I’d like to introduce the SOTGC readers to my friend Rob Swain. Rob is the Director of Clinical Research for our Advanced Energy Division. Rob is one of two children and was born in Santa Ana, California. His parents married very young and, against all odds, have remained together and celebrated their 53rd anniversary this year. He went to Virginia Tech and ended up getting three consecutive degrees there, all in the same department. After obtaining a Ph.D. he got a job at Smith & Nephew in Memphis, Tennessee working in Orthopaedic research. His career in medical devices now spans over 20 years.
Rob and his lovely wife, Susan, met while at Virginia tech. They are proud parents of a son, Preston, who is nearing his junior year at Keene State College, in New Hampshire. Their daughter, Reed, will be a senior in high school next year. As far as hobbies go, he spends way, way too much time researching, is a wine connoisseur, and enjoys watching the Boston Red Sox.
I first met Rob when he came to work at Salient Surgical Technologies and I had multiple questions about a recent study that had come out about our technology, what I could, and could not talk about when discussing the parameters of the study, etc. He also patiently talked me out of scrapping my entire Doc Talk Segment I was writing, after the sixth brutal round through regulatory/compliance/legal/marketing/and Senior Leadership sigh off.
Unlike many “corporate clinical” people I have met, Rob has never tried “talking above” the sales team. He is always affable, responds
very quickly to questions from the field, and is always ready and eager to help us with medical education resources. There is always a smile on his face and he is truly one of the most patient and kind individuals I have met. I hope you enjoy his interview as much as I have enjoyed having the privilege or learning from his extensive expertise in his field.
What is the one trait you admire most in others?
I think the most infectious trait is joy. I so admire people who live their life with the recognition of its preciousness, and choose to marvel at the adventure instead of bemoan its temporal nature. I can’t help to think how my second choice, compassion, could possibly be in conflict with my first choice. I think it’s so important to recognize that life is hard for many people and to feel and commiserate in their struggle. But those who can combine both are rare and should be treasured.
What is the one trait you admire most in yourself?
I’d like to say my open-mindedness. I sincerely try to look at someone’s opposing viewpoint and I’ll consciously try to consider their viewpoint. I’m finding, however, that the older I get, the less open-minded I am becoming. Maybe this is a symptom of aging, where we think our experiences have informed us to such a degree that we are convicted in our thoughts (and opinions), when in fact, we’re just being intellectually lazy.
Which internal quality do you believe sets women back in the workplace?
I’d like to preface this with the fact that I am speaking in generalities – not specifics. I think the internal quality is a lack of confidence. In my experience, women can do everything men can do in the workplace and then some. Yet in a male-dominated industry like medical devices, it must be difficult for women to think they’re being heard. Again, in my experience, the most successful women are those who are brimming with self-confidence. You cannot ignore it.
Which external quality do you believe sets women back in the workplace?
Societal expectations. The male “captain of industry” is admired, even revered. The woman “captain of industry” is still largely second-guessed: “Are her priorities right? Is she really strong enough for the position?” This is infuriating. Today, I think an undercurrent of (American) society does not “trust” a women in a position of power; let me be clear that I think this is preposterous. I think this is the reason we haven’t yet had a woman as President. As we mature as a society, this will change, but not soon enough.
What is the hardest lesson for working women to learn?
How to balance the myriad responsibilities that women have that men (largely) do not. There are many, many, many women who play several simultaneous roles in their lives: teammate/leader in the office, mother, wife/girlfriend/single parent, parental caregiver, etc., etc., etc. The vast majority of men have a greatly reduced list of responsibilities. And women, again, are *expected* to play all of these roles flawlessly, spinning hundreds of plates and never allowing any of them to crash.
Which book is on your nightstand?
Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins (the third in the Hunger Games trilogy).
What woman do you feel is a role model in today’s working industry (could be any industry)?
I am keeping my eye on Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo. Didn’t we all hear the shrill whining when she announced she would be taking maternity leave (gasp!) soon after she was chosen for the role as CEO? Again, this is a vestigial prejudice that has lingered from generations past. I want her to succeed — I really do.
The quality you admire most in a successful man?
The absence of having the fear of failure. I think this has been the single-most limiting quality of mine throughout my career: I’m too afraid to fail. I admire those who know that they can get back up, dust themselves off, and go at it again.
The quality you admire most in a successful woman?
Their undeniable ability to “do it all”. Because they are “successful” they have mastered the overwhelming challenge of keeping all the plates spinning. I am in awe of them.
A virtue you believe is underrated?
Loyalty. I’m likely guilty of saying this because I am loyal to a fault. I invest myself so wholly into people, that I am often shocked when things go badly and I failed to see it coming.
What is your idea of happiness?
Visiting Napa/Sonoma for a week with my wife. For us, this is like Disney World for adults. The landscape, the food, the wine – it’s hard to top.
What do you value most in friends?
The understanding that they know you, who you are and what you’re made of, and they have no expectation that you be anything other than who you are.
What, in your mind, would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Losing your wife/husband or children. I cannot imagine the unfathomable emptiness and sadness.
What do you believe is a working woman’s greatest fear?
At the risk of being naïve, I’d guess “disappointing others.” Again, given the inherent expectations of having to be everything to everyone, I’d imagine that you would constantly be afraid of “letting someone down.”
In your career, what has been your greatest regret? Do you feel this is a male oriented regret or one shared by men and women alike?
I probably should have gone to medical school. I was the first from my family to graduate from college, so I didn’t really have anyone close who could counsel me on good career moves. As I’ve said, I’ve been in medical devices my entire career and it has convinced me that I certainly could have been the role of the medical doctor. I sold myself short. This isn’t a male-oriented regret; I think both men and women sell themselves short (this probably ties into my earlier-mentioned fear of failure).
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“The bottom-line is….” People must be sick of hearing me say this phrase (I do like it, though).
Cite an example of a woman who you feel made a great achievement?
Rosa Parks. She was tired…tired of having to work too hard to please everyone, tired of having to tolerate the pervasive indignities that she and her fellow African-Americans had to endure, and she simply said, “No. I’m not moving”. I so admire her bravery and fortitude.
List five qualities that this woman had that you feel helped her achieve her success
Conviction, self-confidence, bravery, integrity, self-control
What do you think is the greatest difference between our mother’s generation and our own?
Given that I’m *almost* a generation ahead of you, Marney, my mother is almost two generations ahead. She lived smack in the middle of a society that believed the greatest virtue a women could have was to please her husband; other responsibilities were secondary. So my Mom, a very successful businesswoman, used to come home for her “second job” and that was CEO of our home. It is really incredible how pervasive this is – even today – and how much more is expected of women than men.
One piece of advice to young women in the workplace
DO NOT succumb to self-doubt. You can rule the entire universe – you practically do now. Believe in yourself and all of your talent and don’t let a male-dominated industry shove you down.