Interview with Al Waterhouse | OWL Cary, NC | OWL

Interview with Al Waterhouse

Outlet: Ophthalmic World Leaders (OWL): Advancing Diversity in Leadership – Blog

Interviewer: OWL

Publication Date: February 2019


Al Waterhouse ~ President & CEO, AcuFocus, Inc. | OWL Champion Member

1 | What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today (in Ophthalmology or in general)?

Despite the quantum leaps in technology, despite the ever-changing regulatory requirements, despite major shifts in the geopolitical environment, and despite the volatility of world capital markets… despite all of that, I believe the biggest challenge facing Med. Device leaders today resides within their own four walls – effectively leading their employees. That’s right! The PEOPLE component of our business is the number one thing we have some influence over and, if done well, can have a huge leveraging effect leading to a competitive advantage and differentiation.

Alfred Sloan, Chairman of General Motors in 1920s, was quoted as saying: “Take all my assets but leave me my organization and in five years, I’ll have it all back”. Sloan knew the true differentiator was in the PEOPLE component, a lesson lost on GM in the years after Sloan. The other components are largely out of our control and are impacting all companies similarly. However, deployment of our human resources rests within our own shop. Organizations that set out with the intention to build a company culture that is rooted in customer focus and employee centric key values have the potential to distinguish themselves. Study after study has shown environments built around such cultural norms as: diversity of thought/perspective, challenging yet attainable goals, empowerment to act, professional development focused, allowing for failure, accountability, and fun – outperform their peer groups in virtually every critical metric. Building a culture with intent is much harder than it looks; that’s why it often happens by default. Leaders focus more on the individual pieces of the business versus the macro-environment. I think it’s worth the effort AND it’s still our biggest challenge.

2 | What is the best Advice your mentors gave you early in your career?

The single best piece of advice I got early in my career came from my most trusted mentor, my father. He had never been an Executive but I remember his words of advice: “When making decisions that impact people’s lives, make sure you approach it in such a way that you can comfortably look them in the eye and know you did the right thing”.

I’ve been SO fortunate to work for some of our greatest business leaders inside of Healthcare, Medical Device, and Ophthalmology specifically. I’ve tried to learn much from each of these special leaders: Ron Taylor/CEO Pyxis, Bob Walter/Founder & CEO Cardinal Health, Jim Mazzo/Chairman AMO & AcuFocus, Bill Link/World-Class Venture Capitalist. The common thread that weaves through each of these great leaders is their absolute and laser-like focus on the customer and/or patient. Their insistence on truly knowing the customer by being in their environment and witnessing their product or their competitor’s product in use. Additionally, each of these leaders placed hiring the “right” talent at the top of the priority list to help create value within the company.

3 | What advice would you give to someone taking a leadership role for the first time?

  • Hire THE BEST people and let them do their job.
  • Listen.
  • Trust your instincts when action is required. (I can trace my biggest regrets back to NOT trusting my instincts when it was most needed).
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  • Having fun and winning in the marketplace shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Build an environment where people feel part of something special.

4 | Can you share with us how OWL has helped you and/or your organization?

As I mentioned, PEOPLE are the key component for me. OWL fosters diversity of leadership and professional development opportunities, all of which are focused on us being the “best us”, we can be. OWL does it in such a way that it challenges the status quo and forces some introspection. Obviously, those focal points are squarely pointed at the heart of our biggest challenges and issues as leaders, the PEOPLE component. I’m very grateful for an organization such as OWL and its role within Ophthalmology to assure our industry is on the cutting edge with respect to leadership.

Lead on OWL!