Gaining clarity of where your passions are and how you take advantage of the resources around you is a sure path towards medical sales success. Sam Conaway took this to heart, which allowed him to transition from being a service laundryman to winning big in the world of cardiology sales. Joining Samuel Adeyinka, he talks about his inspiring journey as an African-American who made himself memorable and attracted the best opportunities in medical sales. Sam also talks about his experiences addressing diversity and taking on the position of a line manager all the way to a senior manager.
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From Laundry Serviceman To President Of Cardiology Sales With Sam Conaway
We have with us another special guest and he goes by the name of Sam. He does have one of the coolest names in the business, but this is Sam Conaway. This is going to be someone whom you can learn a lot from, but what I want to highlight here is Sam’s journey is quite unique. He has experienced quite a few things in his career that are not common for someone in his position.
Also, if you’re reading this episode, whether you’re trying to break in, already or a medical sales professional, or you’re leading the way, you’re going to learn something that you probably haven’t heard before. As always, we do our best to bring you guests that are changing the way in med technology, they’re pioneering trails, and doing things with new innovations. I do hope you enjoy this interview.
Sam, how are you doing?
I’m good. How are you doing?
I’m fantastic. Sam, why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you do?
My name is Sam Conaway. I lead the Close the Gap effort, which is our strategy around healthcare inequities for people of color.
I’m going to take it back to the beginning or your college days. In college, were you thinking of doing the kind of work you are doing now or do you have a completely different pathway? Take us back to your senior year.
I’ll take you back to my senior year in high school, which was one of the most challenging periods of my life. I was a baseball player and unfortunately, I threw too many curve balls and knuckle balls and was not listening to my father, and I tore my rotator cuff. Back in those days, the early ’80s like ’82, there were different ways of dealing with that. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the proper care that I needed so I ended up not getting a scholarship to play baseball. I thought I was going to be a baseball player. I also played shortstop.
I found myself wandering around not knowing what I was going to do in terms of going to college. I grew up in a tough place in Baltimore around the Park Heights area, but I had great parents and a great family. We ended up moving out to the suburbs and that’s where I excelled as a baseball player, but that didn’t happen for me. I ended up in the laundry of the Washington Hospital Center, taking laundry from a laundry chute to a sorting box. Everyone in there were ex-convicts. It was not what I had in mind, but that’s where I ended up.
How did you find that position? Why did you want that position? What turned you on to working in the hospital?
One of my buddies, his dad was the director of linen services. Both of us were struggling with what we were going to do after high school so we went to work for him. This was in Washington DC and I lived in Baltimore. It would take us an hour to get to work every day. We commuted. There were six of us in a car, commuting into Washington DC, working in the laundry. It was a very interesting experience and it led to why I am doing what I do now. I love to share that story.
You’re in the laundry at this hospital. Take us to your senior year in college. What was going on? What was the plan coming out?
I can’t take you to senior year in college without telling you what happened in between because my story is not as linear as that. I was working in the laundry services which delivered scrubs and lab coats up to the cardiac catheterization laboratory where they did all these procedures on the heart. I would take them up there.
One of the technicians, Emmanuel Angelo, said, “What is this nice kid like you doing working in laundry? You should come up and be an orderly for us in the cardiac cath lab.” I went up and I became orderly in the cardiac cath lab in the heart station. I worked with a wonderful human being named Harold Hanna who’s no longer with us. They said, “You’re a little bit young.” I was eighteen years old. “If you want to do this work, we have a school here called the Cardiovascular Technology School that was in conjunction with the School of Nursing. If you do well in this role as an orderly, we’ll get you into that school.”
By nineteen, I got into that school at the Washington Hospital Center, learning how to be a cardiovascular technologist. We’re assisting the physicians in all of these cardiac procedures, which at that time, was blowing up because we were going from cutting someone’s chest open to do bypass surgery to angioplasty, and all these new techniques. That’s a minimally invasive technique where you go through the groin. It was revolutionizing.
I was a cardiovascular technologist and got an opportunity to then go to school, but I went to school at night at the American University. They had a program that was connected with the Washington Hospital Center. I ended up getting my two-year degree there and then going to school at night on the weekends at the University of Phoenix. I got my degree much later in life. I was already a director of sales by the time I got my degree. There’s something in between in that too.
There was a lot in between. While you were in college, you were going to this trade school. When you graduated college, was there an opportunity that you understood you wanted to get into?
I wanted to get into medical sales. I got a chance to be in medical sales before I graduated from college. I got a chance to get into medical sales after I had been a cardiovascular technologist for a few years. My first job was with Mallinckrodt Medical. They were starting a new division focused on catheters in the cardiac suite. That’s where I got my shot. It was interesting. They needed someone with a lot of knowledge of the cardiac cath lab because again, this was a new technology.
I got a chance to become a clinical specialist and work with physicians rolling out this new technology. It was a hell of an experience. More importantly, it gave me that knowledge to become a salesperson because I was interacting with people for the first time at that level, asking them to do something for me, and learning what that skillset looks like, particularly in the medical device space, which is complex as you know.
First question, did you have any role models? I find it interesting because someone that wants to be in your position or someone that’s in college says, “One day, I want to do what he’s doing.” You pioneered and blazed a trail. They can look at a roadmap and say, “If there’s a better way to do it, maybe, but at least I have this in front of me, this is how he did it. I can follow this track.” For you, at that time, was it simply, “I’m interested. I love what I’m seeing here. I got the opportunity and I want to jump into it,” or was there someone may be in your ear that was saying, “I recommend you look into this?” Was there any guidance?
Everything about me is non-traditional. I’m not that guy who grew up with a bunch of people in their family that went to college. I got an opportunity to go to college after I pretty much established that I wanted to be in the cardiovascular space. Going to that technical school was my gateway into the medical device business. There are many ways to get into different spaces, different markets, or different opportunities. The thing I’m going to leave everybody with is a work ethic, passion, and the ability to do something. I teach a lot of my employees something called entrepreneurial learning.
Entrepreneurial learning is taking ownership of your own learning journey or educational journey. They’ll sit back and wait for people to give it to them. Also, that includes grabbing some mentors along the way. I had a guy by the name of Leroy Simon who was in the medical device space. When I got into it, he was already at Mallinckrodt. One of the oldest and probably successful African-American salespeople started at Parke Davis back in the day. He gave me a lot of mentorships to help me along the way to learn the ins and outs of this space, but he taught me, “Hit your numbers, entrepreneurial learning, no excuses, and get the job done.” That’s how I live my life.
That brings up the next point. You’re taking ownership of your life, your progress, your direction, and what you want to do, but as you said, this is back in the ’80s. You’re an African-American professional, trying to make it happen. Talk to us a little bit about what that experience was like. Did you notice it was more difficult or easier? Give us your experience.
It was back in the ’80s. Again, I had a lot of technical knowledge, so I had some credibility when I went into a lot of these accounts. There were not a lot of people that looked like me that were doing this. That was an advantage for me because I was memorable. I was the only African-American medical device sales rep going into the cardiac cath lab in the high-tech arena. It was quite an advantage for me back in the day. I didn’t realize it back then, but now, a lot of the relationships that I have that are 20, 30, or 40 years old even, people remembered who I was.
For anything that you do in life, you have to figure out how to be the best. You’re not going to get any slack if you’re an African-American so I did a lot of studying. I made sure that I was technically competent. When I worked with my physicians, if they asked me a question, I knew technically how to make sure that they understood A) What I was talking about, B) It would work for patient care, and C) They were successful during the procedure that I was involved with them.
The beautiful thing and the most rewarding thing about medical sales is you are a part of the team. The physicians rely on you. You have to be clinically competent and know your stuff. The thing that made me memorable is that I was buttoned up clinically and knew how to help them get through tough cases for their patients.The beautiful and most rewarding thing about medical sales is being part of the team. Physicians rely on you, and you are expected to be clinically competent at all times. Click To Tweet
That makes a lot of sense. One of the things now, that is necessary for anyone trying to get into the industry is to be memorable. Medical sales have become such a desired and attractive thing, whether people know what they’re getting into or not. Being memorable is critical for anyone that’s trying to get an opportunity. That’s wonderful to know. After Mallinckrodt, what was the next position?
Mallinckrodt was a great role. I kept my hand in the cardiac cath lab because I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I had my credentials to work in a cath lab. I would take a call and stuff like that. During that time, there was a lot of innovation in this new technology called Devices for Vascular Intervention or DVI. They came up with a way to go into the heart and the peripheral with a device. They cut the plaque out of the vessel. It was a very slick device. A guy by the name of John Simpson created that device and he was in the lab one day and said, “I’m starting this company. You seem like a great guy and you know your stuff. People rely on you here. I would love for you to come work with my company.”
I got a chance to interview for that job. That job ended up being probably the best thing that ever could have happened to me. It’s quite funny. I remember going home and telling my father that I’m thinking about leaving Mallinckrodt and he goes, “They gave you a company credit card. You have a company car. You make $80,000 a year and you’re Black. What are you doing? Are you crazy? You can’t leave Mallinckrodt.” I said, “No, dad. This guy said we’re going to make more money.” He said, “Don’t do it.” I ended up turning the job down and not showing up for the training.
The CEO of the company called me and said, “You got to come. This is going to be fantastic.” This led to an amazing thing. DVI ended up being acquired by Eli Lilly and they acquired ACS, DVI, CPI, and Origin Medsystems. All four of those companies ended up becoming the most innovative companies. They’re doing the divestiture of Eli Lilly and formed Guidant. If you’re reading this, you know that Guidant was one of the best medical device companies in the space. I happened to be there right when it started and it was a blessing and a huge opportunity.
What was the career progression through Guidant?
Once I got to Guidant, I did the best possible I could. I won all the awards like Rookie of the Year and Territory Manager of the Year. I spent a lot of time working with our training department and became a field trainer. I made sure that I was competent there. I then became a regional manager and took on leading a team and making sure that I understood how to lead people. I did a lot of entrepreneurial learning, reading, and accessing my mentors, and then something happened.
We had a situation where the company wanted to combine two of the businesses. I was a regional manager at the time and there was a guy with more experience. I was part of a RIF or Reduction In Force. I had no idea what that meant back then. All I know I was doing well and how could they want to get rid of me?
The way that they did it was they reduced that particular force and then they were beefing up another part of the business in cardiac rhythm management with pacemakers, defibrillators, and stuff like that. I knew nothing about those. I hadn’t trained on that side of the business. I went over there blind and moved my family to Richmond, Virginia. I had two boys at the time. We went down there, learned the business, and did it all over again. I was the Sales Rep of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Regional Manager of the Year. That was fantastic.
I then got a chance to lead at the director level. I then took on HR. One of the things that I loved about Guidant was they always wanted their leaders to have different experiences, whether it’s in marketing, sales, operations, or HR. I became Vice President of HR at the time and did a lot of work there and a lot of good stuff. I then got back into sales, so we could further the journey.
You had a stint in HR. How long were you in that position?
I was in the position for a couple of months. The reason is that the vice president of sales for the vascular divisions left the company and I was next up. I was the guy who had done all the right things, delivered the results, learned how to lead people, or lead from the front as I call it, and built a big colony of people that wanted to follow me. I got the opportunity to lead at the vice president sales level, which was a tough thing to do in the year 2000. I was very excited about that. Again, I moved my family to California and took on that responsibility.
Where in California?
It’s in San Jose.
As the director of HR at that time, what did you learn in that role that you could say stuck with you throughout the rest of your career?
First of all, when you take a job inside the corporation, everyone has to do it, in my mind, to become a leader. The sausage-making behind the scenes and what’s happening at the corporate level is so different than you think it’s happening when you’re at the field level. When you’re at field level, you’re invincible, bringing the money in for the company, and feel like they owe you something, but when you work inside the organization, you realize there are a lot of things that require checks and balances and a lot of things that require you to make right decisions so you don’t get the company in trouble.
There are a lot of processes that need to go into a place and a lot of buy-in from different constituents that you work with, whether it’s sales, marketing, or finance. It’s understanding the implications of decision-making and how that can impact the company. I learned so much more about how to lead and grow a company, but more importantly, run a company. It was an incredible experience.
If I had to give advice to anyone in this journey, you can get your sales experience, but you also need to get your inside experience in marketing, sales ops role, and training role so you can understand how to run a company and make good decisions so that you can lead at a level where you can be successful, be safe at what you do, and also be impactful in the company. Finally, in that role, I realized that diversity was a real issue. That’s when I went on my quest to improve diversity and make sure that we got more diversity in the medical device business because it was hardly anyone in the space.You can hone your medical sales experience, but you also need to get your inside experience in marketing, sales ops role, and training role. This can help you make good decisions and be safe at what you do. Click To Tweet
When you say you learned that diversity was a real issue, was it simply a matter of you looking at who’s being hired and saying, “There are not many here,” or did somebody bring it to your attention?
I looked at it and there were a lot of non-African-Americans or other people of color getting hired. The demographics of our customers were changing and we weren’t following the demographics of our customers. Customers were pointing it out to me. Our own conscious self and Guidant is such a beautiful company and we had great leaders there who realized that we needed to take this on. We took it on. I’ve brought in hundreds of people of color into the space, female and male. Not all of them make it for different issues, but when they do make it, they’ve gone on to be very successful and they’re leading their own teams now. That stuff makes you feel good.
After being the director of HR, what was next? How did it come to you? Were you asked to step out into a different role?
Yes, I was asked to do that. Again, you get on this pathway and your leadership team realizes that you have more to give than bringing in sales dollars and managing at the field level. My goal was to get on the national stage then and lead big teams of salespeople. I got that opportunity again with this vice president sales opportunity that we mentioned for the vascular interventions group at Guidant. Guidant got acquired by Abbott and the company I work for. I ran over and led the Abbott integration and led two teams in peripheral and interventional cardiology.
After a couple of years, I decided that I needed to move on and wanted to get on an even bigger stage. Now, I lead all of the cardiology businesses such as electrophysiology, cardiac rhythm management, and WATCHMAN, which is a very cool device for patients that suffer from atrial fibrillation, intervention for cardiology, and structural heart. I have five organizations that I lead with over 2,000 salespeople, leaders, VP-level, director-level, RN level, sales ops, and sales training. Also, this leveraging the healthcare inequities that we’re doing with Close the Gap, which is this beautiful way of getting our people, people of color, and women care.
In this position, you get to see a lot. You’re at the forefront of technology and where things are going. You saw what COVID did with the salesforce and how challenging it was for the salesforce to get access and for customers to be seen. Now, things are cleaning up and getting somewhat back to whatever you want to call normal, where do you think things are going moving forward 5 to 10 years out? Do we look to see an expanded salesforce or a reduced Salesforce? I don’t mean specifically to your division or anything, but in the grand scheme of things.
It’s all about technology. If you’re with a company that is leading technology in the marketplace, you’re always going to be needed in the hospital and as a clinical consultant to medical sales professionals. Whether you’re in pharma, in devices, or capital equipment, if you’re with a company that’s doing that, then you’re always going to be needed.
I am great friends with a lot of physicians and administrators and they value what we bring to the table. They know that we help out with patient care. I don’t ever see that going away. I challenge people to think about it differently when COVID hit. I was wondering, “Could we do some of this stuff remotely? Could I have a camera sitting at the bedside working with physicians and do it remotely where I could put a team in a room and have them consult?” You probably could, but it is not going to ever be perfect and people like that personal touch.
Now, that things have opened back up for my salespeople, they are back 100% engaged big-time. I do believe technology down the road could help us with some of the things that I call non-revenue generating activity, and that’s what I’m trying to figure out. As an example, if you are in the pacemaker world, you get called to go to an ER and check on a patient. Can you do that remotely? Is there technology that would allow you to do that remotely?” Yes, but in terms of us being there, working with physicians, clinicians, and nurse practitioners, bringing our knowledge on our technology, it’s not going away. I don’t see it.
Speak to the readers about what they should be considering when thinking about this industry. We talked about your pathway and how it was pretty nuanced because it was unique to you. You had a lot of opportunities that you took advantage of and stepped in front of. There’s much more of a cookie-cutter approach because there are pathways. Within our organization, we are helping professionals get positions and all the different things that are out there. Let’s talk to our readers. What would you say is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to people that want to get into the industry? What should they be thinking about before they take on?
The first thing is you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into, whether in the medical device space, pharma space, or Big Iron. It’s a very technical field so if you like technical things, then this could be a place for you. Maybe doing some self-reflection on what you like, how you learn, and what you like to learn is important. The next thing is to find someone who’s doing it already.Medical sales is a technical field perfect for people who like technical things. Click To Tweet
When I was coming up, there were few and far between. Now, there are networks you can join. The National Sales Network is a great way of understanding what we do. Your organization, Evolve, is a great way of getting into understanding what we do in medical sales. A lot of companies now have programs. We have one called Boost, where we have people who are non-traditional salespeople or people outside the industry, and we introduce them to leaders in our company. We hold little virtual engagements. We get the people who we think can make the transition into the space into it.
I always love people who come from the liquor industry. They have one of the greatest training programs in terms of developing sales professionals. We hire a lot of people from a liquor sales environment. The B2B environment is another one that we hire people from to get into this device business. Nowadays, Google and other places are having healthcare divisions. If you like IT and go to that particular field first and then you want to come over to the healthcare side of IT, it’s a big opportunity to get into the medical device space.
There are so many different ways. You need to just learn it, do research, and find people who are doing this. You need to make sure that you are a person that wants to learn that way and can handle the technical rigor of teaching yourself how to be a part of something like that, and then go for it. Do your job, learn, and hustle. It’s all about hustle. This is not an easy space.
As a matter of fact, in this space, another piece of it is it’s 24/7. Particularly, in the pacemaker side of the business, you’re on call on the weekends. It’s a tough space to be in, in terms of time, managing your family, and having a balanced life. You can have a balanced life. I’m not saying you can’t. It’s just that you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into.
On that note, let’s speak specifically to the cardiology space. How does the cardiology space differ from spine, OB-GYN, ENT, or endoscopy? What is specific to cardiology that people should understand before they look for opportunities within it?
I love all those spaces. They’re all great spaces. They bring in different levels of accountability. Whenever you’re in any of those spaces, you have to be clinically competent and you have to know your stuff. What’s different probably about orthopedics and cardiology, in particular, is that a patient can have a bad situation anytime and these procedures are oftentimes not elective. A lot of them are elective, but when you’re on call, you have to leave the dinner table or grandma’s birthday party and sometimes drive two cars to go out with your spouse.
Accountability is pretty huge in the cardiology space. Not all of the divisions have that level of accountability, but you still need to be aware that it’s a little bit different. When you show up in the cardiac cath lab as a consultant or as a sales rep for the company, you have to be clinically tight. The hospital is leaning on you. They do that for orthopedics, endoscopy, women’s health, men’s health, and all the different things. You have to be clinically competent and tight in order to thrive in this space.
Let’s talk about the difference in the leadership positions you’ve had. There’s first-line leadership, second-line leadership, and organizational leadership. What have you learned as you stepped into a bigger role? What themes do you have you seen? Talk to us a little bit about what that’s been like for you.
There’s a big difference between all three of those, first line, middle management, and then senior management. When I became a first-line manager at the regional level or district level, it was a huge responsibility because you are impacting not only the sales reps, the clinical, or the people on your team, and oftentimes, that’s 12 to 10 people, you’re impacting their lives and their family’s lives. They rely on you to give them coaching and development on how to do the job, but also how to thrive in the role and make a difference.
The one thing about selling is pretty black and white. You either do it well or you don’t. You either make the numbers or you don’t. It’s the only job that I know of where you can give yourself a raise because if you do a better job and sell more, you make more money. It’s an amazing career path to be on. As a frontline manager, you’re teaching people and you’re helping them develop and grow.
You’re then trying to figure out, “Is this person going to be a lifetime salesperson? Is this person even have the skills to be effective as a sales rep? Is this my next regional manager that’s going to go up and lead a team? Is this person better at marketing? Should they take a chance and go inside marketing? Is this person so analytical that they would probably do better in a sales ops role or a finance role?”
You are the arbitrator of understanding where people lie in terms of their skillset and then making sure they go into those different roles. The challenge with that is if you don’t take that seriously, don’t appreciate that, or don’t know how to do it, you could find yourself with a poor team, underperforming, and then people leaving the industry saying, “I don’t like this,” or people in wrong jobs, which is very detrimental. Subsequently, they can’t feed their families, etc. In my mind, the frontline is a very accountable position.
When you get to middle management, the integrity piece, high ethics, understanding decision-making, making sure that you treat people fairly, understanding that you are not a biased person, and seeing the whole picture on how the organization is running, how you can impact people, where people should fit into the organization. You will get challenged and be asked to do things. People take shortcuts. People want to win so badly.
As a middle manager, you have to be keen on that and make the right decision. If you make the wrong decision, it could impact not only your company but also the employees that you lead which is a huge issue. When you get to the senior level, there are tons of accountability. Decision-making is everything. Make sure that your goals are aligned with the company. Understand what is important to leadership and how you want to be perceived as an outward-facing person for the company.
When I’m speaking to you, I’m speaking on behalf of the company I work for. It’s important that I realize that. It’s important to say the right things and do the right things, but more importantly, live those values every day. You shouldn’t be a different person than what comes out of your mouth. You should be that person and live your values that way.
As a senior leader, you’re impacting all these people in the company. As I said, there are over 2,000 employees that report directly to me. I have to show up again with that winning spirit and inclusive spirit, understanding what D&I and inclusiveness mean, being fair, being ethical, and having high integrity.
As much as you can share, what’s one of the technologies that we can all get excited about in the cardiology space now?
There are a bunch of things that I could rattle off, but you asked me for one. Cardiology as a whole is booming and it’s a great space to be in, so figure out how to get in it. In particular, this disease state called atrial fibrillation which is unfortunately something that most of us will get if we live long enough. It’s a degeneration of the heart that happens with age.
A lot of patients have this and we have the technology now where we can go in and put devices in the left atrial appendage to block clots from going up and causing strokes, which is a booming industry and booming field. We have ways to go in and use a blade of technology to burn these pathways that are causing the heart to be irregular. Both of those are booming and growing. That’s going to be a huge field in cardiology moving forward.
This has been wonderful. We’re going to have a last thing here. It’s called our lightning round where I’m going to ask you four questions. The first one is, what is the best book you’ve read in the last couple of months?
I read a lot of articles and short stories about success and impact in the industry. I read a lot of stuff that’s more technical related to my field. I have to answer the question that way.
Let’s work with that. I’ve never asked this question before, but now you put me on the spot. What’s the most memorable article you’ve read in the last couple of months?
The most memorable article I read in the last couple of months was an article about the Millennials and what we have in terms of the job environment that we need to create for the next group of young people who are graduating from school and getting into businesses and how they want the employers to create an environment.
The article was about the fact that to come into an organization and sit there for years waiting for opportunities to get promotions, get the next job, and even get a raise. That is not an opportunity that people want to take anymore. They want to be promoted quickly, learn fast, get a raise, and go to the next thing. We’re going to see and we’re already seeing this, particularly in my role, people job hopping. By the time they’re in their 15th year of working, they already have about 8 to 10 jobs in 8 to 10 different companies.
This is interesting. You’ve seen what it looks like for someone to get into the company you work for and perform well enough to get into the next stages of their career. What do you think about the way this new generation’s coming in and what they expect? What do you say to all of that?
It’s different and we have to adapt and create strategies to make sure that we can hold on to our talent. We have to be a little bit more forgiving in terms of promoting our talent and making sure that they get new opportunities in their career pathway. Otherwise, you’re going to lose them. You don’t have to be an expert to get the next job. That’s the way that I grew up. You had to be an expert at this to move to this and this to that. Having an employee get different experiences will make them more well-rounded and eventually an expert in something, but we’re going to have to adapt. If you don’t adapt, then you’re going to have a lot of turnovers in your organization. That’s very frightening.
If you do it well, it’s a competitive advantage, but if you don’t do it well, you’re going to have people rotating in and out of your organization. You’ll never build those relationships with those key physicians and stakeholders that make decisions on whose product they use, where they want to buy from, and what particular company want to buy from. It’s one of the hottest topics right now that everyone, not just medical sales, but all employers should be thinking about.
When you’re thinking of tackling this, are you looking at more rotations?
Yes. Rotate and do this job for 6 months to 1 year or 1 year and 6 months. You don’t have to be on the job for 3 to 5 years. You don’t have to be like your father or what my father did. They had to go several years before they get to be the supervisor, or whatever. People are ready to learn differently. They learn fast. People get bored easily. They have so many resources to make sure that they exercise entrepreneurial learning. You can look all the stuff that is related to anything on the internet and make yourself very smart at, understand the technical nuances very quickly, and opportunities that exist. We need to move faster.
You’ve had so much success in your career, talk to us about family. How has family played into your entire journey?
The family one challenged me early on in life because in the time that I was trying to make my way, I didn’t have a lot of support. There weren’t a lot of people doing what I was doing. My family didn’t understand what it meant for me to be on call, why I was gone and missing, why I woke up at 5:00 AM to drive from Baltimore to Charlottesville to do a case early, or why I wasn’t home because I had physician dinners or at a symposium for the weekend with my physicians working with them at these different conferences.
My first marriage wasn’t successful. I had two very young boys, but that was a difficult time and I learned a lot from that. As I was focused on my opportunities, I was probably less focused on how to be a husband or a dad. The second time I got it, learned it, and I was better at it. I will say that in our marriage now, I know how to balance.
Balancing life and work is tough. Balancing life, work, and family is tough. Balancing life, work, family and a medical device career can be very challenging. You have to be very conscious of it. You have to have great communication with your partner and family to let them know why you’re doing this and you’re doing it for them. You then have to have the ability to say no and carve out time for the people you love. Otherwise, this career can take you down a pathway where you do it all the time.
I appreciate the transparency there. Thank you for sharing that. That’s something that is not heard often enough and I’m glad you shared that with us. What is the best movie or TV show you’ve seen in the last couple of months?
My wife and I love all these little TV series that come on, Your Honor.
I had never heard of it. What is that about?
It’s a very interesting TV series. I can’t remember the actor’s name because I can’t remember the names very well, believe it or not. I have to practice that. The bottom line is he was a judge and his son made a mistake and killed someone.
I do know this one.
That’s a good one. It’s on the 2nd or 3rd season, so I’m enjoying it right now.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in the last couple of months?
My wife’s food.
All married individuals have to say that.
We do go out to restaurants.
Is there a certain restaurant that stuck out?
We went out with my senior vice president of HR who was in town and we went to a place called La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami. It was Peruvian food and it was outstanding. I love all the different types of foods. You got to check it out.
The last question is, what’s the best experience you’ve had in the last couple of months?
Life is interesting. You have your family, work life, and then professional life. My wife and I decided during COVID to go back and get our MBAs. We went to the University of Maryland Global Campus. Why did I choose that? I’m from Maryland. It was a way to do it with all my travel and commitment where 90% of it was online. During COVID, we could dedicate time to it. We did that and completed that in a few years. We graduated in December 2022 together on stage and it was amazing.
At this level or this stage in your career, why the MBA?
I am a lifetime learner. This entrepreneurial learning that we speak about or I talk about is about reading articles, books, or whatever you want to do to make yourself better and be better at your field. I’m very committed to that. I wanted to be a better leader, particularly, as it relates to finance. I felt like finance was one of the areas that I could do better at.
In this particular program, we spent a lot of time on that. We got to build a company from scratch where you were everything, R&D, supply chain, finance, HR, and everything. I wanted to have that experience. Some of my colleagues had gone through MBA programs, whether at Kellogg or wherever you go. It’s all great experiences because you’re going to be doing stuff and learning stuff that you probably haven’t done. I wanted to do that.
Also, after medical device sales, I want to be on boards and be of value. I have experience in the space, but I wanted to cap it off with a Master’s in Business to validate the fact that I’m committed to being a business leader. That’s another reason why I did it. My expectation is once I do retire from this leadership position, I will help companies get to the level where they want to be. That’s my goal to be on boards.
Also, I want to do public speaking, training and development, and motivational speaking. My story is unique. It’s not a traditional story. At the end of the day, your story can help someone. There’s someone out there struggling with the same things you struggled with. There’s someone doubting themselves. There was a long time where when I didn’t have my degree, and I was wondering, “Did I belong in this role?”
You get the stigma that you have to have a degree. You need to be able to learn and comprehend, and have the ability to have a tremendous work ethic. You learn those things in different ways. For me, validating that with the MBA was very important, but more importantly, I’ve been a lifetime learner and I’m preparing for the future.
Is the validation something that’s self-imposed or did someone suggest that you do it for the career you might have after you wrap up medical sales?
It’s both. One of my mentors and colleagues should be doing the next episode. She is a fantastic leader. She is the global D&I leader for us in HR. She said, “Sam, you need to do this. After you finish with this role, you want to get on a pathway where you’re valued in different ways. An MBA would help you with that.” She advised me to do it. I promised my dad that I would do it. I wasn’t going to give up on it. It took me a while. I want to send this message to everybody, I’m 58 years old now in 2023. You can still learn. Don’t let age, time, and where I am in the situation be an excuse. Get it done, figure it out, work your butt off, and do the job.You can always learn. Do not let age, time, and your current situation become excuses. Get it done and work hard. Click To Tweet
On that note, this is a fantastic interview. Thank you for spending time with us. We can’t wait to see the wonderful things that are coming from you in the future.
Thank you, Samuel. Great first name, by the way.
That was Sam Conaway. I love that story. He is the embodiment of being exactly what you preach. He talks about work ethic, passion, and entrepreneurial learning as he calls it. I like to say it as taking advantage of the resources around you and making good on them so you can move forward. That’s something to admire. It’s something to remember.
It’s easy to say that we’ll do those things when the time calls for it. You’ve heard it before. “You got to have a strong work ethic. Make sure you’re passionate about what you do. Make sure you’re taking advantage of any opportunity in front of you or the resources,” but when you’re in the midst of a true challenge that you don’t even know how to solve, that’s when words and stories like this should truly be remembered.
In fact, all of you reading this might be under a challenge. For those of you that want to break into the industry, your challenge is maybe getting that interview or maybe it’s getting to the offer stage and keep going through all these interviews and can’t make it past that 2nd or 3rd round. For those of you that are medical sales professionals, maybe it’s hitting your numbers at the end of the quarter. For those of you that lead in the way, maybe it’s getting your team to attain those numbers that you know you need to hit.
Whatever the challenge is right now, it’s fair to remember this story and to think to yourself, “Is my work ethic where it’s supposed to be?” That’s the first self-check. “Is my heart in this? Do I want to attain whatever it is I’m saying I want to attain here?” That’s the second self-check. Lastly, “Am I taking advantage of the resources around me?”
For those of you who want to break in, we talk about a resource every single week with our programs. Are you taking advantage? If it’s not our program, is it something else that you’re taking advantage of to get to where you want to be? For those of you that are medical sales professionals, I’ll ask you the same thing. “Are you taking advantage?” For those of you leading the way, you already know this, but don’t we all, “Are you taking advantage?”
I do love stories like this. I love the fact that Sam was able to spend some time with us. All of you out there, read this again if need be. When you’re having that challenging moment, remember this story. We do our best to bring you guests that are innovative, trailblazing, and pioneering new ways in the MedTech space. Make sure you come back next time for another episode.
- Sam Conaway – LinkedIn
- National Sales Network
- La Mar
About Sam Conaway
President, U.S. Cardiology Sales
Chair, Close the Gap
Sam provides executive-level strategic direction to Boston Scientific’s U.S. Cardiology Sales Division. He leads the Cardiology Sales group, which includes three businesses: Atrial Fibrillation Solutions (AF Solutions), Cardiac Rhythm Management/Dx, Interventional Cardiology Therapies (ICTx). Sam chairs Close the Gap, Boston Scientific’s Health Equity program. Combined with other unique Boston Scientific programs, Sam leads the commercial strategy and engagement across the entire Cardiology portfolio of products. Additionally, as a member of the Cardiology Group executive team, he leads cross-functional teams focused on strategic alliances that enable customers’ compelling value propositions. Sam has 30+ years of medical device experience, including past leadership roles at Guidant and Abbott Vascular.
Sam grew up in Baltimore, MD. He started his career in medical technology as a Cardiovascular Technologist at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC. Sam graduated from the Cardiovascular Technology program at the WHC School of Nursing and completed a certificate degree program in General Studies at American University.
Sam holds a BS Degree from the University of Phoenix and MBA from the University of Maryland Global Campus.
Awards & Recognition
- SAVOY July 2022 Most Influential Black Executives
- Cardiovascular Research Foundation December 2022: Inaugural Pulse-Setter Leader Award for his embodiment of an elevated standard of excellence and demonstration of unwavering commitment to advancing health equity.
- BlackDoctor.org December 2022 for his diligent work in providing cultural relevant solutions to preventable disease. (Formal Recognition April 2023)
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