Gods Among Mere Mortals
What’s Behind Door Number Three?
For every medical startup that made it, another 1000, likely did not. I knew the questions to ask, during an interview (blind date) to help me assess, if the job was even worth my time. Let’s just say, I kissed a lot of toads before I found ‘The Prince.’ And, again, remember, my softest edge is on the corner of a razor’s edge and cut glass, so tact, was not really a skill set I possessed when it came to questions.
Most employers, I had found, really didn’t want to answer questions regarding how they obtained their VC money, what was in reserves and when or if they were planning an IPO or buyout . So it was refreshing when the hiring manager (date), was not offended by my directness and answered every question with ease and honesty. Transparency in a manager, I either thought the Earth was off its axis or this was the most ethical company I’d come across in the industry.
And while on my interview (dream date)I learned I would have access to and learn from some of the most brilliant minds in the industry. These gods among us mere mortals had peregrines that would have made the show dogs in Best of Show jealous. Engineering degree from MIT, Masters in Business Administration from Columbia, a Doctor of Medicine from New York University, Consulting Associate Profession of Medicine at Stanford University; and, the kicker—one person held all of those titles.
What I had admired most was having both a medical and business degree. Seldom do physicians have a firm grasp on the business aspect of running a practice or hospital, so it was not only impressive it was someone I could easily respect, want to learn from and work for. When I first heard about this god among men, I figured he must be close to 100 years old to have accomplished so much. Nope, cut that number in less than half, and I was in my mid-thirties and a total slacker in comparison.
And the co-founder had 20 years in the medical device industry and was co-inventor on over 50 issued and 190 pending patents. He had a BSME in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University and a MSME in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.
These two brilliant minds, with their vast cardiovascular experience searched for unmet needs and created a surgical tool that sold against the ‘gold standard,’ and, that is how the company was conceived. Wow! What an inspiration. ‘My Prince,’ had arrived and ‘he’ was educated, honest and inspiring-I was in ‘love.’ I was tingly with excitement waiting to hear about the third member rounding out this trifecta.
B.A. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut, named an inventor on several issued patents, worked in a number of sales and sales management positions and through a merger became an Area Sale’s Director and General Manager.
Wow, in my mind, if this were the game show Let’s make a Deal, door number three was a:
It appeared, door number three jumped a few rungs of the corporate latter and was being given an opportunity of a lifetime. Every person I met during the interviewing process (courting) said the founder liked to bring successful people from one startup to the next, which I really liked. Rewarding positive behavior-so refreshing!
A little red flag went off in my head: So, did the founder not know someone more qualified from a previous venture that he gave someone who had never held such a position this opportunity with so much money at stake? And the second red flag was that I did not come across one person in this process that had previously worked for the founder, despite the repeated claims that he always brought successful people from one venture to the next. I did not meet everyone in the company during the ‘courtship,’ but I met no less than 20 people and not one had worked for the founder before.
I put together my list of pros and cons:
- Several women in executive and senior management positions (very rare in startup) with an opportunity to advance quickly
- Transparency regarding funding which could be verified
- A honest and refreshing success story on the company’s creation which made me want to be part of this amazing team filling unmet needs and selling against the ‘gold standard’ creating postive change in the World
- The ability to learn from brilliant people (well-two out of three wasn’t bad)
- Stock options (good compensation package)
- The hiring manager was sharp, honest, motivating and understood the market
- Training was very impressive and extensive (mini-medical school-on crack)
- Leary on decision of founder to select someone without CEO experience to head the organization*
- Could not understand why the founder hadn’t taken more (or any of previous?) team on to this venture
- Very unimpressed with VP of Sales (suspected correctly (phew!) ‘out-of-touch’ would be sent ‘out-to-pasture’ soon
- VP of Marketing not aware of the ability to purchase pharmaceutical data (drugs that corresponded with our procedure) to help reps target surgeons in each specific area (Device Marketing 101-someone missed that day, I guess)
I could not reconcile why someone, obviously brilliant, educated, with a proven successful track record would be surrounded by such perceived incompetence at the executive level. Inversely, the sales force had recently undergone a transformation and now the caliber of rep was accomplished hungry, successful, aggressive and pulling the top producing reps from the top companies in the industry.
I have often danced around the ring of red flags in both my personal and professional life. I didn’t so much dance around them this time, I buried them 30 feet deep in the ground, bought into the dream and set out to become part of this successful and inspiring team.
My dream turned out to be a corrupt fairy tale filled with pathological lies, manipulation, followed by threats and intimidation where my only salvation came, at the request of my employer, to engage in illegal activity. If only there had been a door number four!
*Chief executive officers who engage in unethical conduct for their own personal benefit tend to be part of firms that participate in other forms of corporate misbehavior, according to a new study from UT.