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A Career Shift Reflects Manufacturing Expertise

Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry
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An MD&DI May 1998 Column

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As president and CEO of CompAS Electronics, Inc. (Kanata, ON, Canada), Robert Corson's career took a step in a new direction last fall after a phone call from Rod Bryden, chairman and CEO of World Heart Corp. (Ottawa, ON). Bryden and Corson had worked together several years prior, when Corson was president and CEO of International Epitek, Inc. (which later merged with CompAS), and Bryden was a management consultant assisting Epitek with strategic planning. In his new position, Bryden was searching for a vice president of manufacturing—someone with the talent and experience to get a pilot facility up and running—and he set his sights on Corson.

"He called one day and asked if I'd like to have a chat over lunch," explains Corson. As Corson quickly learned, the chat over lunch turned out to be a job opportunity. Bryden introduced him to Tofy Mussivand, MD, company president and inventor of the HeartSaver, the company's only product—a patented, totally implantable ventricular assist device (VAD) that can be remotely powered, monitored, and controlled.

"It struck me as a tremendous opportunity," says Corson, who had never worked in the medical device industry. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it happened to come at a point in my career when I was ready and willing to do something else."

For Corson, new careers have always come in an unexpected fashion. While working toward his degree in engineering from Northeastern University in Boston, Corson got a job in the chemistry laboratory at Microtech Electronics (Burlington, MA) manufacturing materials for use in hybrid circuits. "I was making and grinding glasses, when one day management came by and said, 'We don't have a contract to do this anymore. So you can either become a process engineer on the electronics side of things, or you can get laid off,'" Corson explains.

So began a career in electronics manufacturing that spanned more than 25 years. After completing his degree, Corson moved to Canada to work for Microsystems International (Ottawa, ON), a subsidiary of Northern Telecom. In the early 1980s, he was named director of operations for Northern Telecom's network access division and several years later went to work for Epitek. When Epitek merged with CompAS Electronics, Inc., in June 1993, Corson was named executive vice president of operations and later became president and CEO.

One of his biggest achievements during that time—and a significant reason for Bryden's interest in him—was getting the company's two manufacturing plants certified to ISO 9002 and the microelectronics facility certified to ISO 9001. Bryden knew that anyone who had gone through the multitude of steps necessary to document each and every procedure in order to obtain certification—engineering, design, manufacturing, order entry, and quality systems, to name a few—would have no trouble formalizing and implementing a manufacturing process for a new product. His experience with the ISO certification process, which takes 12 to 15 months to complete, also leaves Corson undaunted by the enormity of his current project.

"There are all the normal obstacles that must be faced when taking a new product from its R&D phase into manufacturing," he explains. "We have to resolve manufacturability issues, get the physical facility built and in place, get the equipment in, and get the manufacturing processes designed and established." Also on the agenda: setting up a quality system so the company can get ISO, Health Canada, and FDA approval.

Corson advises people in the industry to have "an open mind as opposed to a fixed plan. You have to evaluate each situation for its own merits. Looking back, the riskiest thing I did was pack up and move to Canada," says the New Hampshire native. "Be prepared to change course if it's appropriate."

Being part of the development of a potentially revolutionary product is something Corson is thrilled about, but he admits it's not something he would have foreseen back in his college days. "There's lots to be said for drastic change once in a while," he says. "It stimulates the mind. There's an incredible learning curve, and it's a lot of fun. Honestly, being in this industry never even crossed my mind until I got that phone call."

But now that he's in it, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Romina Shane is a freelance writer based in Brea, CA, and a former senior associate editor of MD&DI.


Copyright ©1998 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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