5 Lessons in Medtech Leadership from Insulet CEO Shacey Petrovic

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By Sarah Faulkner

Shacey Petrovic is the CEO of Insulet – a device company based in Massachusetts that pioneered the development of wearable, tubeless insulin delivery systems. Petrovic has overseen tremendous growth at the medical device firm; revenue for the third quarter of FY19 climbed to $192 million, up 27% compared to the same time in the previous year. Here are 5 lessons in leadership from Petrovic, as told at a recent event hosted by the MetroWest Life Sciences Network.

#1 – Trust people with integrity

Petrovic was the CEO of a women’s health company in 2015 when she got a call from Insulet’s then-CEO Pat Sullivan. He asked her to join him at Insulet and serve as the chief commercial officer for the device-maker. Initially, Petrovic viewed the move as (at best) a lateral one – it was certainly a step back from running a company.

But, ultimately, “it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Petrovic said. She saw an opportunity to change people’s lives and deliver on the promise of Insulet’s technology. She recalled that at the root of her decision to come to Insulet was the trust she had in Sullivan (the two were formerly colleagues).

All enduring companies depend on trust between leaders, Petrovic added. Trust enables a company to move swiftly and efficiently since the leaders don’t need to spend time questioning one another’s judgment.

#2 – Encourage your team to think big

Insulet has been growing in the last few years – all it takes is one quick look at the company’s stock price to realize that. Petrovic explained that she has put a lot of energy into recruiting and retaining the talent and capabilities that the company needs to get ahead of the growth.

She added that she often has to remind her team to think big – that they don’t need to move like a small, scrappy device company anymore.

#3 – Maintain an intimate connection to your technology – and your users

When Petrovic joined Insulet, the company experienced some growing pains – as most do, she said. But Petrovic could see the potential of the technology and it “helped me get through the tough early days,” she said. “Otherwise, those days could have rocked me.”

She also noted that many employees at Insulet have diabetes and require insulin to manage their condition, which helps them to truly understand the patient’s point-of-view.

Petrovic herself has a personal connection to the technology – her father has Type One diabetes and is now a dedicated Podder (a name inspired by Insulet’s tubeless insulin pump, the Omnipod).

#4 – Always raise your hand

A prominent theme seemed to emerge from Petrovic’s telling of her career: big challenges are really just opportunities for visibility. Throughout the course of her career in medtech, Petrovic raised her hand and took on turn-around projects that ultimately propelled her career forward.

When faced with a potential career change, Petrovic advised the crowd to ask “what can this opportunity teach me?” instead of worrying about a change in title.

#5 – It’s all about the people

Petrovic attributed much of Insulet’s growth to the company’s ability to attract, retain and deploy talented employees. And often the firm has to look outside of the box to find the right people, she noted.

For example, when hiring a chief operating officer, the company knew it needed a leader who had experience guiding the high-volume production of an FDA-regulated product. After failing to find anyone with the right qualifications within the medical device industry, Insulet turned to the food and beverage industry and found Charles Alpuche – he previously spent 30 years at PepsiCo and has led operations at Insulet since 2017.

Petrovic noted that a number of her company’s competitors initially seemed skeptical of Insulet, telling her that her staff didn’t have enough experience in “the wacky world of diabetes”. But she helped her team stay firm on their mission to help one million people – a mission that is now within the company’s line of sight.

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