Leah Kidney is one of our valued consultants in Quality. She’s also an ex-Gaelic Football star, keen traveller and aspiring snowboarder. In her spotlight interview, she shares her pathway to a career in MedTech, what she finds most exciting about the industry, and how essentially, everything leads back to a passion for teamwork.
How did you find yourself working in MedTech?
I’ve always found the human body fascinating. As a youngster studying Biology, I thought it was amazing what a cell could do, how the body worked and how it could heal itself. I originally wanted to study medicine to become a doctor, but without the science requirements at the time, this wasn’t possible. I was however, good at maths, and very curious about how things worked – not only from a biological perspective, but also the mechanical side. As a child I always loved puzzles too and found solving problems really satisfying.
I studied Biomedical Engineering in my hometown, at the University of Limerick, Ireland, because the subject was a great combination of physiology / biology, problem solving and engineering. MedTech is also of course a combination of these things.
As part of my degree, I completed a year’s work experience at Boston Scientific, and seen what a hub Galway was for medical device companies. So after my Master’s, it felt like a natural move to relocate to Galway to start my career in medical devices.
What led to relocating from Ireland?
My first role was at Creganna Medical in Galway. At first, I worked on an enterprise partnership project between Creganna and the University of Galway, using short pulse lasers to modify the mechanical properties of polymers. The project was funded for three years, so following this I became a Consultant and Laser Engineer at Creganna. After a year in this role, I side-stepped into design services, developing catheter systems for start-up companies, as well as multinationals like Medtronic and Boston Scientific.
The journey to mainland Europe started after I received a call from a head-hunter asking if I wanted to work overseas. I had a huge interest in travel, and so the prospect of working in Europe was exciting to me. I’ve always had this feeling that when you visit a place on holiday you see what’s set up for tourists – but it’s not until you live and work in a place that you get to see what life there is really like.
I moved to Munich in 2015 to work at Coramaze Technologies. When the company decided to relocate to Israel, I wasn’t ready to leave Europe, and whilst I’d visited Tel Aviv for work and loved the city, I just wouldn’t have been able to deal with those high temperatures every day!
What brought you to Switzerland?
At the time, I had a Swiss partner who suggested a move to Switzerland. Picking up the conversation with an old connection led to an opportunity with PBC BioMed. When Coramaze moved to Tel Aviv, I moved to Switzerland, and became PBC’s person on the ground at a partner consultancy, to develop their European reach.
This was my first consulting experience, and whilst the role didn’t turn out as planned, the projects were exciting, varied and fast-paced.
Six months of constant travelling between Ireland, Germany and Switzerland was exhilarating, but also consuming, so my next move was to Amaris in Zurich, where I took a role in packaging engineering for Schott. The opportunity allowed me to develop my consulting experience and be an engineer in one place for a while.
Schott offered me an internal part time position which allowed me to study alongside work. When the study came to an end, a previous work connection led me to Jörg.
I liked Jörg straight away – he’s down to earth, and very easy to talk to. The onboarding process was very simple, and I started a role in packaging within three weeks of our initial conversation.
I enjoy working at Congenius because the company has a very clear vision – it’s clear what we’ve achieved, and what we’re aiming for. The culture is really diverse, with plenty of opportunity to learn from the team. It’s also supportive – you can share your ideas openly and feel heard.
What excites you most about the MedTech industry?
There’s something about start-ups that really calls to me. Having a new problem to solve is so interesting. The ingenuity that some people have is fascinating and being a part of the innovation is appealing.
Equally, knowing that I’m helping to solve a problem by getting a product into a patient’s hands brings a realness to my work.
Both aspects offer the chance to be part of a team, and being a consultant allows me to see both sides – the excitement of the innovation, and the tangible impact on people’s lives.
Given your passion for innovation, what do you see as some of the key tech areas set to grow?
Smart technology and digitalisation will continue to expand. I’ve been working in packaging development for almost three years now, and it’s clear that more and more technology is being developed for tracking purposes. Increasing digitalisation of devices to enhance user experience is also a key area, as the industry continues to demand more efficiency.
We’ve obviously seen first-hand the challenges that a pandemic can bring in terms of restricting human contact – the companies that have done well during this time are those that have been able to digitalise their experiences.
Digitalisation allows for more speed, and more intuition. It can help with communication in terms of central information management, and from a patient / care giver perspective (for example, dosage tracking), it can help reduce the burden and risk of manual management.
There’s a lot more to come in this space, and that’s really exciting.
What are some of your career highlights to date?
It’s hard to choose specific highlights, because each step of my career so far has taught me something important. If I have to choose one – my first experience of moving abroad to work was definitely a highlight for me.
Moving to Germany put me out of my comfort zone. I went by myself, and without speaking the language (I had learnt German in school but it was my worst subject!). I was determined to experience Germany as a German, but I really struggled with the isolation, the language barrier and of course the learning curve that comes with a new job. Even simple things like trying to find supermarket items were tough. I remember once wanting to make a dessert involving yoghurt but discovered when I got home that I’d actually bought tzatziki!
The move was a big challenge, but it also provided a big growth opportunity as I navigated a new country, a new culture and a new language (I learnt German to a good level eventually). Had I not gone through that experience I wouldn’t have some of the skills I value now.
Who or what inspires you professionally?
During my role in Munich, I was lucky to have a talented CTO as my mentor. He taught me so much about how to value your own work, how to value yourself and how to communicate that to others whilst retaining humility, but still being clear and confident in your ability and ideas.
He showed me what it meant to be a good manager. He was diligent, but not strict – we had a plan of action, clear individual responsibilities, and a strong team mentality. He was a mentor for my own personal growth, and a role model from a management perspective.
More generally, I’m inspired by people who have a vision they want to achieve, and the skill to be able to rally a team around them to believe in that same vision. I like to be part of a team that works together to achieve a goal, with everyone having a clear role and their own contribution to offer.
I love to work with people who have drive and ambition – and who are prepared to tackle the difficult aspects of a project to achieve something great at the end of it. I often find myself saying enthusiastically to these people – “Let me help you, I’m in!”
Do you ever draw professional inspiration from your hobbies?
Absolutely. Sport was a big part of my identity growing up, and I still really enjoy sports as an adult. In primary school I was on every sports team going, and in later years I played college varsity Hockey, and county Gaelic Football. Working together to achieve the same vision in the workplace is exactly what you do when you play a team sport – sport is essentially a school for developing teamwork.
My love of new challenges and new adventures through travel is also reflected in my professional life. When I moved to Munich, as well as tackling the learning curve presented with the new job, I took up snowboarding as a new sporting challenge – it’s a great way to spend an entire winter day outdoors.
Then when it comes to travel, the cultural side translates to working happily within a diverse team. Travelling helped me to see that there is more than one way of looking at things. Essentially, people everywhere have similar values – they just have different perspectives. Experiencing these different points of view is super interesting both socially, and professionally.
Finally, when you’re ready to retire, what impact do you want to have made on the industry?
I want to know that I made a contribution to solving problems for other people. That’s it really. I’ll just be happy knowing that I spent my time contributing to something bigger than myself.