Medtronic is at an inflection point, one that could determine its place in the health care field for the next generation and expand the boundaries of medical device technology.
Chief Executive Geoff Martha is pushing the company to take advantage of technological advances, such as in robotics and broadband, and changing dynamics in where and how people work. He and other top executives presented a new strategic plan with a dizzying number of pieces.
“Medtronic will no longer be known as just a medical device company,” Martha said when it was announced last month. “We’re going beyond devices to help technology serve more people in more ways.”
Medtronic, headquartered in Ireland with operational headquarters in Fridley, restructured into 22 small units to take out bureaucratic layers and spur innovation. It raised its research and development spending to $2.7 billion this fiscal year, from $2.5 billion last year.
It just launched a rebranding effort to emphasize innovation. It also has reached gender equity in pay in the United States.
For all the pieces to work, Martha said in an interview, the company must foster a culture that values equity, sustainability and teamwork.
“The burden of disease brings deeply personal costs. There are deep societal costs as well,” Martha said. “If we’re not going to take a leadership role, then who? Businesses need to step in and lead.”
Streamlined for speed
Medtronic got a lesson in those costs as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded last year.
In the early months of the pandemic, it became clear Medtronic needed to make more ventilators. The company would need to become quicker and more collaborative and use its R&D muscle to keep up with the demand and protect health care workers.
Bob White, president of the medical surgical portfolio, said Medtronic soon realized it would have to innovate differently and more collaboratively to meet the need. The company increased production fivefold at its plant in Galway, Ireland.
After Elon Musk tweeted that he would help, Medtronic reached out and SpaceX started making a needed part. The company also worked with chipmaker Intel to develop remote monitoring and programming capabilities so health care workers would not need to go in a patient room for every adjustment.
Medtronic worked with other partners to put together plans for the Coventor, a simpler ventilator that got designed and obtained Food and Drug Administration approval in less than 30 days.
The company figured out how to outfit the 400-bed Javits Center in New York City over Easter weekend. People who worked in other units asked to help out. Internal approvals were streamlined.
“Work that would have taken months took weeks, work that would have taken weeks took days,” White said.
“The speed with which we operated taught our teams that we could move faster,” he added. “The teams don’t want to go back.”
Besides collaborating with other companies, the pandemic allowed Medtronic to work more closely with socialized medical systems in Europe and with developing markets in African nations.