Key insights and takeaways from some of our most accomplished innovators—the 2021 Howe Lifetime Achievement Award winners
At BD, innovation is our lifeblood. Each year, we’re proud to recognize individuals whose achievements in technology and innovation significantly contribute to healthcare through the Wesley J. Howe Awards for Science and Technology. These awards, named in honor of Wesley J. or “Jack” Howe, whose 40-year tenure with BD included his leadership as President and CEO, reflect the ideals he exemplified and his legacy of creative excellence and execution in breakthrough technologies.
We asked this year’s winners in the lifetime achievement category—Bob Armstrong, Senior Staff Engineer – Systems; Anita Bestelmeyer, Senior Director – CAE; Karen Kullas, Staff Engineer; Scott Randall, Senior R&D Director; Alan Stall, Senior Principal Scientist—to share some of their motivations, secrets to success and life lessons as they look back over their long, impactful careers.
What made you want to work in MedTech?
KULLAS: As a child, my parents shared with me their experiences in the medical field during and after World War II. My dad was a 1st Lieutenant Medic in the U.S. Army during the war and then served as a police officer and went through on the job training for responding to medical emergencies. He used to show me his medical kit and describe how he performed enucleations and laparotomies on wounded servicemen. My mother also served in WWII as a registered nurse for the Women’s Army Corp and then worked in our local hospital’s Maternity Department. I met several patients for whom she helped deliver babies, and they shared stories about the important role my mother had during delivery. I also helped sterilize the glass BD syringes and stainless-steel needles my mom used to administer allergy shots to local police officers. From that early age, being able to help in the medical field filled me with a sense of worthiness and gratitude.
RANDALL: I stumbled into MedTech while looking for a job and, in working at BD, I fell in love with how the products we develop impact customers. Visiting operating rooms and seeing the benefit firsthand has kept me motivated and driven to stay in this field for the past 28 years. Working with like-minded people has kept this job interesting. For me, it’s never felt like work, but more of a mission.
STALL: As a working research scientist, flow cytometry was essential to my research. In fact, it remains one of the most critical technologies for all immunologically related basic and medical research. When I was doing my experiments, I would wish for the instruments to have different options or for better reagents. Working at BD gave me the opportunity to actually help make the advances I wanted as a customer and impact the research of hundreds of scientists. There’s nothing more satisfying than delighting a customer.
ARMSTRONG: In 1990, when I was considering another job, I learned that BD had a software department and a very good reputation in the healthcare field. Once I started working there, I quickly discovered why I should have pursued a job in the healthcare field from the start. I have had a wonderful and meaningful career with BD and have had the honor to work on many worthwhile projects and with many outstanding people.
What made BD the kind of company where you’d want to dedicate your life’s work?
RANDALL: At medical companies like BD, we get to see more quick diagnosis leading to treatment, the lives saved and, the quality-of-life improvements, and the limbs that are not amputated in the patients we serve with the products we develop. All this while working in a company that encourages people to excel at what they are good at, coaches and trains where there are growth opportunities, and has a work environment where cross-functional teams are all working to a common goal.
BESTELMEYER: The best thing about working at BD is the opportunity to do what I love, with a good work-life balance and surrounded by a diverse group of people who are passionate about using innovative technology to make a difference in healthcare. When I took over as manager of the computer-aided engineering (CAE) group in 2001, there were only three engineers in the team—all women. Today, we’ve grown to 60+ people. This incredibly talented team has integrated leading technologies, such as injection-molding simulation; VR/AR for BD customer applications; CT & Imaging capabilities to provide teams with valuable insight; 3D printing, machining, and concept molding that enables quick iterations during product development and even low-volume production; and physics-based simulation and material characterization to virtually evaluate and optimize our products and ensure that we predict real-world behavior.
ARMSTRONG: Developing tools for the healthcare field is very rewarding in itself. Knowing how our instruments help healthcare workers to help their patients has made me realize that my part of the process is significant and valued. The people I have worked with and innovated with over the years at BD have been inspiring, supportive, challenging, as well as being good friends. Every supervisor I have worked with at BD has given me the freedom to find the assignments that interested me and were important to an ongoing project. I have felt challenged by the work and appreciated for my efforts.
KULLAS: It has been wonderful, working for a smaller team within a larger organization—having a close-knit family of engineers and support staff, with the financial backing of a major corporation. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone helps everyone. Everyone readily jumps in to help on a project and contribute their time and expertise, which in turn helps us get products out the door and into the market very quickly!
STALL: Earlier in my academic career, I was able to work with BD engineers to develop the first five-color cell sorter. Now, my job at BD provides me the opportunity to continually assist and enhance the work of other scientists. The scientists working at BD are world-class leaders in the field. I have great colleagues that always challenge me and offer great collaboration. Being around all these great minds I have seen some of the best innovations coming not through planned innovation programs but through talented, creative people meeting in the hallways talking about problems or asking, “What if”.
How have you seen innovation shift over your tenure at BD?
BESTELMEYER: In my 30 years, BD has delivered transformative changes that have impacted the healthcare industry, such as leading a movement for healthcare worker safety. BD was an early mover into the digital space with intelligent, connected solutions. These data generation, analytics, and mining capabilities will be even more essential in the future as we look to empower the smart, connected hospital, improve outcomes for those with chronic diseases, such as end-stage kidney disease, and enable the shift of care outside the hospital into new settings—such as retail pharmacies, ambulatory surgery centers, and even the home. I am excited about how leveraging and developing innovative technologies in these new opportunities will help BD drive the next breakthrough solutions.
STALL: These are very exciting times, as we are currently riding a crest of innovation in all aspects of the solutions we provide scientists, from instrumentation to dyes to multiomics/genomics and software. These technologies will push the level and quality of the science our customers engage in and the discoveries they can make.
What advice would you give your childhood self about a career in MedTech innovation?
STALL: First, always find a job doing what you are passionate about and love doing. Second, surround yourself with the best mentors and colleagues. Third, be flexible and willing to take on opportunities and challenges outside your comfort zone.
BESTELMEYER: I would tell my childhood self to follow your passions, be open to new experiences, and ultimately find something that really speaks to you. I had a roundabout path into the medical industry, but when I took a role, I knew it was where I wanted to stay during my career.
KULLAS: MedTech Innovation is the place to be, it always has been, and always will be. MedTech innovation allows you to keep your mind active, creatively, and develop medical devices that can and will change the clinical outcome.
RANDALL: As a child I wanted to be an auto mechanic and didn’t know anything about engineering fields or MedTech, so I would tell my childhood self to open my eyes to broader possibilities. Instead of trying to make a car or motorcycle go faster, think about how to make it easier for grandma to walk.
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