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April 13, 2017

It’s All About People

Back in September, I attended MassDevice DeviceTalks Boston. As usual, the MassDevice folks put on a terrific program.

One of the featured speakers was Jeff Burbank, Founder and CEO of NxStage Medical, the dialysis company. In a candid interview, he talked about the company’s growth, and the challenges he faced along the way.

In one particularly enlightening exchange, Burbank underlined the challenge of identifying and recruiting the right people. Here are his remarks (many thanks to Brad Perriello of MassDevice for the transcript):

MassDevice:

What […] were some of the things you thought about to create a great company? What were some of the ingredients you thought that that cake needed?

Jeff Burbank:
People, people, people. I think everybody likes to make it about technology, markets, those things. It’s not, […] it’s about putting together the best team you can possibly put together because people solve problems. People find markets. People make production work. It’s all about people and creating an environment where successful people, talented people can be successful. They’ll push you and they’ll drive you and sometimes even drive you nuts, but it’s all about people.

MassDevice:
Do you remember some of the mistakes you made early on?

Jeff Burbank:
How long is this? […] Yeah, it takes you a while to figure out how to identify and motivate good people. Getting through an interview process and understanding are they real? Can they get things done? You can’t hide in a startup or a fast-growing company…

As Burbank spoke, I noted many of his fellow CEOs in the audience nodding in agreement. Like Burbank, they’ve lived with good and bad hires, and struggled to learn how to tell the difference.

Identifying the right people is hard. I think it’s the hardest thing any manager does. But nothing is more important. You get better at it with experience.

In Burbank’s words, “People, people, people.”

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