Jobs these days can get so specific that you didn’t even know they existed. Just like the medical device sales industry, medical device sales leader Jay Pendleton never even knew it existed back in 2007. Jay is the Director of Medtronic and has been in the sales and management industry for over 18 years. Join Samuel Gbadebo and Jay Pendleton as they explore the medical device sales space and learn what it’s like, what it takes, and what to look for in this industry. Also, learn how Jay started his career in this industry, which included a long gap year which he used to find his true inner calling.
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How My Gap Year Introduced Me To Medical Device Sales (Part 1) With Jay Pendleton
We have with us another special guest. This guest you might know because he has exploded on social media, specifically LinkedIn. He talks about getting into the medical device sales industry. What to expect, what to look for, and what to prepare for when you’re someone that wants to work in that space. If someone is already in that space, what to consider when you’re looking to work for a company like Medtronic.
We’re talking about Jay Pendleton. He’s the Director of Strategy and Talent for Medtronic. This is an explosive interview because we don’t only talk about what it means to be in the space and what to look for. We also talk about management and leadership. Even his role and trajectory going from rep to manager to Director of Strategy and Talent. This is going to be a two-part episode. This is part one. Make sure to catch part two. As always, thank you for reading the Medical Sales Podcast. I hope you enjoy this interview.
We have with us, Jay Pendleton. Some of you might have seen his face on LinkedIn, writing all kinds of knowledge about the industry, what to do, and how to make it. I’m not even going to take the time to introduce him. I’m going to let him introduce himself. Jay, please tell us who you are and what you do.
Thanks for having me on. I’m excited to be here. My name is Jamil Pendleton. I go by Jay. I am in the medical device space. I’ve been here for most of my professional career. I started with IBM for four years. I learned how to sell, talk to customers, run a territory, work with others, and work with different cross-functional teams. All those things were super helpful then and I still draw from them now. I took a gap year where I quit my job at IBM and sold my car.Sales is the art of understanding people. Click To Tweet
Jay, we have to get into the gap year. Before we even jump into that, what’s your role now?
I am the Director of Strategy and Talent for Medtronic’s Cranial and Spinal Technologies, CST. I’m in-charged to grow market share through helping different teams internally and externally with surgeons in our Salesforce as well as recruiting new talent to fuel that growth within Salesforce.
This is not necessarily a recruiter role. It’s completely separate from a recruiter role.
The recruiting piece is something that my boss and I talked about. It’s a growth strategy for the company and something that I enjoy. I was Rush Chairman from my fraternity, so it’s something I’ve been working on for a long time. I was doing this the last few years in my previous role of managing the Western United States for our Strategic Spinal Technology team. It’s something that I’m continuing to do on a national scale.
Before we get into the progression of your career, talk to us about why did you even go to the healthcare realm? Is this something you wanted in college? Is this something you’ve always been about since your youth?
Not at all. I didn’t even know this world existed. I took my gap year, which we can talk about later. I came back from traveling abroad for the better part of 2006. I met a girl. That girl is now my wife. In the fall of 2006, we started dating. At that point, my plan before I met her was to go back out to Argentina. I was invited to a wedding in December in the Patagonia region. I didn’t make that wedding because I met a girl who, as Jack Nicholson said, made me want to be a better man. I quickly realized I needed to get my life back together and get my career back on track after that gap or that pause. I knew I was going to do something related to sales but I wasn’t sure what industry. I thought about going back to IT or potentially real estate. I have a lot of friends in commercial real estate, specifically.
My girlfriend, at that time, who’s now my wife said, “Why don’t you talk to my cousin? You guys have similar personalities. He loves what he does and he works with surgeons.” I was like, “Surgeons? Pharmaceutical sales?” She’s like, “No. He’s in scrubs in the operating rooms.” At that point, I had an ACL surgery a decade before and so I was familiar with surgery in orthopedics. It’s sports medicine at that time. I didn’t know this world existed, that there were reps in the room. I immediately reached out to her cousin who was working for a big player in the industry in the trauma space. He told me to get in spine. He was like, “This is a great world and I love it. I would recommend you get in spine.” This was 2007.
He gave you an immediate direction.
His comments were like, “There are still a lot of technological advancements in spine. From a pricing perspective, it hadn’t been capped yet. There was runway.” Runway is a big thing for me. I need to see that upward mobility in whatever I’m pursuing. It makes it worth pursuing. I started diving into the research of that and burying myself into anything that I could find online. At the time, MedZilla, med reps, there were all sorts of forums and I was in the rabbit hole so to speak of people talking about these jobs and interviewing for these jobs. This was way before LinkedIn. This was way before any of the tools that are specific to networking but there were all sorts of information in terms of research.
A publicly-traded company has an annual report. They talk about where they’re focused and what they did the past year. I read every single one of the companies that I was talking to, the Cinthys, before the Depew, before the merger, the Medtronics of the world, the Strykers of the world, Biomet. At the time, I was trying to get into all of these companies. That was my introduction to the space that, previously, I didn’t even know existed.
Let’s walk it back again then. In college, what did you want to do?
I started as an MIS major. I love technology. I’m starting to experiment a little bit with some of these new tools that we have, the cloud, social media, and the reach of that. I was an MIS major until I realized that I’m a people person. How do I connect those dots? Let’s go into IT sales. That was what I was interested in the most. I was a business major but a psychology minor. I mentioned on another podcast that I use my psychology minor probably more than my business major every day. Sales is the art of understanding people, the customer, influencers, gatekeepers, colleagues, teams. How do you influence behavior when you have no authority? Those are difficult things to do. Looking back, I felt that I’m drawing on some things that I probably learned in college. I couldn’t cite them now but I feel like that was on purpose and not a haphazard thing to get a psychology minor and attack the business industry.
You’re 100% correct. As you said, sales is a psychology of its own. It’s understanding what people need, want, and what they gravitate to. You had that early on in your development. You were able to piecemeal it into everything else you learned. It makes perfect sense. What inspired you to take this gap year? You left IBM and you said, “I’m going to travel abroad.” What kicked that off?
I was 25 at the time. I had no significant girlfriend or a career that I couldn’t leave or at least put on hold and no real attachments. I’m born and raised in Dallas, Texas and I had never left. I went to college at SMU in Dallas. I was a Hunt Leadership Scholar for SMU and I loved it. I never left my bubble, so to speak, in Dallas. In 2004 when I was working at IBM, I went on an amazing eye-opening transformational trip to Tokyo and Beijing with a colleague that I used to work with at IBM. He was Chinese. He’s born in Richardson, Texas but his father and mother were Chinese. He had a company that he was launching. We were going over there for a business meeting and he needed some help. We were meeting with Yao Ming and his agent. He was launching whey protein.
Did you meet with Yao Ming?
Yes. I never got to see Yao but we met with his agent. It was the wildest thing. I had no clue what anyone was saying. They were smoking at this big table. It’s 2004. They were starting to set up for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. At that time, China was experiencing a huge influx of disposable income for its population. Wellness, gym memberships, whey protein, and all this stuff was exploding. My buddy capitalized on that. I was his model because I lift a lot of weights. I was the guy taking his products, which I had taken maybe once or twice before.
It was a great trip. To your question, it completely opened my eyes that there is an entire world outside of my scope. The sad reality is only 30% of Americans ever leave America or even have a passport. With COVID and the restrictions of travel, my fear is that it’s not going to improve. For me, I wanted to do something different. I saw the Chinese and Japanese cultures how drastically different they were and it was astonishing. I caught the bug. That was 2004.What makes you special and unique is all based on your experiences and things that you've done between your past and the present. Click To Tweet
Fast forward two years, the better part of 2005 was I spent planning for this trip while working but planning on my own time, the weekends and nights with my best friends. Initially, there were going to be three of us. Ultimately, there are two of us. The third guy came out in medicine in Spain and Portugal and did part of the trip with us in Thailand and Holland. It was that trip to China and Japan that opened my eyes. It’s like, “Before I get a job or a girl that I can’t leave, I need to go see the world so that I can understand not only the world but gain the perspective on Jay and who I was.”
I’ll never forget sitting on the beach in Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I was sitting on a crowded beach in Barcelona and I didn’t know a soul. I was lonely. I was homesick. This was the tail end of the trip and I’m journaling about it. I remember how healthy that is to realize the attachment of a home, family, and things that are familiar. While it’s great to see other cultures and experience different things, I longed to see my mom, dad, and my sister and her newborn baby that I hadn’t met yet. I experienced the long trip and it was wonderful to see Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, Europe, Hong Kong, Dubai, Vietnam. It was an incredible trip but home is home, especially Texas. We’re proud of our state. I missed home.
I know a few Texans.
Shortly after the trip, I met my now wife. She gave me the inspiration, motivation, and assistance of finding my new career.
That’s the story. I love it. I always want to know when it comes to those world trips because you’re right, traveling is essential. You need it. Before COVID, I tried to leave the country at least twice a year. When I hear people that had the opportunity to make it a life for a little while, I’m like, “I know Jay got all kinds of development when he did that.”
It was incredible. I still draw from the trip now. When I started trying to get back into the workforce, I didn’t shy away from this gap in my resume. It was something that I put as front and center, “This was what I did during 2006.” “Why is there a gap in your resume?” “That was intentional and let me tell you why. What do you think most interviews started to thrill? I wanted to talk about the trip.” It was awesome. There was also an entrepreneurial moment of the trip. I don’t know how much time we have. My best friend and I are both avid soccer players since we could walk. We’ve always known there’s a great world out there that loves the game of soccer outside of the US. It’s like a stepchild of sports. We saw these jerseys in the Chatuchak Market in Thailand and they were incredible. I don’t know if they were the best counterfeits I’ve seen or the real true jerseys. They had holograms. They had it all.
A few weeks later, we were telling this story in Laos while tubing and there was a gentleman who said, “Let me get this right. You’re in Southeast Asia and now you’re going to work next. Can I give you a bit of advice? Buy as much as you can over here because it’s cheap, go there, and you sell it. You’ll make enough profit.” For two backpackers on a shoestring budget who were trying to decide if it’s $1 for a hot room in Thailand or $3 for the air conditioning, making money was a motivator. We did that.
We bought 150 jerseys in Thailand. We shipped them to Stuttgart. We had a good friend who had a friend in the army, so we had a place to stay and had a home base. For the month of June, when we were there for the World Cup in Germany, we made a commitment that we were not going to the ATM. If we were hungry, we wanted to drink German beer, have some food, or do something, we would go and sell some jerseys. That is the upfront investment. It enabled us to extend our trip another two months. We bought them for $7, factoring and shipping $11, and we sold them on average between £60 and £80 at that time. With the conversion rate, we were making about 82% profit margin on each jersey.
That was a fun little entrepreneurial story and I captured it in a PDF. It was a part of my brag book, which I’m sure you’re familiar with that. A lot of people in medical don’t know but that’s a big pharma thing. I put that in my brag book, front, and center, a resume, references, world travel project, entrepreneurialism. Maybe I’m speaking out of turn here but I’m talking to some of your audience. It’s all about differentiating yourself. What can you do? What makes you special? What makes you unique? It’s all based on your experiences and things that you’ve done between your past and the present moment when you’re in front of a hiring manager.
That gave you a whole new spin on life. You came back, you met the woman of your dreams, you connected huge opportunities, and you took advantage of them. Now walk us through the career path.
My career path has been an interesting one. I feel fortunate for Rummer Medical. James Sherman hired me. Brad Rummer was a titan of the industry back in the day and had a huge business. He’s an exclusive distributor for Medtronic. They gave me my shot and I had a year working under Scott, who is an incredible rep. He was a former Army. He was a scrub tech nurse. He knew everybody in the hospital. When you walk in, there are hugs. This is before vendor credentialing. You sign in on a spiral notebook and everybody is happy to see you. Now, it’s the opposite. Get on your red hat, where is your badge, don’t go in this room, and all this stuff. It changed for the better. There needs to be credentialing. People need to know who’s in their hospital and there’s a good reason for that.
I got to learn under Scott how to run a room, be of value, be a servant leader, and help out in every way. I did that for a year and I was ready. I felt ready on my territory. I moved to Austin. I was excited about that. My wife and I were engaged at that time and we moved to Austin to work again for Rummer. Great team, great leadership, but no opportunity for me to have my deal and growth. That runway, that upward mobility wasn’t there. I started to get a little frustrated and talking to the management about it. We talked about maybe moving back and they had another opening in North Texas. My wife had already got a job in Austin. We were torn.Nothing happens by chance. When one door is shut, there's a window or an even bigger door that’s going to be open. Click To Tweet
Around the same time, they recruited me to join their team. It’s a difficult decision but I took a risk and it paid off. That was 2010. I spent seven years at NuVasive as a rep in the Austin area metroplex, a lot in Round Rock and Georgetown. I did that and loved it. There’s a shelf life to that and I was missing some things. I thought that there might be more that I can contribute to the industry, to the surgeons, and the patients on a grander scale.
Explain that a little bit. You said there’s a shelf life to that. Shelf life to what specifically?
I’m an analogy king. I’m going to talk in movie quotes and analogies if you know me. I don’t watch TV but I love movies. I am going to give you an analogy. I was waiting by the loading dock of the hospital on this little side street of our community hospital downtown Austin. I was waiting on a Friday afternoon on a cervical corpectomy. Earlier in the day, when the case was posted, I told my wife, “I got this case that added on.”
Our thing with our kids is we love to go out for Tex Mex, Fajitas and Ritas. The kids don’t have Ritas. They have the fajitas and the chips and queso. That’s our thing. I said, “No problem. I’ll be there at 5:30.” This was a noon case, no problem. I’m sitting there at 3:30 and the patient is still getting an A-line. This isn’t happening. I’m sitting there in my truck and I called my wife and I had to cancel the plans. Every rep that reads this has done something similar if not worse. I’ve come back from vacations early, flown home separately, left Easter service early. I’m showing up to the hospital in my dress shoes and then change into scrubs and Uber home. We do these things because you have to. You’re there because they want you in the room.
When you get to that commitment level where you’re the guy that the surgeon wants, it’s tough to detach yourself from it. I was torn because I want to be there as part of that team but I also thought there was something more out there. Back to that moment, I’m sitting in my truck, I know I’m missing my Friday night with my family. I see this older gentleman, probably late 50s, pulling up in his car and getting his hand truck out and getting trays out of the trunk. I was like, “I don’t want to be that guy. I’m 36 years old. What else is out there?” That’s why I started thinking about it. Some cultural and leadership changes that NuVasive sped up that process. I came back home. I was thrilled about being back at Medtronic. In May 2021, it will be my fourth year back.
It sounds like the opportunity found you.
I put my faith and trust in the Lord and I pray about it. Keep grinding every single day and good things happen. That’s ultimately what I do. Nothing happens by chance. I know that when one door is shut, maybe there’s a window that’s open or another door that’s even bigger is going to be open. You have to give it time, have faith, and trust in the process. What I try to do is focus on improving myself every single day. As it relates to career and career paths, these things keep happening. I’m doing something right. You mentioned the videos on LinkedIn. That is a new thing for me. You and others are witnessing me exploring it in discovery mode.
I’m getting daily affirmations. I’m getting people reaching out to me. I had four people who specifically said, “I can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing. I love what you’re doing. Keep doing it.” One guy, for seven straight years, missed quota once, one quarter. He’s not going anywhere. That rep is never leaving. He was the reason I did that video. He reached out to me to learn about Medtronic. He wants to understand what I’m talking about and a little bit more details behind the new Medtronic and Geoff Martha, his leadership, and his stated vision for the company.Keep grinding every single day and good things happen. Click To Tweet
I am happy to provide my opinion at least where I see it going because I’m excited about it as well. To get to that state of vision of a new culture with a competitive culture, we’re going to need more people. We’re going to need talented people. Every time I think, “Is this too much? Am I sharing too much? Am I posting too frequently? What’s the right cadence?” Honestly, I don’t know but I get that affirmation from people. Two Medtronic reps reached out and they’re like, “Keep going.” Here we are.
That was Jay Pendleton. Great interview. I love talking to him. Make sure to check out for part two. We’re going to go into more depth around what he’s doing, different things in his role, and where he wants to take things as far as the voice he’s made himself on the LinkedIn platform. As always, we want to make sure you understand what we do hear at Evolve Your Success. We help people reach success. That is what we do.
If you’re someone that wants to get into the industry, make sure you visit EvolveYourSuccess.com. This is for any industry, not just medical device sales, pharmaceutical sales, biotech sales, the dental space, molecular sales, genetic sales. Reach out to me on LinkedIn under Samuel Adeyinka. You can find me, send me a text, and let’s have a conversation. We’ll put you in contact with one of our representatives and we’ll get you situated so that you can be on your way to experience the success you want to experience.
If you’re someone that’s leading the sales team or your sales professional that wants to improve their performance, once again, make sure you visit EvolveYourSuccess.com. Select Improve Sales Performance and let’s get some time to talk or find me on LinkedIn. As always, we thank you for following the Medical Sales Podcast. Make sure to check out for part two for some more with Jay Pendleton.
About Jay Pendleton
Medical device sales leader with 18 years experience in relationship sales and territory management with a proven track record of crushing PTQ and enjoying continued y/o/y growth. Shifted roles from a high performing intra-operative sales rep into a Sales Manager in the competitive Western US market. Recruited and led a team of regional managers for OLIF, Complex Spine, Titan Nanotechnology, Medicrea and various leadership positions across the company.
Today, as Director of Strategy & Talent, I am honored to drive sales strategy as well as recruit talent for Medtronic’s Cranial & Spinal Technologies (CST) division.
If you are a rep or associate in the Spine/Neuro/Robotics space, interested in Medtronic, and feel that you have what it takes to succeed in the competitive field of spinal implant medical sales — give me a shout!