At BD, innovation is our lifeblood. Each year, we’re proud to recognize individuals whose achievements in technology and innovation significantly contribute to how we can impact healthcare through the Wesley J. Howe Award for Technological Innovation. Named in honor of Wesley J. or “Jack” Howe, as he was known to associates through his more than 40 years with BD—including a tenure as President and CEO, the award reflects the ideals he exemplified and his legacy of creative excellence in technology.
We asked this year’s winners in the lifetime achievement category—Nestor Rodriguez, Sr. Staff Scientist; Joe Trotter, Sr Principal Scientist; Bob Losada, Sr. Staff Engineer; and Gus Felix, Engineering Fellow—to share some of their motivations, secrets to success and life lessons as they look back over their long, impactful careers.
Why did you choose to work in healthcare?
FELIX: In 1977, I immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the United States with a technical background in ship building and architectural design, and zero experience in medical device design. Ironically, I landed my first job, as an R&D product designer, with BD Drake Willock-Life Support Systems (LSS), located in Sharon MA. The R&D team was focused exclusively on the development of innovative hemodialysis products and accessories. This opportunity to work with a high-performing technical team, gave me an unbelievably intense freshman R&D experience that shaped my love for medical product design and motivated me to commit my career to the healthcare industry.
TROTTER: I was extremely fortunate to start my career at the Salk Institute in the laboratories of the late Nobel Laureates Robert Holly and Renato Dulbecco. In the early 1970s, it was a nearly magical place, and I was inspired and captivated by many exceptional people doing exceptional fundamental work in the biological sciences and medicine. In my years at the Salk Institute and then at the Scripps Research Institute, my passion and focus was designing, building and using instrumentation and software that would help to provide clear answers to scientific questions in single cell analysis. Specifically, I was looking at how to best analyze cell state and separate living cells through flow cytometry. As the industry leader in the field of flow, BD was without question the best place for me to be. At BD, I could leverage my customer insights into how to best fill gaps in instrumentation and software, and my research experience in how to design better tools in order to have the most impact, since most innovations and technologies that emerge as clear winners in basic research find their way into the clinical arena within the healthcare industry.
What innovation(s) are you most proud of and how did/does it impact healthcare?
TROTTER: I am most proud that the BD® LSR II was the first digital multi-laser high-parameter flow cytometer. It helped set the trend for assessing and understanding the immune system by way of high-content antibody panels. I am also proud of the fact the BD Influx™ and BD FACSAria™ cell sorters are used not only in basic research, but also in certain patient treatments, such as Treg therapy in transplantation.
LOSADA: The innovation I am most proud of is the mechanical separator used in the BD Vacutainer® Barricor™ Plasma Tube recently released in Europe. It is a simple, elegant device for blood plasma separation that improves on the plasma sample quality currently being delivered to chemistry analyzers by conventional gel separators. I expect the device to enable broader use of plasma samples over serum and shorten the turnaround time to accurate results for better patient outcomes.
What advice would you give about overcoming periods where innovation was a challenge?
RODRIGUEZ: One success is worth the many trials without good results. Keep pushing your scientific curiosity and challenging yourself. Find inspiration through literature searches, consulting with colleagues and studying new theories and technologies.
TROTTER: Sometimes you’re asked to develop a solution in a particular way; however, that approach may not actually be the best way to solve the problem. It’s important to occasionally back up to fully understand the root problem and the real need, because you might come up with a better solution in the end.
FELIX: Clarity and prioritization of needs is essential to simplifying and advancing the innovation process. Engaging with select end users, such as clinicians, can help you understand individual needs around which to develop targeted solutions. By using this bottom-up method, higher priority user needs become the “must haves” around which you should focus the bulk of your effort. Additionally, engaging your internal team and external consultants around specific problems can be an extremely fruitful approach for “unsticking” innovation and finding multiple unique, creative solutions.
What made BD the kind of company where you’d want to dedicate your life’s work?
LOSADA: I am going on 39 years with BD and have never had a dull moment doing R&D work here. Every day has been exciting and interesting, with different things to do, different places to go and different people to work with. The people and culture at BD are great—everyone cares about working together doing the right thing.
FELIX: I have a total of 41 years of continuous service with BD. While I’ve had multiple offers for other employment opportunities, I’ve stayed with BD, because of the quality of the people, the technical challenge and satisfaction of the work, and the opportunity to continuously develop and innovate by exploring and pursuing product development opportunities in unique medical spaces.
What advice would you give to someone seeking a career in R&D?
RODRIGUEZ: Keep scientific curiosity as your main path, but combine it with accountability and timelines. It is a fascinating and challenging combination not available in academia.
TROTTER: Develop your relevant skill sets, find ways to excel at problem solving, and a good career path will manifest itself.
LOSADA: In R&D, nothing is easy and everything else is difficult. If it was easy, they wouldn’t need R&D. So, find a great place to work, innovate and solve problems that matter; and do it with talented people who care.