Today, he’s GE Healthcare’s President and CEO for ASEAN, Korea and ANZ, but Rob Walton’s first role in GE Healthcare was overseeing the global respiratory care business. In this role, he took on a loss-making P&L and during his tenure he restructured the business to deliver positive margins and growth, while developing the next generation of advanced life-support ventilation products.
But one of the most impactful experiences of this role involved a lot of time visiting ICUs, clinicians and patients in extremely ill health. The experience had a lasting impact on him, to say the least.
"When you first observe a patient in a critical condition, intubated and receiving mechanical ventilation, and you see that the main thing that’s keeping them alive is your product, then it really hits home how important the work at GE Healthcare is, in terms of all the efforts put in by our teams in engineering, manufacturing, installation, service applications and many more functions throughout the company," Rob says.
"All of that comes into sharp focus when you realise that, if we are not doing what we need to do to the right standard, then it’s somebody’s life at the end of that, and you realise how important our products are in providing health care to the population. We have a really dedicated and talented group of people in GE Healthcare who understand this and know that every single day their mission is to develop the best-in-class healthcare products and deliver best-in-class service to healthcare professionals and providers around the world."
Rob believes it’s important for the whole team to have this experience, to see how GE Healthcare’s products and services are used, whether they’re the engineers, the sales professionals or the applications team.
Each of these groups in the region is exposed to patients on a day-to-day basis, and has a good understanding of exactly what customers need. GE Healthcare is standing at a particularly pivotal moment in time, given that this year has been defined by COVID-19.
The crisis means ventilators, CT machines and other products of the company are in huge demand, and GE Healthcare’s commitment to health care is equally necessary. "The key thing is to focus on supporting the customers," Rob says.
"As a healthcare provider, we are supporting the front line. "We have a lot of customers who require our support, and we need to maintain our absolute focus on looking after them and making sure their needs are taken care of, because the pressure on the healthcare system increases in these situations. Every member of our team, from the front line to the back office, is critical in ensuring a smooth experience for our customers."
Rob’s role is also made challenging due to the region’s diversity. He was previously based in the UK (still in a global role), before moving to Singapore to oversee the ASEAN, Korea and ANZ regions.
This was a much larger responsibility – besides adapting to the culture, language, food and customs, he now had to oversee wealthy countries such as Korea and Australia, while also looking after developing nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
"One of the things I’ve tried to do as the leader is to try and figure out the common themes that exist across the region," Rob explains. "We have very different markets and very different healthcare systems, but there are also a lot of similar things. We sell similar products and our customers often use the products in similar ways to treat similar diseases, so there are some things that are consistent across the region.
"Equally, the different markets, whether that’s Australia, Korea, Singapore or Cambodia, have unique challenges and unique healthcare systems. Really, the challenges and opportunities are to identify the best practices and the consistencies across the region, and where we can learn from each other and grow together while also maintaining and preserving those unique differences that exist within each market."
GE Healthcare has worked to offer a broad range of medical products and services that address each of the needs of this region. Rob says the company can tailor its solutions to the needs of a local market, whether in a developing or developed nation.
The company’s offerings include various scanning equipment (CT, MRI and ultrasound), respiratory equipment and more, while also offering support services to health professionals.
These products and services are continually being enhanced by the digital revolution, including AI, which is helping with the increase in patient demands, staff shortages and rising costs.
As an example, GE Healthcare has launched an AI platform called Edison, designed to improve workflow efficiency to support frontline medical staff. An MRI machine, known as AIRx, uses a deep-learning algorithm to make MRI scans more time-effective and accurate.
It’s unsurprising therefore that Rob joined GE Healthcare, since his move into the company came by way of engineering and operations, as well as strategy consulting in consumer industries.
Communication is key too, ensuring that the messages we deliver to the teams are consistent, simple and clear.
Eventually, he joined the health manufacturer thanks to an interest in the crossover between medicine and engineering, and how the two can be combined to create positive benefits for health care.
Equally, Rob wanted more meaning and purpose from his work, and that was something GE Healthcare could provide. As a leader, Rob offered just as much to GE Healthcare as the role offered him.
"One of the things I’ve always been fairly good at is developing clarity where there’s ambiguity, and identifying and setting clear priorities for the overall organisation around what we’re trying to achieve and why," he says.
Obviously, this has to be constantly revisited and refined as the market and situation changes. "Communication is key too, ensuring that the messages we deliver to the teams are consistent, simple and clear," he says. "They’re crucial to driving engagement, and having people understand what the mission is, and then being motivated to deliver."
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