Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
24 October 2018
The medical world loses a true pioneer: Earl Bakken
If you have a pacemaker or know someone who does, you can thank Earl Bakken. Mr. Bakken, who invented the first modern pacemaker in the late 1950’s, died earlier this week. He was 94.
From an early age, Earl Bakken was fascinated by electricity. He was amazed by what it did in Frankenstein. As a child, he created a phone system and built a five-foot tall robot that could speak.
After serving in WW II, Bakken earned a degree in electrical engineering. It was at graduate school where his first connections to medicine were made.
Earl Bakken worked with medical equipment, developing relationships with many doctors. At the time, if someone’s heart required pacing, the only option was hooking a patient up to a machine. Unfortunately, during a blackout, an infant died. Bakken, working with another pioneer of medicine, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, the father of open heart surgery, developed a pacing device that did not require being plugged in.
Earl Bakken founded medical device giant Medtronic, transforming it from a medical equipment servicing company to a medical technology company, now the largest in the world.
“The vision of Earl Bakken of alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life continuously pushes Medtronic.”
Earl Bakken was more than just about great products
While his pacemaker is a marvel, his greatest accomplishment was the change he wrought. For Earl Bakken, it was never about creating a company and making money. He took a much more humanist approach. For him, medicine should be about, “alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life.” The mission statement he wrote shortly after creating his pacemaker reflects that sentiment.
This is what has driven and continues to drive Medtronic, a company I have been proud to work closely with for many, many years. Yes, in the spirit of disclosure, Stealing Share conducts many projects for Medtronic.
In fact, we at Stealing Share talk a lot about category table stakes. These are the bare minimums a company must have to compete in a given category. Fast service is a table stake for the fast food industry. Safety serves as one for the automotive industry.
For the medical device category, what Medtronic does sets the table stakes. The entire category tries to outdo Medtronic.
The vision of Earl Bakken of alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life continuously pushes Medtronic. Helping it expand what those category table stakes should be. It is never about product. Products are simply a means to accomplish Bakken’s vision. It is that understanding, not the modern day pacemaker, that propels the company Bakken started more than a half-century ago into the global leader it is today.
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