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The View from Olympus: How This MedTech Leader Approached the Pandemic

President Randy Clark on how Olympus navigated the crisis

Randy Clark

  • President, Medical Systems Group
  • Executive Committee Board Member
  • Olympus Corporation of America

Early in his career, Randy Clark made a run as a professional goalkeeper in Europe and in the US. Although operating in a small part of the field, the goalkeeper is aware of every player and of every move on the field, constantly setting up the defense and staying prepared to respond to a surprise attack from any angle. “In leadership, you have to see the 360-degree view, similar to a goalkeeper who must keep an eye on all aspects of the game,” says Randy. “This has served me well in growing as a leader. However, I have worked hard over the past few years to change positions on the field, going from a goalkeeper, where I was directing people, to becoming a midfielder where I set others up for success. I have changed my approach to try harder to explain the ‘why’ of what we are doing. I listen more, ask many more questions. I incorporate what I’ve learned into capturing hearts and minds.”

It was that kind of wide vision and ability to rapidly respond that Randy credits with some of his success in guiding Olympus through the rough territory of 2020 and the ongoing pandemic.

Randy has served in a number of roles at Olympus, starting as sales representative and then as a sales trainer. After stints as territory manager at Boston Scientific and Karl Storz Endoscopy, he returned to Olympus as a Regional Manager, then as Area VP in different business units. He rose from VP and GM of Gyrus ENT to VP of the Surgical Division, until eventually becoming Group VP and then moving to the president’s office.

In his role as president of Olympus MSG, Randy assumed full P&L responsibility for two ($2) billion of business across all eight medical divisions: GI Endoscopy, GI Endo Therapy, Respiratory, Surgical Endoscopy/Integration, Surgical Energy, ENT/Neuro, Urology, and Gynecology.

Although he was already leading a five-year Corporate Strategic Plan (which is updated every three years), it was still a major challenge to react to the pandemic, when it upended the outlook of nearly every company.    

President and Member of the Executive Board

Randy says that his background at the company served him well.  Having worked his way up from sales, sales management and marketing in almost all of Olympus’ business units, he understands the details of each unit. At the same time, he can see the playing field from everyone’s point of view, which enables him to helps all the leaders strategize individually, share best practices and collaborate as a team.

Although he describes himself as a highly competitive Type A personality, he also likes to give others the opportunity to set their own strategic plans and find success in the way that suits them. He works hard on his own development to listen more before giving advice and setting expectations.

“We have incredible leaders at all levels across the organization,” Randy told us. “And that’s what you need to have in place to deal with a challenge like this pandemic.”

The Olympus Pandemic Approach – NOW, SURVIVE, THRIVE

The company was preparing COVID-19 business continuity plans last February in the event the offices were to shut down. These plans were scheduled to be presented at an executive meeting in March, when the coronavirus news broke.

This forced the leadership team to institute a three-stage plan, in a shorter time frame than ever before. Randy calls it “NOW/SURVIVE/THRIVE.” He asked his leadership team, “What do we have to do immediately, how will we survive, and what is necessary to come out of this even stronger, regardless of the demands of our new situation?”

Under such pressure, they didn’t have a chance to present a draft plan. It became the plan.  Beyond the corporate COVID response team they put together a commercial COVID team to focus on NOW implementation and pivoted planning to SURVIVE and THRIVE.

NOW

Olympus’ year end is March 31st, so the leadership team had to close out their year in the midst of the pandemic. How could they revamp communications internally as well as externally with customers to react to their needs?

The leadership team created online war rooms to bring the right people together. Randy held regular monthly town hall meetings and created an internal podcast to update everyone.  Every commercial leader had a weekly town hall meeting to share information to the field. These eventually became bi-weekly and have helped improve transparency, communication, planning and action.

Olympus leaders knew they were in it for the long haul and prioritized employees and their wellbeing first.  For example, from the start Olympus started providing draws for their commissioned sales teams, and were quick to extend them months at a time — an option that helped to retain field-based employees.  “We also knew they were dealing with complex uncertain challenges. We didn’t have all the facts,” says Andy. “No one person had the answer. We wanted to avoid group think and encouraged people to play devil’s advocate. In execution of the short-term plan we wanted to minimize preventable failures that deviate from playbook; minimize, prevent and mitigate complex failures; and pursue intelligent failures that are a thoughtful foray into novel territory.”

SURVIVE

To survive commercially, the leadership team quickly analyzed all expenses, putting a hiring freeze in place, which became prioritized hiring to ensure they had appropriate representation. This was in addition to the business unit teams conducting line by line analyses of all operating expenses.

“One of our core values is agility,” says Randy, “and this was the most rigorous test of that value.” They wanted to resist the pressure to provide quick answers, but still remain agile. “We wanted to align on structure, people, problem-solving, and stay true to our core values. Psychological safety was important, too —everyone needed to feel important and that it was safe to speak up. No single person has all the answers, so we needed everyone’s input to sort through the best ideas.”   

THRIVE

With employee wellness a regular priority for the company, Olympus put emphasis on an effort toward monitoring mindfulness and health.  They went deep on a nine-block talent assessment to identify top performers and ensure that they had a succession and development plans.

When elective procedures at healthcare facilities were put on pause, Olympus focused on its people, where it counted most.  For example, the commercial team ripped up their original quota for the new year and put a flat commission rate and draw in place for Q1 so that sales representatives would not have to worry about meeting quotas. They created a new quota and new comp plans for the 9-month period from July 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021. 

Olympus already had a lot of good synergies when they realigned the marketing and sales teams in 2015. “The pandemic has brought sales, marketing and our shared services together even further as we united as a true team,” says Randy, “and it sometimes seems we can’t get enough feedback. The increasing bright spots in the pandemic are without question the unity and collaboration of our teams. Everyone stepped up.”   

The National Sales Meeting Goes Virtual

A 2000-employee national sales meeting had been planned for Las Vegas in May of 2020, but given the circumstances of the pandemic it was changed to a virtual event.  “I love the national sales meeting,” says Randy, “where we reward past performance and set the tone and direction for the year, go deep on training and announce key initiatives. But that of course was not possible to do in person. Still, the marketing leaders and the training teams pulled together an amazing virtual event. Rather than “death by PowerPoint,” the teams developed creative ways to ensure high engagement in all of the virtual sessions.

A MEANINGFUL AWARDS CEREMONY

One of the hardest parts of hosting the national sales meeting virtually was how to translate the award ceremony to a virtual environment.  How do you capture that proud moment when you are standing on stage as the rep of the year or in achieving president’s club in the midst of this new normal? To create another opportunity for the sales teams to show their pride, the events team considered options for the new format, and they replaced the stage with videos recorded by family members who then were able to virtually attend the awards ceremony in many instances. “This helped slow it down and make it more personal, bringing in real family as well as corporate family for the first time,” Randy says.

WILD SUCCESS

“The groups looked for creative ways to have some fun while they trained on the products, using themes like ‘the most impressive bedhead’ or ‘best virtual backgrounds,’” Randy told us.   One business unit even organized a Peloton challenge to raise money for charitable health causes.

The feedback demonstrated that they had pulled it off. “The sales meeting was awesome!” was a typical comment. It also helped that, instead of having people go to sessions for ten hours straight each day, the three hours a day of virtual meetings seemed to keep people more alert and engaged.   Now Olympus is planning its 2021 NSM for April and May and it, too, will be virtual.      

This year with reps having more access to accounts, the trickiest part is working out the field force scheduling for the meeting.  Fortunately, as hospitals are beginning to re-open, reps will be able to attend the NSM virtually, a few hours a day over a couple of weeks, and still support procedures in the morning.

How to Win in the New Normal

Olympus leadership wanted to learn and grow from the pandemic experience and it sought opportunities for change.  In a consulting study with the top medtechs, Olympus showed up as having a very traditional go-to-market strategy.  

THE PANDEMIC GALVANIZES CHANGE

What the data showed in that study was that 65% of physicians believe access to healthcare facilities will be restricted, and 45% expect training to be done virtually. Seventy percent of physicians said that professional education can be done virtually. If, as Olympus has determined, the reps are the core of the go-to-market strategy, how can they reinvent the clinical setting, partner with key accounts, develop more marketing muscle, and create more services? Those questions led Randy’s team to look at other areas, such as how to keep the rep at the center, how they can double down on digital business, and what ecommerce will do to the digital marketplace. Hospitals have been slow to adopt ecommerce, but other sites of care are entertaining it.  Can inside sales be different from the past? How can the team approach a new key account structure?  The answer was to create an omni-channel ecosystem, and that is what Olympus is doing.

DESIGNING AROUND THE CORNER

Another focus was to continue to put the customer first. Randy’s team got further into benchmarks and did 400-plus customer interviews, as well as internal interviews.  They wanted to create different buying journeys incorporating the voice of customer from start to finish. The sales process is only one segment in the customer’s buying journey. How are customers today and in the future going to find out about new technologies, new equipment and new procedures?   How will HCPs want to interact with industry on training events. How will they procure for equipment in the coming years? What type of service and support will they want and how is this going to change?

RIGHT CUSTOMER, RIGHT CHANNEL, RIGHT TIME

“We are doubling down on how we segment the market, to ensure we are going to the right customer at the right time through the right channel with the right message,” says Randy.

Olympus is using data-driven learning to optimize performance. This will give them more insight-driven interactions across the channels, integrating marketing and sales. Randy says the next step in the buying journey is analytics. “We need a deeper understanding of the customers’ needs – what are the best practices to get us there and how do we interconnect these channels seamlessly?”

In order to go deeper into the customer journey with data analytics, Olympus is building out an omni-channel team consisting of data scientists and data engineers. “We are using technologies not aimed at replacing sales and marketing positions, but rather augmenting them to give Olympus more of a presence in new ways with customers.”

Capitalizing on a Unique Customer Opportunity

Olympus had a unique opportunity to connect with customers, based on itsrecent acquisition of Image Stream Medical, which connects clinical teams with the precise visual information and collaborative insight that they need to perform at maximum efficiency. Image Stream is a best-in-class integration company with a unique technology, a telecollaboration platform for the OR. It has cleared every security bar that has been set.

ENHANCED CUSTOMER SUPPORT AND TRAINING DURING THE PANDEMIC

Olympus’ quick response team immediately focused on how to continue to provide product expertise when they could not be physically present in the room. “We were blessed to have a fully compliant virtual collaborating tool available to us already, MedPresence, from our Image Stream subsidiary. MedPresence, which is like web-conferencing on steroids for medical sites of care across an enterprise, allowed us to quickly pivot into the need for a virtual presence solution. When a hospital securely invites a rep to a procedure, the rep can create a customized view of that procedure from multiple inputs. It’s a valuable tool that can be used for any procedure, available beyond Olympus.

“It’s great to see telehealth being adopted; the test is to see this trend become permanent,” says Randy.  “This technology can lead to greater efficiencies in both the procedure room and beyond.” 

ENHANCED CUSTOMER COMMUNICATIONS

With this technology, a sales rep, working clinician to clinician, provides a customized view of the inputs to conduct a face-to-face conversation with the HCPs or clinicians.  The reps can now be there to offer virtual support, because medtech vendors are critical to the procedure space. This includes sizing of device placements to immediate troubleshooting when needed.

CONTINUING ACQUISITIONS

Olympus continued its acquisition strategy, gaining two key companies before year’s end.  Despite the pandemic, they were able to finalize the acquisition of Veran Medical Technologies, an innovator in respiratory devices located in St. Louis. Structuring the $340 million deal took just under 10 months, with critical negotiations occurring during the height of the pandemic. “The work and diligence of the business development team and global BU was just remarkable,” Randy told us. “The agility to deliver in such a tight timeframe in this environment is incredible. Now they are implementing the post-merger integration plan under the same challenges of working virtually as the pandemic continues. It pains me and other leaders not to be there in person to welcome Veran employees into the Olympus family. But the team is committed to increased communication, being transparent and explaining the why of what we’re doing across the company.”

LOOKING FORWARD

As leaders in Medtech, Olympus realized the importance of refocusing from an all-business perspective to a more human focus during the pandemic. “You need to balance the drive for results with leading with humility and empathy,” Randy says.

As a company operating in a traditional model, the pandemic accelerated rather than hindered their adoption of new technologies and customer analytics, while increasing and improving internal and field communications.

For corporate employees, the grand opening of Olympus’ new Westborough facility is still slated to happen in spring 2021. The facility’s wet lab is outfitted with MedPresence so reps and clinical support can train remotely with customers and virtual integrated OR demonstrations can be conducted in their new show room. A variety of conference rooms and meeting spaces are enabled with state of the art collaboration technology to allow seamless connections around the globe. The pandemic also drove a design pivot for space utilization and automated amenities in the building. “We’re taking a conservative approach to our return to office, as our focus is on the safety and wellbeing of our employees, but the level of excitement is high. It’s going to be a wonderful place to work when we can do so safely,” Randy says.

“Disrupting yourself in the new normal can raise the bar of how you go to market,” he told us.  “We have doubled down on our new omni-channel ecosystem and are on a quest to become the top customer-centric MedTech company. This benefits not only the company and the customer, but ultimately helps the patient. Our purpose at Olympus is making people’s live healthier, safer, and more fulfilling. That’s something we strive for each and every day.”

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