On April 2, William (Bill) W. George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, delivered the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering’s distinguished lecture at the Academy of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. His lecture focused on the nation’s need to foster innovative and inspiring leaders in the field of biomedicine and related areas.
“This is our annual, highly prestigious lecture in the field of biomedical engineering,” said Susan Margulies, chair of the Coulter Department at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “Bill George is a pioneer in biomedical engineering and we are delighted to have him as our guest speaker today.”
According to George, tomorrow’s medical solutions are going to need teams of interdisciplinary experts collaborating in cohesive teams to solve difficult medical problems. He stated 3.7 trillion dollars are spent on healthcare in the USA, yet we don’t have the best outcomes although we have some of the best medical resources. He believes the healthcare system in the USA needs to incentivize insurers and healthcare practitioners based on positive health outcomes versus inputs like the number of procedures, office visits, or prescriptions filled.
“The technology breakthroughs taking place today in the biopharmaceutical and medical fields is amazing,” said George. “We must find ways to better use our large data sets and artificial intelligence to determine the most appropriate treatments for patients.” He followed up with stating that promoting a healthier population will help to ultimately lower healthcare costs.
He believes that better innovation, collaboration, and integration across the healthcare field is needed to both advance healthcare and lower costs. He sees Georgia Tech as a leader in analyzing large medical data sets to uncover better treatment options, and the strong relationship between Georgia Tech engineering and Emory University’s medical resources to develop tomorrow’s new treatments and medical technologies.
The most important thing that George believes is needed, is the “creation of better innovation leaders in the field of biomedicine that inspire teams and create goals with a shared, overriding mission and vision.” Such a leader needs to be “authentic and real” according to George. Someone who can bring people together, inspire, lead, and empower people around a shared vision. A second characteristic needed is high emotional intelligence, a high IQ is not enough. “Passion, compassion, and empathy,” is needed in a leader. The third characteristic needed is courage. Leaders need to be able to tackle difficult problems and accept responsibility knowing that failure can occur and that you can learn from failure, but you also need to be able to lift your team after a failure to tackle the next set of challenges. Failure may not be the result of team performance, but a failure of not understanding the problem well enough.
George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and board chair from 1996-2002. Earlier in his career, he was a senior executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries and served in the U.S. Department of Defense. He currently serves as a director of Goldman Sachs and recently served on the boards of ExxonMobil, Novartis, Target Corporation, Minnesota’s Destination Medical Center Corporation and the World Economic Forum USA. He is currently a senior fellow at Harvard University and a trustee of the Mayo Clinic and has served as board chair for Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities, and Advamed.
He received his Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar, and honorary Ph.D.s from Georgia Tech, Mayo Medical School, University of St. Thomas, Augsburg College and Bryant University.