Delivering results beyond expectations
Pim Van Wesel (MBA 2002) speaks with the candid honesty of a seasoned leader.
“I would have loved to have become a successful startup founder,” he said. “But I’ve not had a great idea and I’m not hung up over whether I become a founder or not. That’s not something that motivates me.”
His message is clear. Whether you’re a CEO or entrepreneur, what matters most is delivering business performance outcomes. “For me, how much difference you can make is more important,” he said.
“I ‘rolled’ into banking circumstantially”
In today’s complex and interconnected business world, eclectic career paths are increasingly common. Van Wesel’s career story is no different.
Born in the Netherlands and raised in Belgium, he majored in accounting at the University of Antwerp where he obtained a Master of Applied Economics.
He began his career at the banking and financial services company ING. “I ‘rolled’ into banking circumstantially,” he quipped.
But seven years on, he realized that banking was not for him. “It gave me great colleagues, nice intellectual challenges, and fantastic cities to live in,” he said. “But it was not satisfying.”
Van Wesel then considered taking an MBA program to switch his career. He admitted that IMD’s MBA was not on his radar back then.
“[IMD’s] MBA was not the most prominent program then,” he said. “A good friend of mine, who is an IMD alumnus from 2000, told me to come to check out IMD when I expressed my interest in doing an MBA.”
“So I went to visit my friend and the school and felt very much at home there,” he shared. “I liked the fact that people were also more around my age.”
It was at IMD where he also crossed paths with Bill George, a Harvard business school professor and former CEO of medical device company Medtronic.
“I was incredibly fortunate in that the year I did my MBA, Bill George was the executive in residence at IMD, which really crystallized my thinking around medtech,” he said.
His chance encounter with George, coupled with “persistence”, got Van Wesel a foot in the door.
A purpose-driven journey
After he finished his MBA in January 2003, Van Wesel joined Medtronic as a business development manager. He rose through the ranks, and by 2011 he was the company’s senior country director of operations in Belgium.
After leaving Medtronic, he spent the next few years honing his business leadership skills at various medical technology companies, including American multinational BD.
In retrospect, Van Wesel said the MBA did more than facilitate a career switch – it was a career launch pad to enter a new industry, one which gave him a renewed sense of purpose.
“I was looking for something with more value-add to the planet and it felt more purpose-driven,” he said. “I felt like I needed to do something positive for the world, and medtech was an industry that contributed to the world more directly than banking.”
“How do I create an impact that is not just about keeping the boat afloat but making it go somewhere beyond where it is expected?”
Another factor that appealed to him about the medtech industry was the size of its companies – the headcount of medtech firms was in the tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.
“At that time, medtech companies weren’t as large as the big banks. I had earlier come from a bank insurance company ING, which had over 100,000 people back then,” he said.
In 2015, in a serendipitous career move, he landed a job as co-CEO at AMF Medical, a privately-owned medtech Swiss startup that developed a next-generation patch pump for diabetes patients.
“I started advising the then CEO and board on the [company] strategy and helped them with fundraising. After some months, I received an invitation to join as a co-CEO,” he shared.
“My focus was external: the role was around fundraising, bringing the company out of stealth, developing relationships with medical experts, marketing, and business development.”
Unusual leadership structure
While a co-CEO structure was unconventional, it suited Van Wesel who was unfazed by the sharing of power.
“Being CEO or co-CEO, that didn’t matter too much to me. It did not feel like a big point of contention,” he said. “What was more important was having clarity on what my role was in the company, which was to help build the business.”
An effective leader needs to recognize that success does not just come from driving growth but building a dynamic team around them. In particular, they need to find value in alternative perspectives and complementary skills, he added.
“There are too many startups where the CEO likes to be CEO for so long, and you might need different skill sets as the business evolves.”
“Much credit should be given to the founders and their team, who recognize that it’s good to bring in different kinds of people at different stages [of a company’s life cycle],” he said.
At this point, he recalled what his IMD tutor, Professor Robert Hooijberg, said about effective leadership, which is “an ability to deliver results beyond people’s expectations”.
Van Wesel reiterated that view and said it is important for business leaders to constantly reflect by asking themselves: “In the business context, how do I go beyond meeting expectations? How do I create an impact that is not just about keeping the boat afloat but making it go somewhere beyond where it is expected?”
Based on what he has achieved, Van Wesel seems to have mastered this leadership mantra. Most recently, US medical device manufacturer, Tandem Diabetes Care, announced the acquisition of AMF Medical in December 2022, a deal which he was responsible for shepherding.
“It has been a fantastic experience with this journey and with this asset, and if there is any other opportunity to support other startups in similar situations, I’ll definitely do it.”
Three tips on how to prepare your business for a successful exit
- Prepare for “due diligence” from day one, and as you go along. Keep good corporate records, file all your board resolutions properly, maintain a good history and overview of your cap table, etc. This is because when due diligence hits, you have to pull everything together quickly. This can be a lot of work. Be ready for it when it comes, so you don’t need to scramble.
- Hire the best lawyers and investment bank for your business (with deep experience in your industry). It might be a bit more expensive, but it really pays off. Good legal and financial advice helps to build credibility that you know what you are doing, which puts you in a stronger position for negotiation. We had one IP matter, which needed to be clarified, and just having a good IP lawyer by your side to help everybody get aligned was important. Similarly, the investment bank helped creatively bridge valuation expectations.
- Be honest about whether your intent to exit is the business goal (make a quick buck) or part of the strategy (to get to your business goal). At AMF Medical, it was part of the strategy. We wanted to develop a great product, but we weren’t keen to build another large commercial organization to bring the product to market, because it is not what people with diabetes need and it’s a lot of heavy lifting. With that clearly in mind, we started to make a series of investment and partnering decisions. So whether an exit is a goal in itself or part of the business strategy, think it through, and act accordingly.