By the age of fifteen, she successfully ran her first two companies, and after five years working at Apple, she decided to make her next job a true family affair – by joining her husband’s family’s business. A while ago, I meet up with Jodie Gilmore, the CEO and Managing Director at Onyx Medical, to have a nice chat about entrepreneurship, the medtech industry, and life in general.
Hi, Jodie! Onyx Medical was founded in the nineties. How did it all start?
The company was acquired by my husband Patrick’s parents, Laraine and Roger Gilmore. They were entrepreneurs and had an agricultural chemical formulation and manufacturing business, which they sold to a company in Austria. They were looking to invest in a new business, and since they had lived in Memphis, Tennessee for many years raising a family, they wanted to invest in a business in Memphis that would employ people and make an impact on the community. So they acquired, what at that time could only be considered a faltering medical device manufacturing business, and proceeded into trying to resurrect it. They successfully stabilized it, and then they started looking at establishing a stronger foundation for the business, from which Onyx grew.
And so, you and your husband got involved?
Yes, Roger and Laraine were both excellent entrepreneurs. But they didn’t necessarily have the technical, engineering and manufacturing skills that were needed in the business, which Patrick had. And they didn’t also have the strategy and business acumen from a sales and marketing perspective, which I had. So after several years working as unofficial consultants to Roger and Laraine, Patrick and I decided to join Onyx.
I am curious about your background, what did you do previously?
I was born in Washington, DC, and later moved to Alaska. I grew up in a family dedicated to civil service in the military or federal government. As a child, I always dreamt of becoming a business executive. Thanks to a thriving Junior Achievement program I incorporated and successfully ran my first two companies by the age of fifteen. I started at the University of Texas at age sixteen and was the first person in my family to graduate from college. After graduation, I was recruited by Apple and worked there for five years working my way up from service and support operations to a global product manager role at the corporate headquarters until I decided to join Onyx together with Patrick.
It seems like your background is all business! What made you leave Apple for Onyx?
At first, it was not appealing to me, or Patrick, at all, as we both had dream jobs. I was working at Apple and Patrick was working at the design and innovation consulting firm IDEO. But, even if it meant leaving behind hard earned careers, joining the family business was an exciting prospect to us. The opportunity to be involved in a smaller business, where we would have more direct impact on the ability to drive and guide the company, and be more directly involved in the successes as well as failures of the company, was very appealing. And we seemed to have just the right skill-set.
As CEO and Managing Director, what is your strategy?
When I first joined the company as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, we focused a lot on trying to understand the market and the customers’ needs. One year later, I wrote our first ten-year plan and ultimately decided that we were going to be a focused specialist with superlative technical competence and high quality products. The strategy was to pick something that we could do extremely well, stay focused on that, and earn a reputation of being the best. I am convinced that if we keep it simple and quietly work behind the scenes, keep pace with market demands and advance our technology, provide a seamless supply chain and always think long term, we will keep our customers happy. To me, it is not just about winning one project. It is about what the journey will be to us and our customers in the long run.
That makes sense. What is your primary area of expertise, you would say?
I am a person who is very interested in a lot of things and I always want to learn more. I am a constant student and enthusiastic about the subjects that I study. So from that perspective, I am a very engaged person. I am engaged in our customers and our conversations. Patrick says, that I am able to take a very big idea, or a lot of complex things, and dissolve them down into something that seems very simple and straightforward. I like to look at the bigger picture and try to see what it really means, dissolve it down to the very simplest state: What are we trying to do and why? I am also a person of action. I do not only like to talk, I like to do things. We can sit around in a room and talk all we want about this grand plan, but at the end of the day, somebody has to be willing to act on it and take the responsibility – and I will raise my hand!
You are a doer, for sure! What part of your job do you find the most exciting?
Bringing together a diverse group of individuals tasked with the collective goal of creating a successful business and then achieving this goal together is truly thrilling. Even more meaningful is being involved in something that makes a positive impact on the lives of tens and thousands of people, both near and far. This is what motivates me each and every day.
Talking about motivation, what is your greatest passion – both in business and life?
I like to try new things, and I like people. I introduce myself to random people as I go along. I meet the most interesting people on planes! Every plane I am on I will engage somebody in a conversation – and they all have an interesting story to tell. I always feel like every day you are on this earth and taking a breath, you have the opportunity to learn something new, do something different, be the person that you want to be, and make the changes you want to see in the world. I think this is really important to remember, always – whether it is in your personal life or your business life. I am also fascinated by everyday life around me. The wonderful things I see in nature, technology advances, and the general fascination of thinking about what the future may hold.
When you do not work on business strategies or have interesting conversations with strangers on planes, what do you do?
Weekends are all about family, errands and recharging the batteries. You will find me at a soccer or volleyball game, riding bikes, cooking or playing in the pool!