Season 2 - Ep. 12 | Risk-taking and Dealmaking with Global MedTech Leader, Kevin Lobo

Redefiners Podcast
Hosted By:
July 13, 2022 | 36 min
Our guest
Kevin A. Lobo, Chair and CEO, Stryker

“If you want to win in any business, you have to be willing to take risk.”

Take risks, keep learning, and stay calm. That’s how our guest, Stryker Chair and CEO Kevin Lobo, became arguably one of the most successful CEOs ever. We’ll talk with the Indian-born, Canadian-raised, internationally acclaimed businessperson about how he became known as the “Godfather of MedTech” and as an acquisitions deal maker. We’ll hear how Kevin’s high threshold for risk helped Stryker drastically outpace the competition and how he built his Board’s trust to make more than 55 acquisitions. Kevin also shares his insights on timely topics leaders in all industries are talking about: technology, crisis management, company culture, and how to keep employees happy, purpose-driven, and loyal.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll hear from Kevin in this episode, in his words (edited for length and clarity):

Kevin’s Redefiner Moment: A non-traditional path to chief executive

I have a very non-traditional path to being the CEO of a med tech company. First of all, I'm not American. I did not start in sales and marketing. I started in finance and more of my career has been outside of med tech. I really didn't have any idea that I would be in a role like this, never imagined I'd be the CEO of anything, let alone a large American company.

I was only about 32 years old when I first moved to the United States and I was, frankly, a little terrified. I was a VP of a large chemical company in the U.S., and when you grow up in the shadow of the gorilla—that is, the United States—you're not sure you can actually swim with the big fish. It was really intimidating, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. And it was a series of fortuitous happenstances along the way that has landed me here.

On learning from the ground up—in any role

My first job was running the medical device business of J&J in Canada. And my first or second day on the job, there was a dinner with some cardiac surgeons and they were talking about restenosis rates. I didn't know what they were talking about, so I just kind of followed the conversation.

The next day I said, "Listen, do you have training?" And they said, "What do you mean training? Like the sales rep training? You're the president. You're not going to go to the sales rep training." I said, "Sure. Give me the videos." And that's what I've done in all my jobs.

I think that grassroots effort pays off immensely because when I'm talking to my employees, I have a deeper understanding of what really makes the business tick, what the role of our sales forces are, how marketing and engineering engages.

On becoming a “serial acquirer”

We had a very conservative balance sheet when I took over as CEO of Stryker. Investors were screaming at me to buy back shares and were furious that we weren't. We were sitting on this cash hoard. I said, "Listen, I'm not buying back shares. We have amazing commercial offense, great execution. We're going to use it to do acquisitions."

Some of the investors were unhappy with that answer. My response was, "You can buy someone else's stock if that's not what you want. I'm being very clear about our strategy. It's not mysterious. We're going to become a serial acquirer." And that's what we are now.

We've gotten better at integration and better at choosing assets. It's like exercise—the more you do this, the better you get at it.

On crisis management lessons learned during

You need to be calm in the storm. Leadership that's calm, that has set clear priorities, that communicates those priorities clearly—that makes a huge difference in making sure that people don't panic and make rash decisions that take you off course.

And you cannot communicate too much. We were doing weekly calls, then biweekly calls during COVID; just trying to keep everybody together was really, really important. We had our three clear priorities: protect our employees, serve our customers, and have financial discipline. I said them over and over and over again as we made different sub-decisions and spot decisions, and people could always go back to that framework. And then people may not like all your decisions, but they certainly will understand and respect them.



Kevin A. Lobo
Chair and CEO, Stryker

Kevin A. Lobo has been CEO of Stryker since October 1, 2012, and also assumed the role of Chair of the Board on July 22, 2014. He joined Stryker in 2011 and had previously been Group President of Orthopaedics.

Mr. Lobo serves on the board of directors for Parker Hannifin Corporation (NYSE:PH), the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed) and the U.S.-India Business Council. He is also a member of the Business Roundtable and Business Council.

Mr. Lobo has a broad business career across multiple industries. After holding finance positions with KPMG, Unilever and Kraft Canada, he spent eight years with Rhone-Poulenc, including roles based in Europe as Corporate Controller of a chemical spin-out and General Manager of Specialty Phosphates EMEA. He then spent eight years at Johnson & Johnson, including President of Ethicon Endo Surgery.


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