An Interview with Thomas Looby
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Thomas Looby: My Team and I were able to get our company listed on NASDAQ and were asked to ring the closing bell. In itself, this wasn’t a big accomplishment. But it represents for me a milestone that signified how far we had come in such a short time. Just a couple of years prior, our company hadn’t achieved an FDA clearance and our novel technology wasn’t yet trusted by hospitals. Through great teamwork, we righted the ship and started a path to growth. I asked our Board of Directors, Founders, and local customers to join the ceremony. It was a great event.
Name a tool you use for work that you can’t live without.
Thomas Looby: Boring answer alert: my phone. As a manager of Teams, there is nothing else that comes close in utility for keeping Teams aligned and updated through shorthand messages and quick calls. I remember being one of the first to get a Blackberry in my company. It allowed me to be productive in long meetings while those without that technology had to boot up and catch up on communications after the fact. With the ubiquity of the technology now, it is a level playing field.
What is your favorite hobby and why?
Thomas Looby: Running. I can’t probably articulate anything that hasn’t already been written a thousand times about running — except to say that so much of it is right. Specifically, I think that running is almost as much about mental health as it is about physical health. It helps me clear my head. Even without consciously working on a problem, it often seems that I arrive at a path forward at the end of a long run.
What excited you the most about your industry right now?
Thomas Looby: There are so many exciting advances in medical device technology. There has been for quite awhile. But it seems that there is an acceleration at the moment. Moreso, it is great to see the ecosystem or network effect whereby different technologies can contribute to an improved outcome or simply an improved picture of someone’s overall health. The advances in AI and other learning systems will continue to support this acceleration.
What concerns you most about your industry right now?
Thomas Looby: There are so many interesting medical technologies out there. But having looked at hundreds of them, I am struck by a consistent problem: Many of them will not become a successful business. And it isn’t always because the technology isn’t important. It is because many start-ups will burn out faster than they can reach critical milestones because they focus on the wrong things. I often hear from these companies, ‘We are better than the standard of care’. I think this is a great and necessary attitude to be sure. But it is also important to understand that ‘standard of care’ has been vetted and pressure tested by numerous processes over a long period of time. It is best to be absolutely focused on the critical things necessary at each stage of development to change what is currently being done.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Thomas Looby: Early in my career, I was bored. I approached the CEO of my company and told him that he could probably get more work out of me. About six months later he asked if I would manage a large project that the company had taken on. I was in the marketing department at the time. This project was problematic in that the company had quoted 18 months for the delivery of machines that hadn’t even been fully engineered yet but, ultimately agreed to a 5 month timeline. It also involved every aspect of the company. We successfully delivered on time and on spec. And along the way, I had a much deeper understanding about how each function fits with one another as well as how to manage teams that don’t directly report to me. I also think it was an important inflection point for my career.
Name one small habit that positively impacts your productivity.
Thomas Looby: As a CEO, I have often gotten the question ‘What is the one thing that you need to do in order to achieve success for the business?’ I understand the intent of such a question. But it is never one thing in isolation. To use a couple of common analogies, it is more like directing the symphony instead of playing the solo — or changing the engine while flying the plane. But there really are times when there is something that requires singleminded focus. When this is needed, I turn off notifications on my phone and watch, put some headphones on (Electronic Chill Music is best for this), and plug away at this one thing until it is done.
What tips do you have for getting a seat at the table?
Thomas Looby: Just not be afraid. So many young professionals see the world through the lens of inferiority. They see older, perceived-to-be wiser, more established colleagues and feel like they might not have much to contribute. Or perhaps they are working for a smaller company and have the feeling that engaging a big brand-named company to be beyond them because the Google’s of the world only hire geniuses, right? But the fact is, if you have the conviction that you have something to contribute, have no fear to proactively pursue a seat at the table. And then, make the most of it by preparing and contributing.
What book has made the biggest impact on your life?
Thomas Looby: When I was in my twenties, I read a lot of business books to supplement what I was learning in Business School. I think the book that most informs how I look at building a business is Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’. Perhaps it just came at the right time in my career development. But from time to time, I do look back at this book and see how relevant the topics are today. For example, as I work to build great teams, I think about getting the right people ‘on the bus’ and then finding out where everyone should sit. I also aspire for what Collins calls a ‘Level 5 Leader’. If I had to choose a runner up, I would choose something like the Balanced Scorecard/Strategy Map work of Kaplan and Norton. I have found it useful as an alignment tool for large and small businesses.
What would you consider to be the perfect day?
Thomas Looby: The kids are healthy and happy. The flight is on time. The Team is functioning at a high level — treating each other with respect and openness. My computer doesn’t get any viruses. I find a little time to run. There are no pandemics but, as a world, we understand better ways to address them if they should occur. The sales report beats our most optimistic plan. This would be a pretty good day.
Originally published on Thomas Looby’s website.