Spotlight: Rod Young, Former CEO of CyberHeart and Mentor

A seasoned medtech entrepreneur and executive, Rod Young has seen the industry from a variety of perspectives – as a division leader and eventually president of sizable companies; as an advisor and board member; and as an entrepreneur who founded, launched, took public and then sold medtech startups.

And as in the case with most luminaries in the industry, his career brought him into contact with Dr. Fogarty early on, and for the past 20 years, their paths have intertwined throughout numerous companies.

Pursuing a passion in medical devices

Early in his career, Rod was named CFO of Raychem, a company that became one of the world’s largest producers of industrial components. He later opted to run one of Raychem’s divisions and eventually spearheaded its industrial group, which consisted of three divisions and two venture projects.

But it wasn’t long before he got a taste of the opportunities in the healthcare market. Intrigued by the medical field, he joined Diasonics Inc., where he was hired to run the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) business unit, which at the time was an exciting new field aiming to improve how physicians looked at soft tissue.

“Working on this important and novel technology that was making such a positive impact on patients is where I first fell in love with the industry,” Rod says. “And I enjoyed working in a relatively younger company that almost felt like a startup.”

The company was later successfully sold to Toshiba America Medical Systems, where Rod ran the MRI division before eventually returning to Diasonics in the larger role of company president and COO. He later became CEO of Focus Surgery, a company that spun out of Diasonics to become a pioneer in developing and commercializing products using high-intensity-focused ultrasound to treat prostate diseases. There he had another opportunity to develop an important, innovative and non-invasive technology that promised to greatly improve patient care.

A long-term partnership with Dr. Fogarty 

Rod’s next move was what first brought him into contact with Dr. Fogarty as he became the CEO and later the chairman of General Surgical Innovations (GSI). The company developed, manufactured and distributed balloon-dissection devices used in minimally invasive surgical procedures — technology that was initially developed by the Fogarty Engineering team.

After successfully growing GSI, Rod led the company through an initial public offering at a high valuation, successfully selling it to Tyco International. More success followed when he co-founded and led Vivant Medical as president and CEO. The company, which focused on the design, development and manufacturing of a microwave ablation system to treat tumors, was again successfully acquired by Tyco International.

Rod then became a venture partner at Three Arch Partners, parlaying his expertise from his many years on the “other side” into an advisory capacity for the companies in which the firm invested, often sitting on their boards. These early-stage VC-backed companies certainly benefitted from his extensive operations and business background, but Rod never lost the startup bug.

During this time, he helped co-found and launch CyberHeart with Dr. Fogarty; he eventually left Three Arch Partners to become its CEO and help guide it in its mission to find a better, non-invasive way to treat cardiac arrhythmias, which affect 2.5 million Americans. Through perseverance and bolstered by a host of studies that yielded impressive outcomes, CyberHeart was eventually acquired by Varian Medical Systems.

Following the sale of CyberHeart, Rod is looking forward to taking on a role as a mentor or advisor to help entrepreneurs grow and launch their medical device companies.

Paying it forward with valuable advice

Rod appreciates the chance to share the valuable advice that he received throughout the years with today’s early-stage entrepreneurs.

First, he says, focus on patients’ needs and then find a way to solve the problem. Identifying larger problems is best, he adds, as it is hard to form a viable company addressing smaller challenges. However, even if you believe you developed a breakthrough solution, vet your ideas and/or product with clinicians before you dive in too far developing your technology. “Your device may ultimately not be the best way to solve the problem, but it takes people immersed in treatment protocols to know that,” he says.

Second, it’s critical to create a strong team, favoring trustworthy people who believe in collaboration and innovation. And check your ego at the door; one of the keys to building and launching a successful company is to not be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you.

Finally, do what you enjoy, and success will follow. “I appreciated hearing this advice as I tried different paths,” he says, explaining that his gradual pivot from large companies to smaller startups prompted the realization that he preferred working with smaller teams.

Outside of work, Rod enjoys spending time with his grandchildren and wife, Charlotte, an oncologist at Stanford. Drawing on his childhood roots on an Oregon farm, he enjoys gardening – but his competitive spirit is still very much alive. In fact, his favorite activity is playing in a basketball league, where he still competes with former high school and college teammates on the “East Bank Saloon Team.” His competitions have taken him around the world to play in tournaments in Chile, Italy, France, Brazil, Finland and other countries. “It’s a great way to spend time with my wife and friends, see new places and try to stay in shape,” Rod says, adding that you might find him participating in pick-up games at the Palo Alto YMCA.

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