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MedTech POV Podcast | BD’s Tom Polen on Lessons Learned During COVID-19: “It Normally Takes Us Three Years … How About 90 Days?”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a wide-ranging discussion on everything from his upbringing in rural Maryland to his elevation to CEO of Becton Dickinson (BD) just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking shape, Tom Polen walks host Scott Whitaker and listeners through the company’s work throughout the pandemic, offering leadership and management lessons, as well as insight into decision-making in times of crisis.

“We set a principle right from the start that we were going to do this and work through this pandemic and the impact it was going to have on the company as a team,” Polen told Whitaker. “We communicated that principle to the organization, that there could be challenging times as we go through this. ‘We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re going to work through this as a team.’ And we did that.”

Polen said he “couldn’t be more proud of the selflessness of our associates [BD refers to all employees as associates] who we certainly consider heroes.” He said that even as so many across the country and world were working from home, that was not an option for a significant portion of BD’s global team, “because patients are going to the hospital, and if we stop coming in to work, we stop [their] care because of the criticality of our devices. [Our associates] were supporting the front-line health-care workers by coming in every day.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Polen recalls meeting with senior BD leaders and scientists to begin development of a Covid-19 test. “We said, ‘Okay, we need to develop this in rapid time.’ We said, ‘How long? It normally takes us three years. Well, when does the world need it?’”

Since “Yesterday” was the answer, the decision became clear: “How about 90 days? Start to launch: 90 days.” 

And so began BD’s race to develop and manufacture tests for a novel virus on a never-before-seen scale. To listen to the full conversation, check out the MedTech POV podcast on Spotify, Apple, or your favorite podcast streaming service. For more information on the podcast and past guests, click here.

The MedTech POV is hosted by Scott Whitaker, President and CEO of AdvaMed, the world’s largest medical technology association. It premiered in April 2021 and has featured medtech and health care policy leaders such as Dr. Steven Hahn and Dr. Jeff Shuren, as well as prominent leaders like General James Mattis. In each episode, guests and host Scott Whitaker cover the intersection of medtech and policy from every perspective, including current issues in business, policy and current events.

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AdvaMed member companies produce the medical devices, diagnostic products and health information systems that are transforming health care through earlier disease detection, less invasive procedures and more effective treatments. AdvaMed members range from the largest to the smallest medical technology innovators and companies. For more information, visit www.advamed.org.