Dave Drachman keeps close contact at AtriCure Inc Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

Being a CEO is all about staying close — close to your employees, close to your customers and close to your markets.

Dave Drachman says that staying close to those you and your business serve keeps your finger on the pulse of the many variables that can affect your business. And you stay close by keeping your channels of communication open and staying in frequent contact with the people you serve.

It’s something Drachman makes a personal priority at AtriCure Inc. — a $48 million developer and manufacturer of cardiac surgical products. And while he often relies on phone and e-mail communication to stay in touch, he says that electronic communication is not a substitute for shaking someone’s hand and developing the personal connections that can help keep information flowing into and throughout your business.

Smart Business spoke with Drachman about how staying in the center of your business can keep everything running smoothly.

Get in the middle of things. I try to be in the center of the circle of the business. That means I have a deep understanding and a deep foundation for the different functions and partners that I have within the business.

For example, I partner with the VPs (in) developing a management team that has a long-term view, a common vision of the mission and developing an unwavering commitment toward executing that mission, based on a deep understanding of our opportunities and challenges.

You formulate that by being close to the market, by being close to your customers, by developing relationships with key opinion leaders and staying very market-focused in terms of design of the products and development activities. In our case, that means staying on top of clinical development, scientific development, innovation as well as market development.

It’s all part and parcel to being a good leader. That’s how you develop your strategic direction — in our case, through understanding scientific innovation, medical science and the markets.

Keep communication consistent. The core of the message doesn’t change when I’m communicating our strategy and vision throughout our various departments. The core message says the same, and my conversations with sales and marketing in terms of strategic direction versus research and development, product development, finance and all the other functions are the same.

But the details of the conversation are often different. How I interact with the executive team to help them manage their goals, which are collective but also departmental, is a big part of my job.

You have a common goal that requires cross-functional interaction but also requires departmental planning. So the details of my conversations from department to department are somewhat different.

If people have a common vision of what needs to be done and are working toward a common good, they develop social relationships that are cross-functional and very interactive, and bring products and commercialization to the point.

I try to send out some inspirational e-mails. You can reach a lot of people in a very short period of time with e-mails, but there is no substitution for face-to-face interaction, there is no substitution for meeting with people and talking with them, developing that working chemistry that is so productive.

Getting out among your people is the priority. You have to basically start your day with the understanding that you have to make time to do that. It has to be done in the hours of the day that are not central. The core part of what you need to do is take care of administrative business, but you have to focus on building value and having an impact. You can’t build value and have an impact unless you are engaged in the human side of the business.

Go beyond formal meetings. I’m not a huge believer in formal meetings. We’re a high-growth company, and high growth requires you to constantly change and reinvent yourself and expand your business in ways that are efficient. To do that requires conversation and discussion.

My challenge on a day-to-day basis is to have a good inventory of where the business is and what the key projects are and that I reach out and spend time stimulating progress with the different department heads and also employees. That requires front-line communication.

As I said before, being there and shaking somebody’s hand ... there is no substitute for that. It energizes people, it gets people more on the same page, and it keeps people working together, which is, and should be, a common thread throughout an organization.

Unite people. If you can paint a picture when you’re pioneering technology, education programs and distribution channels that allow people to make a contribution across society, that’s a very inspiring thing. People understand what the mission and vision of the company is in terms of the work you’re doing toward those aims, and you have a common thread that pulls people together.

We live in a world today that constantly reminds us how we’re different. ... When you come to work at a company like ours, we strive to show people what makes them the same, what their common purpose is. That unites people, and that unity creates pride in ownership, and it inspires people to do extraordinary things.

HOW TO REACH: AtriCure Inc., (513) 755-4100 or www.atricure.com