The most rewarding part of my job is being able to provide surgeons with the tools they need to drastically improve patients' quality of life. Being able to attend these surgeries on a frequent basis and witness the products we work on day in and day out, live in action, always reaffirms the importance of what we do."
What types of work have you performed? What projects have you worked on?
Our company makes spinal implants to correct any and all surgically treatable pathologies. As we approach the 15th anniversary of the company we have just reached our 100 product mark. On November 9th, 2018 we were acquired by a little (big) company known as Stryker for $1.4 billion so life as we know it is changing! It's exciting to now work for a Fortune 500 company and to experience an acquisition. I specifically manage the upstream and downstream aspects of our minimally invasive pedicle screw and TLIF retractor product lines from a product management perspective (not to be confused with project management).
Upstream projects can include line extensions for commercially available product or new products to add to our offering. I am responsible for making the business case for these projects upon inception which ranges from completing in depth financial analysis, managing surgeon design teams, competitive landscaping, regulatory path, distribution channels, project timelines, scope of project,etc.
Downstream product management involves managing the day to day of commercially launched products. This can range from assisting sales reps with product inquiries, ensuring your inventory is in the appropriate places, tracking sales and product usage trends, obtaining customer (surgeon) feedback, creating marketing collateral, supporting tradeshows and labs, supporting training, etc.
Our CEO likes to say that product managers are the CEO's of the product lines they manage. This basically means that if it involves our product lines we have our hand in it. Such a role requires extensive cross functional interaction. Any single product line's core team consists of a supply planner, the development engineer, and the product manager. For those that wish to learn more check out the minimally invasive product section of K2M.
What have been some favorite aspects of your work?
As a global company the spread of my responsibilities ranges from customers as far as Japan and Australia to customers in the next town over, a short drive from the home office. That being said, I travel a lot for work (at least 1 trip a month) and get to explore new places, meet knew people, and occasionally extend trips to visit family and friends.
I truly enjoy that no one day in the office is the same and we are continuously challenged with trying to solve new scenarios. How can we improve this instrument? Dr. Smith is using our system for the first time - can you come support the surgery as the subject matter expert? Can we increase our margins by adding new vendors and driving down cost of goods? What marketing initiatives can we deploy to grow the business? Do reps need training?
What was one of your most satisfying days as an engineer?
The most rewarding part of my job is being able to provide surgeons with the tools they need to drastically improve patients' quality of life. Being able to attend these surgeries on a frequent basis and witness the products we work on day in and day out, live in action, always reaffirms the importance of what we do. I always leave surgeries motivated to continue striving forward on a project - it rejuvenates the day to day work.
Was it worth it? What has your engineering background made possible for you? What value has it added to your overall life?
The short answer is a resounding yes. Here is why: Interestingly enough, the majority of my colleagues in our product management department have engineering backgrounds. I've found it extremely valuable to have the technical background in having to demonstrate to a surgeon why the pitch and taper features of our pedicle screws are important for pullout strength, for example. However, the most critical contributions in my everyday life that were certainly instilled and mastered in engineering school are work ethic and problem solving. Achieving anything and everything is possible with a set of goals and a plan. Goals without an execution plan are simply dreams. Being able to take the analytical skills learned in engineering school and apply them to real world challenges is extremely valuable.
What would you say to the freshmen currently sitting in your shoes?
It is all worth it in the end! That small group paper is teaching you problem solving skills. That EAS 140 Gantt chart is teaching you time management. The work ethic and problem solving skills that come from engineering school will be applied in almost every aspect of your life.
Surviving the journey requires resilience, but know that in the end you will be able to do whatever you want as a career path and be successful in whatever you may choose. Go to law school and practice intellectual property law. Become a doctor. Work in product management. Do what makes you happy! The majority of your time awake on a day to day basis is spent in school or in the workplace, so if you are not happy or enjoying what you do - make a change. You control your fate and future so the effort you put into that future now is what you will get out down the road.