Who better to discuss the importance of mentoring and coaching in your career with than someone who has been in the industry for 28 years?
Every one of our guests has an interesting story of how they got into the medtech industry and our guest for this episode, Stefan Fischer, got into it by chance.
Stefan is the Senior VP Regulatory Affairs at Paul Hartmann AG in South Germany. Paul Hartmann AG is a healthcare company dealing with disinfection, incontinence management, personal healthcare, risk prevention and wound management and present in 30 countries with a distribution network in over 100 countries.
His career which began in a small family-owned business has seen him rise from Quality Engineer to hold positions like Director Operations, Director QA/RA, COO, CFO and Technical Director for major medtech companies like Dentsply Sirona, Sorin Biomedica and Smiths Group.
Stefan has a refreshingly unique perspective on work-life balance and the experience vs education debate. In our latest podcast edition of Career diaries by Elemed, Stefan highlights the importance of coaching and mentoring, how to get a coach and mentor in the medtech industry and the power of having the right team.
Stefan’s Entrance into the Medtech Industry
After high school, he studied plastic engineering. He chose the course because it was a combination of the subjects he enjoyed which were chemistry, physics and similar topics. He wasn’t disappointed with his choice and found the course interesting and creative.
His first job was with an injection molding company; a small family business in Munich. At that time they were delivering to the automotive industry and the electronic industry. It had 50 employees and a very small management team so he was able to learn a lot in different departments such as purchasing, manufacturing, quality and other areas. This was how he was introduced to the medtech industry because his company also delivered parts in that industry.
After two and a half years he left to join the medtech industry through a company which is a subsidiary of Sorin Biomedica. “That was my first real job as a quality engineer.”
STEFAN'S HIRING PRACTICES
Hiring by experience or education?
Stefan prefers to hire people with more practical experience than theoretical knowledge. “You can study afterwards. You can study lifelong if you want to. It helps if you have a similar background when you talk to people in operations or R&D. You use the same words, you have to talk about the same tools so work experience is more important.”
Advice for building a successful career
- Putting the right team together is an essential part of being successful. If you’re good at finding and hiring the right team and putting them in a way that they work effectively, that makes you and your team successful.
- Learn from your failures. It’s part of how you will progress.
- Remember that careers are not constant upward inclines on a success chart. You can’t always keep moving up. Expect occasions where you have to take a few steps back or where will you run into a situation that’s outside of your comfort zone and you need to learn more.
Stefan’s process for building a successful team
“I look for the right balance in terms of background, age, culture.
But what makes a successful team is communication and objectives. Give your team the right direction and bigger picture of why you do this. There’s no point in forming a team of high caliber people who don’t function well together.
Making Hiring Decisions; Gut instinct or a Formalized Checklist?
I’m more of a gut person. I need to get along with that person. If I don’t like to spend time with that person, it’s difficult for me to hire them. But during the interview there are more people involved so it’s not solely up to me. Everyone involved in the hiring process brings something to the table that’s important.
The four steps to a successful hiring process:
- Quick telephone interview upfront, something like 20 minutes to half an hour max to get a feeling of a person and see whether they bring the right background and interest to the company.
- Face to face meeting.
- If he has any doubts, he gives the person another call to dig deeper.
- May do that two or three times more if needed.
90% of new startups fail and under 50% of businesses make it to their fifth year. These are statistics that Stefan learnt the hard way.
He was COO and then CFO of a startup company which had really fast growth, something that’s typical for startups. “You have a small team and then you build the patent, and the tools and the manufacturing.”
After two years, they had the product on the market but they failed in the follow up process of building the sales operation and getting a stable manufacturer.
Stefan candidly states, “I don’t regret anything. It was an experience that I wouldn’t like to have missed but it was also painful and expensive”
During that time, he worked day and night and was pretty close to burning out. He took that warning seriously and started balancing his workload.
- It’s important that your job satisfies you.
- Communication and relaying expectations are vital. Ask yourself and your team, “What are you working for? What is the purpose of that company and product?” “If it’s only about money or going public, I won’t work there,” Stefan says.
STARTUP VS BIG CORPORATE
What’s the Difference?
“There’s a big difference in responsibilities and consequences. In a startup you have to do everything.
You have to take care of cleaning the offices and getting the money to the bank to pay the salaries. With a startup company, you run into some kind of financial trouble at a certain point and you need to raise new money or go public. Every failure or challenge endangers the whole company. “
Most defining moment career wise?
When Stefan’s daughter was born, 23 years ago, he stayed at home for almost a year which was unusual at that time. “From a career perspective there was a lot of negative feedback about my decision at that time,” but for him, the risk was worth it. “In my private life, I have an excellent relationship with my daughter which gave me a lot of value back.”
Life as a stay-at-home dad
Being a stay-at-home dad for a year impacted his recruitment strategy and made him empathetic to the challenges working women face.
He’s also conscious that the gap in his CV because of staying at home could have had a negative impact on his career and so he approaches the recruitment process with an open mind. “When I look at a candidate’s CV, I am not too rigid about curves or problems in their CVs. I will ask what their reason was but I’m not looking for a straight, every 3-year development. “
The importance of maintaining work relationships
When Stefan stayed home for a year, he kept contact with his boss and worked a few hours from home. He didn’t do it with the intention to go back to work at the same company but maintaining contact kept the door open for him. Once a year had passed, he was asked to go back to work and he attributes that to keeping in contact with his boss. Maintaining work relationships is even more necessary in the smaller industries like medtech.
He has 2 mentors who he enjoys working with. He met one mentor through a mentoring program.
The second one, was in sales and he approached them directly telling them that he was interested in learning something different.
How a Sales mentor helped a Regulatory professional
Stefan enjoys dealing with customers, working with key accounts in different cultures and can sell a good product. He chose to have a sales mentor because he wanted to learn the skill of being able to sell widely, even with products that he wasn’t confident about selling.
How to mentor
Mentoring is all about asking the right questions to get the mentee to understand things on their own. It’s not about telling the mentee what to do.
“I learnt not to jump to conclusions which I do because if you’re experienced like me, you’re always thinking of a solution.”
Great questions to ask as a mentor:
Always ask, “Why did you do that? What was the reason? What was the background?” Also ask in situations where things go wrong, “What could you have done differently?” Instead of saying, “You did this wrong,” or offering an opinion.
Should people proactively seek mentors?
When we’re stuck in the hamster wheel, we tend to develop tunnel vision and may find it hard to have a broader perspective which is necessary. Mentoring, coaching, 360 help you to take a step back, reflect and see whether your principles or approach need to adjust. You’re able to look at yourself and work from an external point of view.
Ways to detach from the hamster wheel to have time to reflect
One thing that I have done over the years is when I see something, when I read something, when I get training that’s really good, I keep them in a little folder where I copy and write things in and that is always in my work package that I carry every day. When I have time, like at the airport, I pull it out and read it because you have to repeat it consciously otherwise you’ll forget about it.
Work-life balance, is there such a thing?
He doesn’t think there are clear boundaries between work and life. For someone working in the medtech industry at a certain career level that is demanding, you cannot stop working. You cannot say, “It’s 6 o’clock, I’ll turn off my iPhone,” or, “I don’t read my emails over the weekend.”
Find balance within your work such as having lunch during the day with your spouse by stepping out of your office for an hour or two.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m pretty happy with my life and don’t regret anything. What I should have possibly have started earlier in my career is learning more. Be strategic and ask yourself, “What exactly do I want to do and what will help me get to that point?”
What is your legacy?
Stefan is driven by working for a purpose which ties in well with what Hartmann is doing right now: making facemasks and disinfectants to combat Corona.
“My philosophy is I need to enjoy my work and creativity is very important to me. If I bring the company forward and develop people that I work with, then that would be a very good purpose. If people, colleagues, ex colleagues speak well of me, and companies are still keeping my SOPs and tools, that is really satisfying.
It’s also important to give back, mentor young talent and share your knowledge.”