Medical device sales is a totally different world from pharmaceutical sales, but saying you can’t transition to it from the latter is shortsighted. NuVasive Director Andre Dubose proves this with his personal example of how someone from pharmaceutical sales can successfully transition to medical device sales by leveraging the right intangibles. All it takes is the right mindset, the right relationships and a willingness to undergo diverse experiences to expand your skillset. In this first of a two-part interview with Samuel Gbadebo, Andre shares his journey from breaking out into the sales world as a knife salesman, to spending five years of pharmaceutical sales in Johnson and Johnson to his critical transition to medical device with such companies as Cord Blood Registry and Medtronic. The importance of building relationships and networking is a theme that pervades Andre’s story – something that you do have to think about if you’re making the same shift.
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From Pharma To Medical Device: The Intangibles That Get You There Part 1 With Andre Dubose
I’m excited to talk about this guest I have. He’s a fascinating guest. His name is Andre Dubose. He’s a Sales Director for NuVasive. He’s in the spine division. For those of you who don’t know, NuVasive is a medical device company. The reason why this interview is great is that Andre has a lot of humility. He’s come a long way and he’s going even further. You can tell he’s the kind of guy that 2, 3 years out, God knows what he’ll be into at that time. He talks about how he started in pharma and why he started to do different things to get to where he is now. He was strategic in how he went into the different fields like pharma then did Cord Blood Registry, which you’ll read about in the interview, and then onto Medtronic medical devices. The way he planned it out is impressive to read. It’s something that anyone can take from.
What captures why it’s important to read this episode is he goes into the focus of looking for diverse experiences to expand his skillset. That’s what drove him. He wanted to be the best performer he could be in his role. He would look for the most diverse experiences he could find including what he could do for his customers. To be a sales leader, he knew that he wanted to be in leadership. He would find these diverse experiences that would allow him to be the best leader he could be. It keeps playing out through every role he takes on and throughout his entire career. We also get into how to get into medical devices, how to go from pharmaceutical to medical devices, how to go from any industry to medical devices, and even how to go from any industry into pharmaceutical sales.
We touch on each part and it turned out to be a long interview. What I’ve done is I’ve separated the interview into two parts. This is part one. You’re going to get the background. You’re going to get how he made some things happen and what drives him. Part two, we get into the nitty-gritty. It’s going to be exciting stuff. You want to make sure you come back and read. Thank you for reading. I sincerely hope you enjoy this interview. Before we get started, I have a couple of programs that show you exactly how to break into the medical sales industry, become a top-performing medical sales professional, and masterfully navigate your career to executive-level leadership. Visit EvolveYourSuccess.com to find out more.
How are you doing, Andre?
I’m excellent. It’s good to see you.
How have you been?
It’s been a busy week. The Zoom calls and Microsoft Team calls continue but in general, we’re doing good.
That’s good to hear. Thank you again for taking the time to get on the show with me. Everyone, this is Andre Dubose. He’s the Sales Director at NuVasive. I’ll give it to you, Andre. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
I’m originally from Philadelphia. I’m in Atlanta now. I’ve been in the medical device game for fourteen years and in some type of medical sales for almost twenty. I lead a team of sales reps, associates, and also key account managers in the Greater Atlanta Area selling spinal hardware and other solutions in that space. I’ve been in a spine space ever since I got into medical devices. I’ve had a good ride. I’ve been fortunate and blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had and trying to continue to find ways to help patients have a better quality of life. That’s pretty much what we do.
It’s an interesting time. We all know with COVID going on, we’re having to be quarantined in a lot of situations. How have you been navigating that and how would you compare what’s going on to what work usually looks like?
We heard in some area hospitals where restrictions are being considered again around elective surgery. My team sprints every day in the OR, helping support surgical procedures, both with neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons. The trauma component is always there, but when you take away elective surgery, it takes away not only the revenue component for organizations like ours but also the interaction which is probably something that we’ve all come to appreciate.
When you’re used to spending more time in the OR with someone than you do with your own family, and that gets cut off because of COVID, it takes an impact on you in a lot of different ways. What I’ve challenged my team to do and others is to take this as an opportunity to establish your relationships in a slightly different way. Everybody’s dealing with it. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to manage this new normal, how to homeschool while making sure that your business is still solid.
Customers are no different. A lot of our conversations with our customers have been much more real because we’re like, “How are you handling this? How are you doing? How’s your business?” That allows for people to have much more authentic conversations. Interestingly enough, it has positioned us in a better way because we’ve been able to be a trusted partner with our customers, both inside the operating room as well as outside.
What do you think for the future with what’s going on with COVID with the relationship you are establishing, being able to stay present with your customers? They’re talking about maybe this is going on until January 2021 and we’re in July 2020. What are you anticipating?
It’s tough because you have different geographies that have different dynamics that they’re contending with more populous areas. I’m in Atlanta. You have what’s going on in the City of Atlanta versus what’s going on in the general state. Ultimately, it’s going to be quite some time before vaccines are going to be available to completely put more minds at ease as a whole. What we have to do is find ways to navigate the dynamics, to be compliant, and to make sure that we keep our family safe. My daughter’s school opened and then two weeks later, kids ended up getting COVID and now they’re back. Fortunately, for my wife and I, we had made the decision to not do it but everyone’s not going to be in your position.Don't be afraid to share your story because you’ll never know where your blessings are going to come from. Click To Tweet
The school is going to be another big factor as far as how the economy can get back up and running. The reality is that companies have to continue to exist and survive. We have to come up with creative ways to continue to keep our revenue, try to minimize any impact to our organization, and to make sure that our customers don’t forget who we are and that we play within the marketplace. Between that and what’s going on as far as our society as a whole with some of the social injustices, it forced more authentic and honest conversations to occur. There’s no better time than the present for that.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s forced us to re-evaluate how we look at a lot of different things. Thank you for that. Let’s get into a little bit more about who you are. I’m going to take you back to the beginning. As a child, what was the dream? What did you get into? Take us through college and what got you into your first position in medical sales.
My mom had this little journal for me and I had probably put in there basketball player, police officer, and a millionaire. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do until I got into seventh grade. I thought I was going to be an orthodontist. Along that path was a Bio major undergrad at West Chester University. I thought I was going to take a Biology degree and go to dental school. My science majors will appreciate this organic chemistry.
Some of the challenges with organic chemistry, the class made me start to re-evaluate things. I eventually was able to get the hang of it and did some research in organic metallic chemistry. I pushed through some of those things. While I was at school, I was elected to be a member of the Merck Scholars Program. That got me a little bit of visibility to research and also to the pharmaceutical industry. Fast forward, because of that experience, I got an opportunity as a work-study to work for Wyeth-Ayerst as a microbiologist.
That was around 1999. I was in senior. I had a work-study where I was able to work and do a project on the actual campus of the laboratory on early penicillin labs. I was doing rudimentary things, but it got me into that pathway of working for a pharmaceutical company. Once I graduated, I was fortunate enough. At that point, I decided I didn’t want to go to dental school. I didn’t want to count bugs like some of my other colleagues. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to put my degree to use, but I had a job when I walked down the aisle.
One other thing I also will mention is I was the vice president of the Bio Society and in that position, myself and the president brought back recent graduates because we were both like, “If we’re not going to medical school, what are we going to do?” We brought back recent graduates so they could talk a little bit about the careers that they had taken on, whether they were bio or chemistry majors. One of the people that came back was in pharmaceutical sales. Pharmaceuticals are in the backdrop aggressively as my college days were coming to an end.
I graduated. I got a job on day one and made my mama proud. I was in that role, but I was starting to look at opportunities in pharmaceutical sales. All throughout my college career, I was doing some type of retail sales because that was the only way for me to get pulled off. I had to have a part-time job in a mall or something like that that has some clothes. I did that and I also did Cutco knives, which a lot of people in sales have cut their teeth in the industry with. I was selling knives door to door.
How long did you do Cutco knives?
I did that for a whole summer in my junior year. My best friend did it first. He made a little bit of money. I took it on after that and made some good coin. I get people to share some leads and start expanding my network and as a result, making some money. I got this experience dealing with people in retail. I had the experience with selling Cutco knives and I had this big science-rich background. I was like, “How do I put all this together?” When I found out about pharmaceutical sales, I’m like, “This is a perfect combination.” It’s something that I’m good at which the science in those conversations is something that I enjoy which is those interactions. I got an opportunity presented to me both by Wyeth and Johnson & Johnson working in the North Philly market.
You’re in medical devices now, but getting into pharma, how difficult was it? You had some good fundamental sales experience, Cutco knives and positions like that. That lays the groundwork, in my opinion. How hard or easy was it to get this Johnson & Johnson position?
Even though I was working internally with Wyeth once I graduated, it was challenging to get a pharmaceutical sales job through the organization because of how decentralized a lot of these companies are. Fortunately, I was networking with everyone that will hear my story. Probably the biggest lesson that I learned is don’t be afraid to share your story because you never know where your blessings are going to come from.
I share my story with a lot of people at Wyeth and fortunately enough, I got connected to the right people and then I was able to get in front of people who were making decisions. The same held true with my position with J&J. I’m on the basketball court talking about what’s going on in my life with a couple of people who I knew, and there was a gentleman there who overheard the conversation. After the end of my game, I was about to head on home and he was like, “You’ve got to call my aunt. She’s a recruiter. She’s a head hunter. She does all that type of stuff.”
I took her number and the next thing I know, she brought me in for an interview. She told me exactly what to say, how to say it, how to posture myself, and how to present. There was an opportunity in Philadelphia with Johnson & Johnson. I was teed up for it simply because I put out there that this is what I want to do. I think that’s the lesson. If there’s a bank of lessons that I could put on this show, it would be making sure that you know what you want to do. Share it with other people so that they can be aligned with your vision and help you achieve your success.
That’s a funny thing you bring up. Do you believe that there’s a way of letting people know what you want to do? I’ve heard from hiring managers that it’s not always appreciated if someone’s asking for a favor like, “This is what I want to do. Can you get me a job?” However, I’ve also heard from my managers that you need to get out there and make people aware. Would you say there’s a way to do it?
You’ve got to have some finesse. The other piece that is extremely valuable is how you start establishing those conversations or how you interject this into a natural discussion where you don’t seem opportunistic. I wasn’t going up to him just because I knew he knew someone. I was sharing who I am, where I am, and what I’m trying to accomplish. There’s a certain authenticity associated with that conversation versus, “I see this gentleman. He’s a sales manager. I’m going to go over there and say, ‘Do you have a job opening?’”
“I’m happy to meet you because I’ve always wanted to work at this company, but I don’t know who you are at all.” Those are coachable moments and not take on that responsibility as a sales leader. Ultimately, you have to be confident in some of the things that you’re trying to accomplish and the way that you articulate it. Be consistent in your approach to say, “This is something I’m committed to.” If someone says, “Why are you interested in this space?” You can’t just say, “It’s because I’ve always been interested.”
Authenticity is something I hear over and over again.
Having many conversations with people, it becomes clear those individuals who are doing this for a well thought out reason and those that are like, “I hear you guys make a lot of money.” That’s not going to be the way to get me to endorse you. There are going to be people who want to see you succeed if they buy into who you are and to your story. Give them the opportunity to do it by being your natural self.
You were in J&J for five years. You probably experienced quite a bit in that position. Talk to me about what you were thinking to do towards the end of that five years and what prompted the move to leave into Cord Blood Registry?
When I was at Johnson & Johnson, that was a great environment and a great training ground for me to learn how to do medical sales, how to have clinical conversations with customers in a challenging environment and diverse environment. Those are some of the fondest moments that I had with a cohort of other individuals that worked for other companies. We were all in the trenches together and learning this space in this business. That’s a moment that I’ll always cherish.
I had some success. I won some different rep awards and things of that nature. I was tapped on the shoulder to say, “Are you interested in management development? We’d love to get you down that path.” J&J being the organization that it is have great training that prepares people to be a leader. As I was going through leadership development, even though I was in primary care sales with some specialties, I didn’t feel like my experience and my success allow me to handle more complicated or challenging obstacles. I know as a leader I’m going to be charged with the task of helping someone overcome and work through.
I’m like, “I need to diversify my experience before I can tell someone how to succeed and how to overcome a battle.” If I only know one way to attack it and they say this didn’t work, I didn’t want to start looking all around in dismay saying that’s all that I have. I need a more diverse experience. I want to find different types of challenges. I want to find ways to overcome them. If I can overcome challenges in a more unique environment, I’ll have many more different ways that I can say, “Here are three options. We could do this, this and this.”
I can now put the ball in the court of the salesperson to say which one aligns with who they are, with where their customers are, and then I can lock arms with them in order to achieve whatever that result is. I pursued an opportunity with Cord Blood Registry because it gave me that. It’s a smaller company, a lot more autonomy and responsibility for a salesperson. I managed three states versus a handful of zip codes. It was a new technology and a new product line that no one knew about.
In addition, I had a chance to interact both with physicians, OB-GYNs, Maternal-Fetal medicine physicians, but also patients. Those families that were purchasing this selective service, I was able to have these conversations with them. It’s a different dynamic of how you communicate and articulate your message to a clinician versus to a family who’s expecting. I felt like that was going to at least give me a different way to approach discussions with people on a clinical level and also on a personal level. It was cool. It was a different environment.
It was strategic for you in the Cord Blood Registry. How did you find it?
That was another one of those starting to put things out there into the universe. I’m interested in doing something a little bit different. Another thing that I’ll say to put in that little bank of ours of gems to hold onto is making sure that you continue to establish your network whether you’re in the organization or once you leave. You can leave an organization and then establish a much stronger, more robust network with some of those individuals. That’s something that a lot of people don’t do actively. LinkedIn makes it a lot easier to do because you can always give that thumbs up and congrats on your role. If you can dive into those interactions, you can find some cool relationships as a result. You can share stuff and learn about what they are dealing with and how they navigate a space. It shifts the same way when you’re still working for the same company. It’s something you need to think about. That’s also helped.
You were in Cord Blood Registry for one year. Did the same thing happen that led you into Medtronic or did you say, “I want to get into Medtronic?” What made you feel that you’ve done enough with Cord Blood Registry?
The pathway that I took with Cord Blood Registry wasn’t one that many people didn’t take. Cord Blood Registry is a company that was early in its infancy. It was a unique technology. It was one that was in the elective procedure. There are a lot of nuances that set it aside from some of the more traditional paths for people once they leave pharmaceutical sales. I look at it as an environment where I was not only the conductor of a train, but also the person who was laying down the tracks because it was that type of early-stage biotech.
Transitioning from there while I was in that role, a lot of my friends had left pharmaceuticals and went into the medical device. We’re having conversations. A lot of people that were in the trenches with me back in North Philly, we were talking about what we’re doing. Some of my friends, I would talk and discuss what they’re doing on a daily basis between that and my natural curiosity about, “What happens to my product once they take it behind those double doors of the OR? What actually occurs?” I was always interested to see how I can play a part in what happens on the other side of the hospital to close the loop. Those two dynamics have me say, “Let me look at what’s going on in devices.” Because of the National Sales Network in 2007, I was able to participate in some recruiting efforts with Medtronic. Some of the people I knew went to my then VP and said, “You’ve got to meet this guy.” They set me up for success.
You went from Cord Blood Registry to Medtronic, and then you even said a lot of your friends are going from pharma to medical devices. You and I both know there’s a stigma out there with medical device reps and how they view pharma. Speak a little bit about that. What’s going on from your perspective as far as that’s concerned?With the right mindset and key relationships, you can successfully transition from pharmaceutical sales to medical device sales. Click To Tweet
It made me laugh when you said that because my wife was in pharmaceutical sales, both on the primary care side along with me, as well as she was a hospital rep. We were joking and she was like, “It used to be that you were out of the house by Maury and then in the house by Oprah.” If you’re working at 10:00 to 4:00 schedule managing what accounts you’re going to be able to go to, what areas you’re going to go to so you can get the most signatures, and drop off the most sample, and knowing that you have a product that stands out because it’s on the formulary or something like that, you can go Tesla mode and auto-drive.
I say that with the utmost respect for people that are in pharma because I also know that people like myself, my wife and the friends that I talked about who were in pharma, weren’t on that. They were totally taking on a different perspective and they articulate that perspective. When I interview people who have pharma experience, I’m not holding a judgment or a stigma unless their conversation aligns with, “I want to make more money. They don’t pay me enough here.”
If it’s that conversation and you’re not able to talk about how you maximize your opportunity within your position, how you’re going within your role, how you’re deepening your relationships with your customer base, how you’re launching new products and getting them teed up in advance so it being fully approved. If you’re not having a deeper type of conversation, then maybe that out by Maury, in by Oprah might creep in my head.
In general, there are many valuable lessons that I learned. The key is for people to feel comfortable articulating and owning it. I was in pharma. I was able to focus on some specialty customers. The reason I transitioned or I got successful in pharma, I was selling pain management products to primary care positions as well as some specialists. I found some anesthesiologists and some rheumatologists that were good at diagnosing and managing those patients.
I’m like, “Why don’t we just have everybody go to them?” I went to those primary cares. I’m like, “You should send some patients this way down to these specialists because they’re good at managing it so that you won’t spend half of your day dealing with how to assess someone’s pain. Especially when at some point you’re going to have to send them to a specialist anyway.” I started doing that and closed the loop. I’m like, “It makes sense.” It was a good business sense for me and I was able to grow my business quickly, but it was because I had those relationships, I understood the landscape, and I was out there grinding after Oprah.
That’s a good point and I’m glad you brought that up because it’s not accurate to say that a pharmaceutical rep does the Maury to Oprah thing like the typical pharmaceutical rep. It’s very individual because like you, I was in pharma too. There are pharma reps who are up before anyone. They’re making things happen way before the office opens up. I’m talking 5:00 in the morning and they’re staying there until 7:00 PM, making sure everything is done right. They are then taking the time to go out and have a dinner program three times a week to make sure that things are still going right after they stayed past 7:00.
Getting people to come out to dinner programs, getting to meet you or see you when they had a busy day. There was one rep that the physician didn’t care for personally. I remember I’m in the back easing my way out of the office but still trying to linger and catch the people who were always there. They said, “Do we have lunch today?” The physician was like, “I can’t stand that guy. He always drives me crazy. Tell him to come back.” I was like, “If you don’t like him, why are you having him come back?” He said, “He knows more about this market in this area and this landscape than anybody. I need to talk to him.”
Imagine if you can put that along with a good relationship, with a solid character, with consistency, with drive, and all those intangibles that are valuable. That’s a pharmaceutical rep that would transition into either a biotech or into a medical device well. Another thing that is interesting is certain medical device environments, they’re not all the same. You could sell disposables, biologics, implants or capital. They are all different.
You might have one where you have patient interaction, and you have one where you’re not seeing any clinicians. You’re almost exclusively on the C-Suite, in the carpeted areas of the hospital. For people to say that pharmaceutical reps can’t transition into medical devices is shortsighted because medical devices are dynamic. It’s all very different and not to brush my shoulders off, but I have a good amount of success as you have as well transitioning from pharmaceuticals to medical devices. I know a lot of other people that have done extremely well in doing so. I’m open to hiring those types of people if they have the right mindset.
Wasn’t that a dynamic interview? Andre is truly a dynamic guy. One thing I love that you can hear is he has humility, but he has confidence. From the beginning, he would put himself into different careers. He’d go from pharmaceutical into Cord Blood Registry in order to learn what happens behind the curtain, in order to be that much closer to what’s going on with the individual patient. That’s the thing that everybody needs to be doing.
That’s the essence of my company’s name, Evolve Your Success. When you evolve your success, you are evolving, you’re successful, and you’re evolving that success to be even more successful in a completely different way. That’s exactly what Andre would do throughout his career with each position he took. It makes me think about the next challenge that I have. Because we are here in this show, for as many episodes as I can, I try to present a challenge.
Here’s my challenge. We all have things that we say we want to do. I talked about dreaming before, envisioning this place where you want to be. Even where you are in your current role or even in your personal life, you have these things that you want to do. You dream about them and you dream about what it looks like to take things to the next level. I challenge you to take one of those things. Do something deliberate that puts you in an uncomfortable position that you know that if you do that, you’re going to develop a new skillset.
I’m challenging you to deliberately put yourself in an uncomfortable position that you might not have ever put yourself in before so that you can develop a new skillset. It can be as basic as a customer you have and all within compliance. You want to take the next conversation you have with them to a space you know can be effective, but you’ve always been hesitant to do it. It can be maybe something that you want to get into. Maybe it’s a new career or someone in your network that you want to have a conversation with. You want to ask them this burning question, but you’ve always said to yourself, “I don’t know. That’s uncomfortable.”
I’m challenging you to take the leap. Put yourself in an uncomfortable situation that’s going to help you develop a new skillset and I believe you will be better for it. You can share with us what that was by visiting EvolveYourSuccess.com and hit the send voice message tab at the bottom right. Let us know what’s on your mind and what you did to put yourself in an uncomfortable position, or even maybe something you want to talk about in the next episode.
If you are someone that’s looking to ramp up your career, maybe you’ve been thinking about getting into the medical sales industry. Maybe you’ve been thinking about getting into medical devices, or you’ve been thinking about going from a specific type of medical sales to a different type of medical sales. I want you to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and take the assessment. Let’s have a conversation and show you how we can help you get the position of your dreams. It could be within your company. It could be outside of the company. It could be you don’t have a company you’re working for right now, and you want to work for a company, all of the above. We have a program that is designed to serve you and get you to a position that you deserve in medical sales.
Feel free to take that assessment and then set some time up to have a conversation. Thank you so much for reading. I want you to tune in again because we’re going to have part two. I’m not going to give anything away, but we are getting into details in part two. We’ll have fun with it now. You already got the background. You already understand how he operates and what his philosophy is going through his career. Now we get into some of the deeper questions on what it means to be in the industry, how to get into the industry, make an impact, and what all of that looks like. Thank you for reading and make sure you tune in for part two.
About Andre Dubose
Nationally Recognized Sales Director & Growth-Focused Business Partner specializing in steering commercial operations, driving revenues, and improving patients’ accessibility to life-changing products/solutions across medical device and biotech markets.
THE SOUNDBYTES: Aligns corporate goals with actionable strategies to fuel new business and increase market share in a competitive and rapidly evolving industry. Maintains a pulse on market trends via extensive board involvement. Collaborative, Team-Oriented Leader who provides unwavering support to team members, develops new hires, and encourages staff to achieve excellence. Fosters strategic, trusting industry partnerships while carefully managing existing network. Leverages clinical knowledge, Six Sigma training, and cross-functional background to simplify complex matters, resolve surgeon/physician problems, and optimize opportunities for improving clinical care delivery and patient well-being while driving business results. Andre Dubose is a connector and a commercial leader—something he comes by naturally as the son of a former sales professional. His dad was his first mentor. This influence, along with his desire to impact the patient experience, is at the foundation of his record of award-winning achievements within the medtech industry. From his ranking in the top ten-percent of 340 sales peers in the second year of his career to his development of sales leaders recognized as some of the best within the industry, Andre has consistently outperformed goals for companies like NuVasive, Medtronic, and Johnson & Johnson. Andre joined NuVasive in 2015 as a Market Development Manager in the Southeast Region. Over the next two years, he served as a field-based business partner for the region’s General Manager to drive the adoption of the company’s new product launches and disruptive technologies. He was promoted in 2017 to lead a sales organization in growing implant, disposable, biologic, and capital equipment sales across the Atlanta markets. As a Sales Director, he has led the expansion into the Chattanooga market and the transformation of his team, returning the territory to prior growth levels in one year (annual quota achievers in 2017 and 2018).
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