You don’t get more dialed-in to the device industry than James Mazzo, and you definitely don’t get busier.
In addition to his duties as senior VP of Abbott Medical Optics Inc., an ophthalmic company he spun out of Allergan (NYSE:AGN) and then sold to health care giant Abbott (NYSE:ABT) in 2009, Mazzo has been the chairman of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, or AdvaMed, for the past two years.
The side gig is a real whirlwind; the assignment has the 53-year-old device industry veteran serving as the de-facto face of the medical tech industry. In meetings with heads of state and leaders across the globe, Mazzo represents the issues on the minds of all device leaders.
MassDevice recently caught up with Mazzo to talk about some of the issues he’s hearing on the street, as well as his background in the device industry.
MassDevice: How did you get your start in the medical device industry?
James Mazzo: I have a zoology degree and I wanted to go on to medical school but after graduating from college I was tired of school and wanted to take a break. Basically, I thought I’d work for year and hate it so much I’d want to go back to school as soon as I could.
Gavin Herbert hired me at Allergan. It was a $100 million company at that point and I decided I’d do that for a year. But Gavin was very good to me and he said ‘If you want to be successful with any company you have to start with the most important person and that’s the customer,’ so I literally called on optometrists as a rep. I ended up loving it so much that I stayed on.
MassDevice: You’re also chairman of the board at AdvaMed, where you interact with med-tech CEOs all the time. What’s on the mind of most of these men and women? Is there a common thread you’re hearing?
Mazzo: There’s a lot of: ‘How do we ensure we get product approvals?’ ‘Where are we going to put the resources behind our facilities as we look at emerging markets?’ ‘What are those emerging markets?’ ‘How we do we ensure we’re organized appropriately to be able to compete in those markets?’
The other issues are payer-related. We’re an international organization and we’re facing different challenges from different payers. However, on a broad brush, it’s those three critical issues I mentioned earlier.
We’re always dealing with, ‘How are we going to be able to maintain competitiveness here and abroad?’ And then ‘How do we ensure we get our products approved?’
It doesn’t matter if you’re a $100 million or $100 billion company, without new products and customers having the ability to pay for them and without being to compete in high growth sectors, it effects all of us.
MassDevice: This is your final year as chairman of the council. How would you rate the experience and what lessons have you learned?
Mazzo: For me personally, it’s been better than I anticipated. I was on the executive team at AdvaMed but at the end of the day people want to talk to the chairman. So, the ability to have interactions with heads of state, ambassadors, the head of the HHS is a very unique experience.
One of my favorite experiences was recently I interviewed George W. Bush one-to-one. I have been introduced to a lot of fantastic people and a lot of interesting perspectives. The breadth of the responsibility is a bit overwhelming because of the various sectors and the various geographies. It’s taken a lot more time than I ever imagined.
Devices are an interesting group. The pace and scale of innovation is much greater in devices because we don’t live off of our patents. We live off of our technologies because they change. The scope of the way devices are used, you get that instantaneous acceptance or rejection. And now obviously the various level of approvals are being challenged across the globe. It’s a very interesting group and it helps to have experience in all this. And that’s part of what AdvaMed has provided me and other people. You really do leverage the relationships. There’s a lot of mentors and coaches in that room and that’s why we’ve been successful at attracting new members. Where else can you sit in a room and have that opportunity to interact with the people in your industry making those decisions? There’s not many places where you can get that.
MassDevice: Recently, Atul Gawande wrote in the New Yorker about the power of coaches in both sports and the business world. As an executive, do you have any coaches or mentors that you rely on?
Mazzo: Most definitely, being a CEO is a very lonely job. It’s rare that you can open up to someone completely. So, I have a coach and a mentor. My mentor is Gavin Herbert, who started Allergan in 1980. He keeps me grounded and focused on what’s important because he’s seen it all. I meet with Gavin probably every 2 to 3 weeks from a phone call, to a lunch, to a dinner.
I also have a coach in Jim Rollans. He was my presiding director at AMO. When faced with challenges specific to the business and how I would take it on, I would talk to Jim.
MassDevice: Do other CEOs you talk too utilize mentor relationships as well?
Mazzo: I think it would be strange if they didn’t have one. For many CEOs it might be a presiding board member, or a chairman. But I will bet you that there’s a good number of executives who have people who have helped them in their careers, served as mentors, and then there are these executives coaches as well.
It gets tough because you can’t open up to a lot of people, for obvious reasons. So, there’s always a need for people that you can bounce leadership questions off of. I couldn’t give exact amounts but I would imagine there’s more CEOs in the majority than the minority that do have these types of people in their lives.
MassDevice: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your professional career?
Mazzo: As you gain more experience and in an industry, you tend to believe you’ve seen it all and you don’t listen as intently to people who don’t know your industry as well.
I’ve made the mistake of discounting people who don’t know the industry and not listening to them through their “virgin eyes.” Sometimes somebody who is new in an industry or a company will notice things that you miss.
It’s not an ego thing. I would pay more attention to the people that have little experience than the people who have all the experience. In our sector, there’s a lot of good thoughts coming out of people who can’t spell ophthalmology.
I’m not discounting experience, but you shouldn’t discount people who don’t have experience as well.
MassDevice: Give us your temperature-check on the device space. Are you optimistic about the industry now and in the future?
Mazzo: I’m optimistic about the pace of innovation. The amount of technology that has clearly saved lives and improved people’s ability to get back into the workforce is unbelievable. The ability with knees, hips and eyes to improve people’s lives is so much better. And, we can do it quicker.
Also, the amount of talent that’s coming into the industry is far better than the talent we have today. Their knowledge base is unbelievable. For companies to be successful they have to make it quicker at a lower cost, deliver it faster, and it’s not just sales and marketing, it’s operations, clinical, R&D.
I’m extremely optimistic because if you look outside the U.S., companies local to China and India want to get in our space.
Medical device people are not a boring group. These men and women are very fast-paced and they’re not going to get passed by. We have the wow effect. When you get someone who has one of our devices put in their body they say “wow.” You get a new knee, pacemaker, intraocular lens you hear ‘oh my god my life has changed.’ So that’s why I’m optimistic, because we’re still seeing that breadth of innovation.