast, and how their business has been affected, but you're like right there in the frontline of care delivery, maybe can take us through that what that impact was like for Stryker.




It's unbelievable. It's almost been a year, since most of our employees were sent home for what we thought might be a month or two. We really prioritized our people throughout the pandemic, keeping them healthy and safe was really paramount. We had a Covid Task Force internally who really worked together to put safety measures in place. That team is still in place, because as we know, this is an ever evolving dynamic. 


But in terms of the business, some of those employees did have to go to work every day, they needed to go to our, for example, our distribution center where products are being shipped to hospitals every day. But some of our businesses did come to a grinding halt. So if surgeons were not performing scheduled procedures, if they weren't doing a hip replacement, for example, they weren't using our implants either. So at that time, we did a lot of educational programming as our sales reps and our clinical teams were at home instead of being in the field. 


But you know, there were some parts of our business that did help in the fight against Covid. For example, we helped to build up the hospital bed infrastructure capacity in the country and provided equipment for first responders like AEDs, and one of our products called Lucas which is an automated CPR device. We really worked closely with the federal government and all provinces and territories to allocate those products and also to help them deal with the PPE shortage in the beginning, which you will remember was a crisis. And we equipped hospitals with sterilization technology for N95 masks. 


So some up and some down, on balance we got through the Covid crisis with our health intact and our business is healthy.




So that sounds interesting to sort of hear the different facets of your business how they play out and I'm trying to focus in a little bit on terms of your field facing staff that are out there working with their HCPs. If the hospitals were closed, I get it if the surgeons not performing your team partner is not there, but you know, how's it working remotely with your field, I mean, can they do what they were doing through virtual means?




Absolutely. We had to pivot much like everybody else at the beginning of the pandemic, trying to figure out how to support cases in a remote way. So we used at the beginnings, we were using phones and video technology just to talk surgeons through perhaps a new procedure or something that they weren't used to doing. And we do have a lot of communication equipment in our portfolio. So large screens, imaging equipment, things like that can be relayed across different platforms. So, for example, we might have had a teaching session where a surgeon was teaching their peers about a new technology. And there might have been, you know, five other surgeons viewing the procedure in an OR. But instead of that, we found a way to videotape that and have 50 surgeons globally, watching that procedure and learning through it.


So there has been some challenges. But there also have been some real silver linings in terms of finding opportunities to connect with surgeons and other healthcare providers, in terms of supporting them in their care of patients.




Do you see that innovation continuing on? Does it have legs? Or are you going to revert back to the way you've always done it?




Well, you can't put that genie back in the bottle. We've seen even in the primary care environment, I think I heard a statistic this week, about 71% of visits with general family doctors in the first three months of the pandemic, 71% of those were done through telemedicine. And while we weren't participating in that phenomena, the reality is that the government found a way to pay for virtual visits with doctors and in a way that they didn't before. And as I said, there's no going backwards when it comes to adapting to digital technology.




You're listening to Lindsay Williams, Vice President and Managing Director of Stryker Canada on the NPC Podcast. 


Cool. Alright, now I want to change gears a little bit here. I want to go down the Lindsay story path. And so because the big question everyone has is how does a GR expert find her way to the head of business? I mean, is there hope for others and non commercial roles?




Of course, there's hope. There's always hope. 


Those public affairs professionals who have been my peers for years, have many of the skills that are required as the head of a sales driven company: negotiation, financial acumen, stakeholder relations, policy advocacy, and of course, the art of the deal. Many people in market access roles in pharma and medtech and in other industries are negotiating a deal with a reimbursement body, whether it's a private insurance company or or the government. 


So I've been selling the value of health care for years, building the case that patients benefit from having the right product at the right time. And as you know, in our publicly funded system, the decision makers, when it comes to health care dollars, they are governments, we actually have the same goals to make health care better. I think that the more industry and governments talk and listen, the better off that patients would be.




So the other exciting aspect, I think about your recent promotion is you're the first female lead of Stryker in Canada, and an inspiration to many in other companies that our collective life science leadership profile is changing. So what are your thoughts on that?




Well, I'm really honored and pleased to be the new VP GM of Stryker Canada, and I'm really happy to be a role model. I do feel, frankly, some of the weight of being a first> Leadership in Life Sciences is changing, but in my opinion, not fast enough. The boards of directors at industry associations, who are usually the leaders of individual companies, those boards are still predominantly men. We have to keep the pressure on for gender balance on boards, on panels, and on leadership teams. It's just not okay anymore to be at a conference, you know, when we can actually be at a conference after the pandemic. And the people at the front of the room all look the same. It seems like we've been talking about gender equality and diversity for decades, but we still have some work to do. 


I was reading on the weekend, the latest Globe and Mail investigative series called The Power Gap. And they identified reasons why women still face barriers in leading organizations, you know, penalties for having kids, and taking maternity leave during the promotion cycle, personality traits that are deemed positive for men but are disliked in women like ambition or self assuredness. And research has shown that women don't typically negotiate their starting salaries. And they rarely asked for a raise. All of these put women behind their male colleagues. So at Stryker, we have Stryker Women's Network called SWN. It's an employee resource group and that's been in place for about a decade, and we work hard to help our female employees develop and grow in their professional and in their personal lives, and we have mentorship programs and all things to help us move closer to gender balance across the organization.




There's no question we need more work to be done on diversity inclusion, certainly in our industry, and perhaps even broader than that. Okay, so where do we start though, Lindsey? I mean, what are the little pieces there? I love what you guys are doing at Stryker in terms of SWN, and some of the others, but where's the positive efforts that we need to get? I mean, to your one point is like, when we're doing sessions out there, we need less manels, we need, you know, sort of the the real diversity being reflected on these, but what else should we be doing?




We can have a whole podcast on diversity, equity and inclusion, Peter. So, you know, it was only in 2020, that George Floyd was murdered, and really woke us up to the injustices that occur. Even in Canada. 


I think we really have to start with taking personal responsibility to learn about the experiences of our colleagues and neighbors. Read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a film. My favorite read, last year was called Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga. A story about seven indigenous boys living in Thunder Bay. It was hard to read, but powerful and moving and helped me to understand a little bit more about their experiences. 


So for me, at work, it means that employees feel a real sense of belonging. How can we foster that? Again, I think it starts with listening, storytelling, building, understanding and celebrating those different strengths that bring different perspectives around the table. At Stryker, our CEO is Kevin Lobo and he is a Canadian. He has made this a corporate priority. So for example, we must have diversity, equity and inclusion goal in our performance metrics for all managers. And getting a better sense of what we can do in diversity, equity, inclusion is certainly one of my top priorities.




Excellent. So take it from that. And so give us the future long term outlook for the industry. What does it look like? We're gonna get better at this, we're gonna get better at a whole bunch of things. But what does Lindsay's crystal ball say?




Well, I'm still working on the short term, I've been in the chair for about three weeks. So I'm still listening and learning. And in order to develop priorities in order to foster our Stryker culture that has driven our performance, you know, we're making health care better. We're building strong, diverse teams, who are really talented at their jobs. We're investing in our people surrounding ourselves with excellence. And we're fostering a sense of belonging. And we're also having some fun, I do think that culture drives performance, and that when people feel supported, and happy and fulfilled at work, they will deliver on their performance goals. 


So, we're also building strong connections with our partners in the Canadian healthcare system from healthcare practitioners themselves to governments. And I think, the more that dialogue takes place= and we find solutions together, the more that will make a difference in patients lives.




You have been listening to Lindsay Williams, Vice President and Managing Director of Stryker Canada on the NPC Podcast. 


Thank you for listening.




Well, thanks to Lindsay and Peter. 


We'll watch to see what further tech breakthroughs are in the works from device and equipment developers, and we'll tell you about what's happening in life sciences tech, here on the NPC Podcast. Stay on top of things by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. 


You can download past episodes of the NPC Podcast from Google Podcasts, Apple iTunes, Stitcher and other sites or on pharmacongress.info.


Do you have questions for Peter and our upcoming guests? If so, direct message us on Twitter @2021NPC or send us a note to health@chronicle.org. You can also call and leave your question on our comment line anytime at 647-873-6995. 


The winter series of the NPC Podcast is presented in cooperation with Impres, Canada's next generation commercial partner. Learn more at www.impres.com.


I'm Mitch Shannon of Chronicle companies in Toronto. The producer of this episode is Jeremy Visser, your announcer is Leona Vonderdroid. The musical theme is performed by the NPC Podcast Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Gustavo Milbrook. 


We've almost made it past February. Have a good weekend. Stay safe, and we'll talk to you again next Wednesday.