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Zoning In with Todd Andres

Todd Andres combined his background in materials and medical devices to co-found Spinal Elements in 2003. Since then, he has led the California-based company as its CEO. Here, he shares how to find opportunities and the challenges of building a company.

BONEZONE: What has been your greatest leadership challenge? How did you overcome it?

Todd Andres: When we started Spinal Elements, we were hit with a lawsuit from a competitor on our fourth day. Although we had done nothing wrong, we still had to face this adversity. The lawsuit prevented us from raising venture capital and was a serious distraction. But in the end, it was a blessing because it made us stronger. Spinal Elements was forced to establish profitability in 18 months. We established profitability by focusing on what is important and staying positive despite the threat. During trials of adversity, the most important thing we can do is to stay positive. When we operate out of fear or anxiety, our minds lose creative potential. We lose the ability to see a golden opportunity within a difficult situation. Most importantly, the leader's attitude is contagious and spreads to the team. A company with a positive perspective can use its collective creativity to pull a terrific gem even out of a calamity. I was able to stay positive by developing a habit of recognizing and expressing gratitude and helping others who were less fortunate. Another tool is to analyze the situation from several perspectives, reframe it and execute a plan to cause the most advantageous, yet possible, outcome.

BONEZONE: You previously served as President and CEO of HP Plastics. What did you take away from working on the supplier side and in different industries that assisted you in successfully building Spinal Elements?

Andres: Every business has core fundamentals regardless of industry, and so I was able to refine my views on culture, strategy and execution. As a supplier to medical device companies, I learned how polymer technologies could produce unique solutions in our market. I was inspired by the commitment to quality and excellence of this market, and so I had to be part of it.

BONEZONE: What's the best advice you've ever received?

Andres: Absent values and vision, one has no ability to differentiate between opportunity and distraction. Having a clear strategic direction keeps Spinal Elements moving in the right direction so we can make these important choices.

BONEZONE: Where do you see the industry in five years?

Andres: The industry is moving in the direction of data-based clinical decisions that reliably measure the cost vs. benefit of various products and technologies. The industry is becoming more ethical and transparent. Hospitals and surgeons are now rated by Consumer Reports based upon outcome data. Payers and even patients have become far more informed about the performance of hospitals, physicians and devices. Advancements must be both cost effective and provide a patient benefit.

BONEZONE: In late 2012, Spinal Elements announced Hero Allograft. Net proceeds of its sales are donated to children's charities. Why was this initiative important for Spinal Elements to launch?

Andres: It was important because the traditional business model of selling and profiting from donated human tissue wasn't congruent with our values. For nearly a decade, Spinal Elements avoided the allograft market. Hero was the perfect solution. The funds we have already donated are substantial, and we've only just begun. Surgeons and hospitals who specify Hero Allograft are literally providing medical care to children through St. Jude and granting wishes of critically ill children through Make-a-Wish. The surgeons and hospitals using Hero products are true heroes by honoring the gift of tissue donation and paying it forward to children who need it most. Hero Allograft is granting wishes, and nothing contributes to company happiness quite like that.