From rugged outwear to groundbreaking medical devices, W. L. Gore & Associates, a diversified material science company, serves virtually every industry you can think of.
That creativity of application can only be built by one thing – a focus on innovation.
That’s why Stanford Biodesign was delighted to welcome president and CEO Jason Field to the most recent “From the Innovator’s Workbench,” held in honor of the late Tracy Lefteroff, former Fogarty Institute board member and global managing partner of Venture Capital Industry Services and National Life Sciences at PwC. The event was co-sponsored by FII and moderated by David Cassak, co-editor-in-chief and managing partner of the Medtech Strategist.
Best known by consumers for its Gore-Tex fabric, the company has long been a proponent of using innovation to devise products for a variety of markets where Gore can make a positive impact on society. That has led to such diverse developments as clothing suitable for expeditions to Mt. Everest, to electronic cables that transmit signals from Mars, to therapeutic solutions and medical devices.
Important discovery yields untapped markets
During the discussion, Jason outlined Gore’s fascinating history as it evolved from its founders Bill and Vieve Gore, who started the company in the basement of their home in 1958. Bill, a former DuPont employee, was focused on exploring the potential of the polymer polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, to develop a technology that was initially used for plumber’s tape and later evolved to serve the electronic products market.
Eleven years after the company was founded, their son Bob Gore discovered that PTFE could be stretched and expanded, which made the polymer highly porous and extremely versatile. This revelation opened new doors for the company, which realized it had applicability far and wide – eventually being used in medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, oil and gas, aerospace, automotive, mobile electronics, music, textile and semiconductor industries.
In light of this discovery, and as Gore expanded into the medical space in the ‘70s, Bill was invited to a meeting of cardiac surgeons, where he approached the medical community to see whether Gore’s technology could be used as an implantable graft for vascular disease.
Its effectiveness opened doors to new applications, and today the company is a world leader in membrane technology and implantable medical devices, with more than 45 million implanted worldwide. Its product line includes vascular grafts, endovascular and interventional devices, surgical meshes, sutures and staple line reinforcement materials.
New CEO helps expand vision
Jason, Gore’s current CEO, began his career in the healthcare industry as head veterinarian of Northern Arizona Equine, focusing on sport horses. Many of his clients’ horses were owned by Gore associates, which is how he first learned about the company and its innovative culture.
Based on these positive client interactions, he looked into careers at Gore, and when the opportunity presented itself, he sold his practice and joined the company in an R&D/project management role in 2005. He subsequently pivoted to the business side, taking positions in sales and marketing, and was named CEO in 2018.
When Jason first joined, the vascular graft business was stable, yet plateauing, while the general surgery side of the business was growing, thanks to engagement with companies that offered complementary technology, and a focus on hiring carefully for that expertise.
“What’s special about Gore is our ability to manipulate the microstructure of our technology, thus providing innovative solutions to a wide range of industries,” Jason says. “While we are first and foremost an R&D-driven company, the deep relationships we have developed within the physician community have helped us expand in this industry with products that we know meet an unfilled need.”
Finding success through a unique culture
But innovative products are not enough anymore to make a successful company – and that’s why the culture has always been the cornerstone of Gore’s success. In fact, the company has spent 20 years on the list of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” which earned it a spot as one of the just 12 “Great Place to Work Legends” in 2017, indicating it had appeared in the rankings every year since the list began in 1998.
“We are committed to each other and our customers,” said Jason. “What drives us is our mission to impact society through the use of technology that solves real problems, which will include expanding in current markets, providing meaningful differentiation and bringing value to our customers.”
“Jason’s presentation was incredibly valuable to those who attended the Innovator’s Workshop,” said Andrew Cleeland, CEO of the Fogarty Institute. “The company embodies all the ideals we foster at the Fogarty Institute, from entrepreneurship to teamwork.”