How Chairman and CEO Omar Ishrak changed Medtronic
April 20, 2020 - Omar Ishrak is quick to admit the Medtronic Board was placing a bet when it named him Chairman and CEO in 2011.
The decision would make Ishrak one of just three CEOs in Medtronic history to come from outside the company. And he would step into the role at a time when the company needed a fresh growth strategy that was ambitious yet anchored by its Mission.
Nine years later, it’s clear the Board’s bet has paid dividends ― for patients, employees, the business, and Medtronic's legacy.
The company's scale and ability to impact healthcare around the world grew immensely during Ishrak’s tenure as CEO, which ends this week ahead of his move into a newly created Executive Chairman role.
Ishrak led Medtronic through the largest acquisition in med-tech history, redefined the company's growth strategy, inspired it to embrace value-based healthcare (VBHC), and strengthened its position in emerging markets.
He also championed an inclusive company culture from the very beginning ― starting his first days on the job with employee town halls that continued for over 100 days around the world, setting a tone for a different kind of leadership.
And, he helped rejuvenate Medtronic's technology pipeline. During his time as CEO, the number of lives the company improved grew from 7 million annually in 2011 to more than 75 million annually today.
Ishrak would, of course, be unlikely to take full credit for these ― and many other ― significant achievements.
Known for leading with humility, he counts the Medtronic Board’s vote in 2011 as one of three key bets on his leadership that shaped his career.
The first came when health-technology company Philips’ ultrasound business hired him into an engineering role early in his career, allowing him to secure a work visa. The second came when he was hired at General Electric by that company’s former CEO, Jack Welch.
Ishrak's engineering background and passion for technology has influenced his approach to leadership throughout his career.
At Medtronic, he embraced the science and technical community, and often dove into the details of how devices worked and would benefit patients.
Watching Medtronic launch disruptive innovations, such as the world’s smallest pacemaker, was particularly meaningful to him.
As Executive Chairman, Ishrak will continue his focus on innovation, and creating new career pathways and support for technical talent.
“Omar’s background in electrical engineering has allowed him to uniquely connect with the technical talent at Medtronic,” said Mani Prakash, Vice President R&D for the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group. “He has helped elevate the voice of our scientists and engineers, which ultimately has fostered a more innovative environment. It’s no coincidence that today we have the strongest pipeline in our company’s history.”
Ishrak made the full breadth of the Medtronic Mission integral to his leadership priorities.
He brought authenticity and accountability to inclusion and diversity efforts, helping establish measurable goals like women holding at least 40% of global leadership positions and ethnically diverse talent holding at least 20% of leadership positions in the U.S.
And, in 2019 Medtronic conducted a comprehensive analysis that showed its global pay equity between genders was 99% ― and 100% in certain countries, including the U.S. The company also conducted an ethnic diversity analysis in the U.S., which included all genders, and found that for every $1.00 that white employees with a certain job title earned, ethnically diverse employees earned $0.99.
While pleased with those results, Ishrak’s commitment went further, vowing to not stop until Medtronic reached gender parity and proportional ethnic representation for all employees across all levels, regions and functions, as well as achieving and sustaining 100% pay equity for all.
He made inclusion a true business priority, often pointing to it as key to Medtronic's success as a global healthcare leader and embedding it into the company's operating mechanisms. He added the word “all” to Tenet 5 of the Medtronic Mission to make it clear to all current and future employees that their diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and voices are welcome and valued.
His approach helped Medtronic earn accolades such as a prestigious Catalyst Award, which recognized the company's groundbreaking programs to advance women in the workplace. And, his holistic approach has ensured a sustained culture of inclusion ― he exits Medtronic with some of the company’s highest engagement, inclusion, and innovation scores, nearing world-class in every major area of measure.
“More than just embracing our Medtronic Mission, Omar found new ways to make each tenet real to every employee and component of our business,” said Carol Surface, Chief Human Resources Officer. “He inspired employees around this shared sense of purpose, and held the organization to new standards for integrating inclusion, diversity, and equity practices in systemic and sustainable ways that will continue to have a long-lasting impact.”
Ishrak was the first external hire for the Medtronic CEO role in 26 years, and the first to come from outside Minnesota.
Born in Bangladesh and educated in London, he brought a truly global perspective to Medtronic that’s influenced how the company does business around the world.
And he elevated the company's commitment globally to ensure patients everywhere had access to its devices.
He also recognized the role employees worldwide can play in driving innovation. During his time as CEO, Medtronic established prominent research and development centers in regions such as China.
He also helped the Medtronic Foundation hone its focus on improving health globally, with a focus on investing in impact.
“Omar has been an ardent champion of the underserved. His focus on strategy and impact helped us transform the Medtronic Foundation, inspiring us to go beyond focusing on how much we give, to truly drive the difference and impact we make,” said Paurvi Bhatt, Vice President and President, Medtronic Foundation. “True to his emphasis on driving value, he has encouraged us to have a results-driven strategy where success is delivering a measurable impact to those in need around the world. This focus on results is now a core part of how the Foundation will continue to bring the Mission to life.”
While Ishrak will step out of the CEO role, he is not leaving Medtronic.
As Executive Chairman, his priorities will include continued focus on the company's technical community and advancing select technologies, further promoting VBHC thinking and exploring opportunities, and supporting growth in emerging markets.
In addition, he will continue to serve as Chairman of the Medtronic Board of Directors.
He will also continue to support company leaders.
While Medtronic looked outside for a new CEO when it hired Ishrak, the company’s strong position today made it possible to look inside the company for its next leader.
As Geoff Martha moves into the CEO role, he will take many lessons learned from Ishrak with him.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Omar throughout his tenure,” said Geoff. “I think I speak for all of us when I say we are tremendously grateful for his leadership over the past nine years, and for his steadfast commitment to the Medtronic Mission. He has provided us with a solid foundation on which to continue the journey.”
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