Often career paths can be circuitous and at times feel random. But when you arrive at a moment when it all clicks into place, you know it was where you were heading the entire time.
I was born in Ghana, West Africa to Alexander and Evelyn. My parents both entered the medical field – my father as an OB/GYN and my mother as a Pediatrician. My early exposure to the field through conversations with my parents, spending time in their offices, being around patients and yes, even watching some of the medical videos, nurtured a curiosity in me about the healthcare field. I remember most vividly watching my first labor and delivery video. For some reason people always thought it would be nice to send those to their doctor. I often wished they had spared us this courtesy. You would think that after these formative experiences I would want to follow in my parent’s footsteps. You would be wrong. As many children of physicians will tell you, I was in no rush to become a doctor.
No, when I was a child I was obsessed with computers. My most prized possession was my Tandy TRS-80 computer. It was a clunker but I spent hours programming on it. At a very early age I learned about computers and structured approaches to problem solving. One program I was particularly proud of was my ATM machine emulator. I remember my mother going on about how Citibank was the first bank to have their own teller network.
I was fascinated with those ATMs and learned all of the prompts so I could go home and build an interactive program that mimicked all of the functionality, minus the giving you cash part of course – after all, I wasn’t a criminal. It was awesome. There was something so elegant about computer programming – so logical even though life often wasn’t. I maintained my passion for computing throughout school even though I didn’t major in it.
I attended Stuyvesant High School in New York City which is a specialized Math and Science high school. Of course I took a lot of science classes – even played the violin. Both of these pursuits moderately held my interest, but I ultimately matriculated with a major in English and a keen interest in political science. At the time even I was scratching my head – what in the world was I going to do with this random collection of interests and how was I going to make a career out of this?
Rather than concern myself with answering that question then, instead I accepted my admission into Oberlin College and I jumped headfirst into the liberal arts college experience. Being a very liberal, liberal arts school I added non-traditional classes to my repertoire like West African Dance and Middle Eastern Studies both of which I greatly enjoyed. West African Dance was a particularly fond memory for me – being from Africa I felt more connected to my culture through the dances I learned and through dance I found a form of expression that gave me a freedom I could never feel with violin or any other instrument I had taken up in the past.
I attended Oberlin for two years and had a fantastic time – too good of a time in fact. You see I still hadn’t answered that question – you know, what are you going to do with your life? I was more interested in having fun and partying. I didn’t want to over-plan my destination; better to enjoy the journey. The problem was I was enjoying myself so much that my parent’s realized that if I stayed I would never graduate. So I left Oberlin after my sophomore year and transferred to the University of Chicago.
At Chicago I focused squarely on political science while taking a number of computer science classes; enough in fact to graduate with an undeclared comsci minor. While at Chicago I also took a programming job at a small computer firm in Hyde Park (their name escapes me unfortunately – consequence of time passing). After my first year at Chicago I also took an internship at AT&T in their famous Bell Laboratories division. I was surrounded by Nobel Laureates, PhDs and countless engineers who had forgotten more about programming and data system design than I had ever learned. It was a great environment and it reminded me of my passion for computing.
After graduating from the University of Chicago with a political science major and a computer science minor, I accepted a position within the elemedia Venture of what was now Lucent Technologies (spun off from AT&T). I was initially responsible for coding and testing one of elemedia’s products for streaming music over the internet, but quickly became interested in how we would communicate to potential customers how our solution would address their needs. It was then that I began making a purposeful transition into marketing.
I volunteered to take over responsibility for the venture’s website, staffing industry tradeshows, and executing the communications plan. My background in technology made me a credible choice, but my training in English and public speaking and performing arts was what allowed me to excel in this role. Shortly thereafter the “little venture that could” attained profitability according to what was laid out in the strategic plan and Lucent decided to re-integrate elemedia into the mothership. Unfortunately, Lucent fell victim to the dotcom crash and closed down elemedia and a number of other divisions, so in early 2000 I found myself out of a job.
While at Lucent, I began attending Stevens Institute of Technology where I was pursuing a MBA in Technology Management. The downsizing at Lucent allowed me to accelerate my education. At Stevens I took the traditional MBA courses – marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, statistics, strategy – but also some non-traditional ones like management information systems, rapid product development, engineering management, project management, and organizational design. It was an incredibly engaging experience. I had finally found my niche and a place where I was unique. I had found a discipline in marketing and an industry in hi-tech that would allow me to take advantage of my comfort in the sciences and the liberal arts.
Riding high on my newfound clarity I joined the marketing group of a small healthcare IT startup after graduating from Stevens. Unfortunately we had a short run but during the search for my next move, I came across an opportunity at Olympus Surgical America.
I hadn’t considered medical devices as an industry before this point but then, given my upbringing, training and career path, it seemed to be a good fit.
I joined Olympus’ marketing team as an associate product manager. I remained at Olympus for just shy of 4 years and was promoted to roles of increasing responsibility ultimately rising to Senior Product Manager – I was on my way. When the time came for me to move on from Olympus I looked for a role with a medical device company that had a keen focus on marketing. After a brief search I chose to join Covidien as a Marketing Manager.
From December 2008 through October 2011 I ran thoracic surgery marketing for the US. During that time period I devoted myself once again to becoming a student of marketing – sharpening my understanding of core marketing fundamentals, demand generation and team leadership. It was an uncomfortable yet, exhilarating time. Then in November of 2011 after performing a player-coach role for about a year, I was promoted to Director of Marketing. I had arrived.
This past year has been very exciting. I have focused my team on marketing fundamentals and demand generation. I have brought focus, process and accountability to marketing and instilled within my team the importance of linking marketing strategy to execution through marketing systems. My timing could not have been more perfect. You see, at the same time the discipline of marketing was changed. This is demonstrated by the rise of demand generation processes through revenue performance management, content marketing, marketing automation and social media marketing.
I can’t think of a time where there has been more of a need for trained marketers that live and breathe digital but have a focus on healthcare. You might call it luck, but I will simply say this:
4 thoughts on “The Path I Traveled To Arrive At This Place”
Nice to know more about your journey into the medtech marketing space. Glad you landed here at Covidien.
Holy cow! This is an impressive site to view for us non-marketing specialists (I am medical device rep). Hope all is well James. Please stay in touch!
Thanks Martin and glad the blog is useful! I will be posting more in the coming weeks so be sure to subscribe to the blog so you’ll know when I update. Think you’ll find some of the new topics very useful.