In a Q&A with MD+DI, Mowry also addresses Tornier's 2012 acquisition of OrthoHelix and the challenges it faces in developing its arthroplasty line.

April 29, 2013

9 Min Read
CEO David Mowry Discusses Tornier's Three 'Vital Initiatives' for 2013

David Mowry says it was during his first job after leaving the U.S. Army as a junior officer when he “absolutely fell in love” with the medical device industry. Working at Davol, the young West Point engineering graduate quickly saw the value that device manufacturers create by improving the quality of life for patients.

“I told my kids all along, you have to have passion for what you do, and I have had passion for this for 25 years,” he says.

Mowry was appointed president and CEO of Tornier Inc. (Bloomington, MN) in February 2013. Operating in more than 30 countries, the company makes approximately 90 products for the surgical treatment of musculoskeletal injuries as well as procedures for the shoulder, hand, foot, and other extremities. Mowry joined the Amsterdam-based manufacturer as chief operating officer in July 2011, after several executive stints. He served as senior vice president and president of Covidien’s neurovascular division after the division was acquired from ev3, where Mowry was senior vice president of worldwide operations. He also served as vice president of operations and logistics at the spine division of Zimmer Holdings Inc. and held the president and chief operating officer positions at HeartStent Corp.

Representatives from Tornier and other top orthopedics companies will be at the OrthoTec conference and exhibition in Winona Lake, IN, June 4–6, 2013. 


Mowry spoke with MD+DI a few days before the March American Academy of Othopaedic Surgeons conference. The discussion covered the advantage of focusing on three key items at a time, the benefits of Tornier’s 2012 facility consolidation, the “underpenetrated” extremities market, the downside of outcome-based healthcare, biologics, and more.

MD+DI: Were you always in line to take the top spot once Douglas Kohrs, your predecessor at Tornier, retired?

Mowry: There’s never any promise of those types of arrangements. There’s always the indication that we want succession planning in place, and we obviously want to create back-up plans in light of somebody departing. That was always kind of the contemplation. However, there was no promise of that.

MD+DI: Now that you are CEO, what are the first issues you want or need to address?

Mowry: As an organization, we have not executed extremely well on a lot of the tasks at hand. [We need to align] the organization to a few vital criteria or vital initiatives, focus [our efforts] around those, then execute and deliver the results that are needed.

MD+DI: Can you provide an example?

Mowry: As an organization, we spend time every year doing what we call “high-performance management,” which in essence is taking 40 of our top leaders from across the world and gathering as a group. And as a group, we agree upon the top three or four things we really need to deliver in order to move the needle with our customers, our employees, and our shareholders.

This year we have three vital initiatives we think will change the environment for Tornier. One is creating the most customer-focused organization, which starts by having a clinically proficient sales operation. From the employee perspective, we want to invest in ourselves, and we’re going to create plans and programs to not only invest in our employees but also have them invest in themselves. Finally, we want to have a best-in-class distribution network that provides value not only to the physicians they serve, but the accounts that they’re in.

We take those three [initiatives], we break those down into specific, deliverable objectives, and we execute those deliverable objectives. Every person in the organization has on their desks a list of these key initiatives and how they’re connected to them.

MD+DI: Your organization is really far-flung, though.

Mowry: It is, and that’s the beauty of having this type of process. It allows us to gather the leaders, drive consensus among the leadership team for the vital few initiatives, and then cascade that type of engagement down to the employee level. Whether you’re an engineer in France or you’re a salesperson in San Diego, you have the same connectivity to the company’s vital few initiatives and an understanding of what we’re delivering to our customers.

MD+DI: Are there any skills you brought with you from your time at Covidien, ev3, or Zimmer that you’re able to incorporate in this process?

Mowry: The time I spent at ev3 prior to Covidien’s acquisition was very worthwhile because I learned to focus on execution and building a team that’s aligned to a few items. Instead of trying to do 30 things moderately well, it’s better to do three of them extremely well, and then move on to the next three. That’s certainly a lesson I took along with me.

MD+DI: What’s the status of the OrthoHelix acquisition?

Mowry: I think it’s going extremely well. We were extremely pleased with our opportunity to acquire OrthoHelix. That deal closed in October [2012]. It’s a very talented team of individuals who are focused and dedicated to foot and ankle procedures, specifically bone fixation within that space. It’s going extremely well from the standpoint of being able to leverage that talent in a broader perspective for us. But more importantly, it’s given us the critical mass in the foot-and-ankle business to be able to provide the full portfolio of products to the surgeon.

MD+DI: Tornier has great expectations for the arthroplasty line that includes the Aequalis Ascend and the Reversed Shoulder devices. What are the challenges involved in developing those types of orthopedic devices?

Mowry: Any time you’re talking about significant surgical intervention like joint replacement, I think it’s important to understand all the factors you’re trying to balance. Obviously, first and foremost among these are patient outcomes. Being able to return range of motion, eliminate pain, and give people the strength and the ability to have a quality of life—those are paramount for the design and development organization and have to be put first.

In putting this program together, the second consideration is recognizing it’s not just about the implant. It’s also about the instrumentation and the procedure. Gaining access to the surgical site and being able to put the device in—in the most meaningful or least invasive way, or with a bone-sparing or muscle-sparing mentality—allows you to provide a better outcome in both long-term and short-term results as far as eliminating pain or a quick rehab and so on. Those are of value to the end-customer—the patient—as well as the payers.

The third element to consider is the physician. We certainly don’t want to underestimate the impact the physician has in the procedure. They are actually the ones doing the work, and frankly we have to be considerate of the work that needs to be done to design and develop the right product as partners with the physician. More importantly, we understand the economic environment that the physician has to work under. Not only having the ability to manage cost and control costs but also to provide the surgeon with some benefit in shorter procedure times, easier access, and better outcomes for them are very important as well.

MD+DI: Either in your market segment or in the industry as a whole, what factors impede or enhance innovation today?

Mowry: Innovation takes a couple different pathways for us. It’s funny. We have what we consider to be transformational values as a company. Now, these are not the standard values; everyone needs to have integrity in this space. But we have three that we think transform our company. One is responsiveness, one is the talent-development value, and the last is creativity.

Creativity takes a lot of different pathways. The first is just designing and developing better products. That’s great. I think everyone tries to do that. The second piece is in the materials that we use. Trying to develop better, more application-specific material characteristics is very important. In our space, having a material that has ultralow friction obviously creates some benefit in wear on a surface. But having something that even creates ultralow friction and eliminates the need to have surgical intervention on the opposing surface is even more important. Those are the types of things that we see as innovation. The last thing in innovation is how we provide service and support to our customer. In many cases, the healthcare chain is looking for better value, so finding ways to creatively add value to that chain preserves and differentiates our relationship.

MD+DI: How would you characterize the pool of available medtech professionals that you’re seeing for your company?

Mowry: I think it’s ever-increasing for us. When we started, we were a French company. It was purchased by some venture capitalists and then taken public, and over that period of six years or so between being acquired by venture capital and going public, we transformed, if you will, from being a French company to being a global company.

That has changed a couple of things. First of all, the talent pool we can attract is much larger now. Folks who were joining us before—I don’t want to say we were getting poor talent—but we didn’t have our choice of the talent that was out there. I think we now are finding ourselves with the opportunity to attract just about any level of talent to the organization, and our ability to leverage that talent, even more importantly, and put them in arrangements with other highly talented folks has been vastly improved over the years.

MD+DI: Is compensation the main factor in attracting talent? Or is it that in combination with corporate culture, location, and the like?

Mowry: Well, I think the world’s changing. If you look back 10 years ago, everyone compared salaries. Salary surveys were out there, and that was a big deal. I think the quality of life has entered into that equation. I have two daughters who are 26 and 24, and I have to tell you, what younger folk value is different than what I valued when I was their age. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the fact that the younger generation has an entitled attitude, but I do subscribe to the fact that they have different values than we had—well, than what I had when I was that age, in particular.

I think appealing to them as part of a social network—a company that is thoughtful and engaging—is really important to that group of people. So it’s not just a total comp [consideration]; it’s an equity position, it’s an environment discussion, it’s a progression opportunity. Those are all the things that have to go into creating the right environment for attracting great talent.

Look for the second half of MD+DI's Q&A with Tornier's David Mowry next week.

John Conroy is a frequent contributor to MD+DI. Reach him at [email protected].

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