Hello SOTGC community,
It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Ruchika Singhal, who I met through Mark Fletcher (who inspired the post: The Importance of a Mission Statement: Corporate and Entrepreneur Alike). After I launched the interview on his daughter (Julie Lee), and Mark saw that I had a passion for sharing inspirational stories, he introduced me to one of his top team members. A few emails later I found myself on a phone call with her, and when I got off the phone I was so inspired by her story, what she has accomplished, as well as her overall outlook on life that I actually shouted “AWESOME!” into my empty living room.
From overcoming her cultural upbringing to become a powerhouse in a Global Industry leader, to living out her dream of being an “entrepreneur” by helping spearhead the Bottom of the Pyramid program for Surgical Technologies, Ruchika is a female dynamo that just keeps gaining moment. I hope her story inspires you, to reach outside your comfort zone and even your cultural upbringing if that’s what it takes to follow your dreams. What her story taught me is that if you open yourself to every opportunity and possibility…no task is too great to accomplish!
Who is Ruchika Singhal?
I came here from India for college and graduated with a biomedical physics degree from Franklin and Marshal in Pennsylvania. Where I come from, there are two options for people who want to have a career, engineer or medicine. After high school I was pre-med (in India you do medical school right after high school) and decided I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I got a scholarship for college in the United States and immediately said “yes!”
When I got here I didn’t have a “plan” on what exactly I wanted to do. All I knew was I was in the United States, was going to college, and I would let my future unfold as it happened.
While I was at FandM I did an internship at Johns Hopkins and ended up going there to get a Masters in Biomedical Engineering. There was a start-up company that was affiliated with the JH program I was in, and so I started working there while finishing my masters. I always wanted to work for a start-up. I liked the challenge of having to create things from the ground up, to see what precedents had been set that were similar to what is trying to be done, and be able to create from scratch. Unfortunately the company ran out of funding when I was graduating…and I ended up going to work for Medtronic.
What is your mantra?
No matter what is happening in your life (personal or career) don’t give up…there is a reason that it’s going on and in the end things will always work out.”
From a Masters in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from the University of Chicago into Strategy for the Surgical Technologies division of Medtronic…tell me a little about this journey and how you decided on “Strategy” as a role.
I came to work for Medtronic as an engineer in technology doing a lot of upstream work. This was a time of discovery for me, and what I found was that I didn’t want to be an engineer. I realized that I was JUST technical enough to be able to relate what the engineers wants to build, to what the clients were looking for. I guess you could say I was the “technology translator” between the clients and our engineers, and I really liked that role. When I made a move to marketing/regulatory I decided that because of my two degrees I was always going to be seen as “the engineer.” I wanted a degree that could showcase my creative problem solving side, so I spent my weekends getting an MBA. During the last 8 years I have moved around both between divisions and job roles…but I still always had this dream of working for a start up company. When Omar became the CEO of Medtronic and shared his vision of moving into Emerging Markets, Mark Fletcher tasked his top executives with this initiative, and I jumped on board because I realized THIS would be my opportunity to work in “start up mode.”
How important of a role do you think a mentor plays?
I think mentors play a very big role. I haven’t had any formal mentors, where we take the titles, but I would say that every boss I have had has played a key part in my development. I also think that every person you come into contact with on a daily basis, no matter what their job is, can teach you something valuable…so be open to the lessons others can bring to you…the best mentoring happens in an informal setting (IE not at a desk during an appointed time.)
What are the two most valuable lessons you have learned in your career?
- The importance of a team. I have learned that no matter how intelligent and capable you are…you can’t get anything done alone. Having strong people around you and supporting you, all working towards the same goal, can make anything achievable. In India people are VERY competitive, because you have to be. I grew up learning that to survive, let alone be successful, you have to think all about your own goals. That doesn’t work in any company, so learning how to be a good teammate was a very valuable lesson.
- The second hardest lesson was a cultural one. I grew up in a very patriarchal society. Women there are taught to keep their head down, cover our faces in front of men, be submissive and never talk back to authority. Luckily for me, my father and our household was not like this, but the environment I grew up in taught me to hold my thoughts in. When I came to the United States I had to learn to be assertive and speak up with people in positions of authority. You have to voice your opinion and make yourself heard…it took me awhile…but I definitely don’t have that problem now.
Tell me more about how you came up with the idea for the new business model (Bottom of the Pyramid) to address the high incidence of ear infections in low resource populations in India, southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa initiative. Also how, if at all, we could help raise awareness for this cause.
The inspiration for this really came from the Aravind Hospital in India – the founder Dr. ‘V’ pioneered low cost cataract surgery for treating blindness in low income communities based on McDonald’s high volume low cost model. When Omar challenged every business unit to explore opportunities to address the underserved patient population, our team came up with the idea to address the high incidence of Otitis Media (ear infections which often lead to hearing loss) – We had very little idea how we would do it or where to even start, whether there is a relevant business model or not, but we knew there was a huge need for this. I spoke with a lot of people working on innovative business models for healthcare delivery in low resource settings, made a lot of trips to India and over the period of about a year, some concepts started to emerge. The leadership team was 100% engaged and committed to exploring ideas completely outside of the traditional large company mindset. They were the best mentors and advisors I could possibly have asked for on this project. While there are still a lot of open questions, we have been able to find the right partners and get a pilot program started in a very short duration of time. The overwhelming response at the first couple of screening camps has convinced me that we are on the right track. From identifying a problem to conceptualizing a solution and executing it on the ground – it has been an incredible journey so far, but the best is yet to come! The pilot has to be successful and we have to figure out how to scale it across India and beyond, so the fun continues.
We will be collecting images and videos from these camps – I am happy to share those with you as well as updates on how it is all progressing.