Insulet (Nasdaq:PODD) CEO Jim Hollingshead says his current field in some ways marks his third different career path.
He began as an academic, then went into consulting. The former ResMed executive took over in the corner office at Insulet following CEO Shacey Petrovic’s departure for personal reasons earlier this year. He’s served on Insulet’s board since 2019.
“It’s funny looking back because it’s almost serendipity because I did a ton of work in consumer goods, telecom communications and life sciences,” Hollingshead said. “That’s now what I do. I spent the last decade at ResMed, and now I’m leading Insulet, and, in some ways, both of those companies are medtech devices aimed at consumers and consumer businesses.”
The leader of the automated insulin delivery technology developer took part in a “CEOs Unplugged” discussion at AdvaMed’s The MedTech Conference in Boston this week. He spoke with Smith+Nephew CEO Deepak Nath, Thermo Fisher President of ImmunoDiagnostics Bronwyn Brophy and iRhythm President and CEO Quentin Blackford. Russell Reynolds Associates Managing Director Nanaz Mohtashami led the conversation.
How Hollingshead’s experience built up to today
Hollingshead explained that part of his experience is geographic breadth. He worked in Istanbul during an economic collapse. While setting up a practice in London, the dot-com bubble burst. When took over the first in a number of leadership roles at ResMed, the company faced a 47% reimbursement cut.
That’s contributed to a range of lessons learned in leadership, he said.
“What’s really been a benefit is to realize the only way through those things is [to go] through them,” Hollingshead said. “Bad things are always waiting to happen. But, you have to be resilient, lean into them and, with enough of those experiences, you learn that you will get through them, and it will be ok.”
Hollingshead joined Insulet amid a vital commercial launch, just months after the company’s next-generation Omnipod 5 received FDA clearance. Omnipod 5 is the first tubeless, wearable, automated insulin delivery system for which patients can use a dedicated handheld controller or control the system with a secure app on their smartphone.
Soon after his arrival, Insulet broke ground on a $200 million manufacturing facility in Malaysia. In August, it began the full market launch for Omnipod 5 in the U.S. Later that month, the FDA cleared the system for use in children 2 years of age and older. A CE mark for the same indication followed in September.
Leading Insulet through change and getting the most out of the organization
It’s hard to imagine a world that’s not changing, Hollingshead said. Better yet, the pace of change continues to increase. That goes down to technology, geopolitics and more.
The leadership fundamental on which he relies is simply making sure employees know change is happening. From a recruiting standpoint, he must accept that some people thrive on change and some resist it.
Whatever the impact of change may be, what moves people is purpose, Hollingshead says. People want to know why they’re doing something and how they’re going to change the world.
“People crave purpose,” said Hollingshead. “That’s the key point. In leading an organization, whether you’re leading them to change or not, change is something that is just an expectation. … The first thing you have to do in an organization is set the expectation that we’re going to be dealing with change all the time.”
Hollingshead said medtech leaders, in general, are “lucky.” That’s because they get to develop technologies that help real people with real problems.
Insulet’s CEO called that a luxury and something that organizations can tap into to drive their sense of purpose.
“At Insulet, we have a really clear purpose, which is we get up every day to simplify and change the lives of people with diabetes,” said Hollingshead. “That is massively motivating for everybody in our organization.”
What makes a great team?
Brophy said that a large part of creating a good team is balance. She joked that “no one wants a team of 12 Bronwyns around a board table.” Hollingshead echoed that sentiment.
“What makes for a great team is a bunch of people around the table who are really good at what they do in their functional area,” he explained. “The role of the CEO — or the business unit leader — in that setting is actually to understand and have enough specific knowledge about those specific functions to have relevant conversations with everybody and to make sure you’re connecting the dots.”
Hollingshead pointed to the notion of a “heroic CEO who’s doing everything,” but that’s not the way he operates at Insulet. He wants a group of people that bring different perspectives and different ideas.
Once that’s in place, the next thing a team needs is a sense of mission. Insulet’s mission revolves around improving the lives of people with diabetes, as Hollingshead said. A sense of mission allows a team to “own the successes together” while leaning in on the failures and challenges together.
That produces a sense of accomplishment, he said. And it creates an environment that not only allows a team to have fun but function well together.
“It doesn’t get any better than a team of people who are all a bit different,” Hollingshead said. “[They give] themselves a white space to think differently and engage in problems and solution development differently and then succeed. To me, that’s just a ton of fun. You can really get people engaged if you’re operating like that.”