Executive Recruitment for the Medical Device, Diagnostic and Biotech Industries
Funding for StartUp Venture
Strategic Alliances

Preparing for Opportunities

As Device Industry Evolves in a Soft Economy,
Are You Prepared for Unforeseen Opportunities?

While the U.S. economy searches for sound footing, the labor market remains murky. With the unemployment rate nationwide hovering around 5%, many companies are consolidating their workforces to generate higher profit margins through personnel cutbacks and focused R&D efforts. Underemployment has become a struggle for many workers, so medical device professionals must concisely target their job searches and tailor their resumes to attain the best results.

After decades of experience recruiting top-flight professionals for medical device and healthcare companies, I have seen a cyclical contraction and expansion in the job marketplace. Today’s medical job market challenges have changed immeasurably since the disaster of September 11, but in actuality there had been a downward spiral in job opportunities since January 2001.

I founded Kuhn Med-Tech, Inc. in 1979 as a full service recruiting firm in the medical industry, specializing in the medical device, biotech and pharmaceutical fields. We have assisted entrepreneurial to large companies with all their hiring needs in the areas of R&D, manufacturing, engineering, marketing and sales, senior management, regulatory/clinical affairs and quality.

Since the discovery of minimally invasive products in the early 1980s, innovative medical devices have flooded the healthcare marketplace, resulting in shorter hospital stays, less pain, faster recovery time, less scarring, improved medical instruments, quicker return to the workplace and tremendous cost savings to both the insurance companies and the patients.

Every 4-5 years new trends emerge in medical procedures. In the 1980s, the hot button was catheters for heart procedures, especially angioplasty (balloons and lasers). In the 1990s, the key developments were in electro-physiology, stents, radiation, RF devices for shrinking tissue involving sleep apnea, urology, OB-GYN and arthroscopy. Today’s efforts are focused on furthering past technologies, including stents coated with various drugs that release medication into surrounding tissues to reduce restenosis, more ergonomic surgical instruments and even robots that perform surgery. There are several companies developing non-invasive and remote techniques for measurements (heart, blood pressure and respiration) that previously required invasive procedures or bulky apparatus. Also, new companies are developing products to not only diagnose diseases but target devices for therapeutic purposes.

The medical marketplace and how investors receive potential returns on their investments have radically changed during the past 20 years as well. Among those changes are restructuring incentive plans to attract the most productive employees.


Job market trends may come and go, but one thing is key to furthering your career: being prepared.

Until the early 1990s, new healthcare companies adopted an exit strategy of either going public, merging with leading medical companies such as Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, Johnson and  Johnson or Boston Scientific, or creating revenue for dividends.  After a few disastrous purchases yielding poor products, a lot of  hype and minimal revenues, premier medical companies began  insisting that their new subsidiaries achieve milestones and earn  outs in order for venture capitalists or angel investors to receive  their full benefits. Around the turn of this century, the IPO market  became stagnant. Emerging companies raised less money to  avoid dilution and focused on fewer R&D projects, narrower approaches, 510(k) products   versus PMAs and FDA approval to generate income to appear more attractive to potential buyers.

In the 1980s, small companies such as Advanced Cardiovascular Systems, now known as Guidant, retained their best employees with large yearly bonuses of up to 35% of salary based on personal performance and company successes. They did so to combat the allure and stability of larger companies. That worked for several years until new start-ups began to lure the best engineers, scientists and leaders with an assortment of incentives, including huge stock options with strike prices a fraction of what the investors paid, vesting periods of 3-5 years, cash and stock bonuses and the opportunity to share in the leadership and riches of successful new ventures. At the same time, larger companies began eliminating middle managers, consolidating their operations and reducing staff, thus shaking the stability and attractiveness of larger organizations.

All these changes have created new challenges in today’s job market for top-flight professionals. Some employers still prefer college graduates in mechanical or electronic engineering, especially from institutions such as University of Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State and even regional schools such as California State University San Luis Obispo and Pomona. Lowell Institute of Technology is still the leader in plastics engineering. Ph.D.s from Ivy League schools are still coveted for research positions. MBA grads from Wharton, Stanford, USC and UCLA are highly sought after as well.

As device OEMs shift more from a manufacturing to marketing focus, the labor demand will change as well. In this era of outsourced manufacturing, OEMs may rely more heavily on market specialists and less on engineers and manufacturing talent. By the same token, the growth of contract manufacturing means more opportunities for technical and manufacturing workers at CM firms.

To start-up company executives seeking no-nonsense, well-schooled technical professionals, these graduates offer the ability to quickly develop and market products. On the other hand, recent graduates would do well to obtain a position with corporate medical market leaders and learn to develop a product from concept to launch by utilizing proper and essential methods to deliver on-time, effective devices to the market.

The hottest regions for medical device development are Silicon Valley and San Francisco in northern California, Orange and San Diego counties in southern California, Medical Device Alley in Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Northeast Corridor that includes Boston, New Jersey and Connecticut. Secondarily, medical device companies have sprouted in Texas, Colorado and Arizona due to the lower cost of living.

While job market trends may come and go, one thing is key to furthering your career: when an opportunity arises, be ready to act immediately. Being prepared is a top priority. Whether you are actively seeking a new position or an executive recruiter or professional colleague seeks you out, there are several steps to investigating each new possibility.

Start with a positive attitude, as it is paramount to your success. Prospective employers are looking to weed out malcontents through red flags. Until an offer is made and accepted, the leverage is always with the hiring company. No matter how valuable you think you are, if you don’t receive an offer your feelings are moot. Seek challenging opportunities to match your skills and provide ownership or upward mobility with growth potential. In this new era, jobs do not last a lifetime, and some are not styled for careers, as they may be more project-oriented. Companies, technologies and marketplaces will change often. Executive positions last an average of three years, so expanding your skills to the next level is not only appropriate but makes good sense.