A Culture Story – Meet Bilal Khan, CEO of New World Medical
It is rare to meet a CEO who invests as much in people as he does in products. Bilal Khan, CEO of New World Medical is on a mission to deliver innovative solutions in vision to benefit the global community. As a matter of fact, one of their key values is to Benefit Humanity. The company works to achieve this lofty goal by developing, manufacturing, and marketing cutting-edge medical devices intended to alleviate the suffering of glaucoma patients around the world.
We had the honor of meeting Bilal and his senior team last year to help them answer the question: “As we scale our efforts to Benefit Humanity, how can we maintain and enhance our mission-driven culture?” Only an enlightened and open leader asks this kind of question as he embraces growth and greater impact in the world. I was eager to catch up with Bilal to see how they are doing.
Sherry Benjamins: Tell us about New World Medical and the progress on your culture initiatives.
Bilal Khan: We are an ophthalmic device company based in Rancho Cucamonga focused on developing and distributing glaucoma implants and devices that empower surgeons to enhance the lives of their patients.
Our team is proud of our tremendous growth, which has been driven by our collective focus on building collaborative relationships with surgeons and developing innovative technology to enrich the lives of patients. Equally important has been New World Medical’s investment in our culture. Late last year we embarked on a journey to refine our core values and build upon the special foundation we have at New World Medical.
Our partnership with your team, drove us to broaden executive coaching efforts, refine our charitable initiatives, create a culture committee, launch quarterly town halls, and refocus our employee engagement activities around community-building. This work was essential for us to establish a scalable and authentic foundation for our rapid growth.
SB: You have mentioned the importance of coaching in your company – how does that show up today in your culture?
BK: We have an ongoing commitment to develop our team through coaching. It’s important for us to invest in our colleague’s success if we are going to be true to our mission. In our effort to better understand them and what they need from us to flourish; we have brought in external coaches for our managers and continue to build-out our professional development efforts.
SB: What are you learning about innovation and taking risk?
BK: As the CEO, you have to decide whether you are building a business or only a product. If you’re building a business, invest in and empower your talent. I have learned that giving talented people autonomy, allowing them to take risks and creating the room to recover from occasional setbacks builds capabilities. We strive to create an environment that gives our colleagues this space, while also holding them accountable to our collective mission.
I have seen far too many entrepreneurs limited by their inability to recruit, maintain, and cultivate the necessary talent to scale and sustain the remarkable platforms they have built. My philosophy is, you help me grow the business and we can share the success together. Talented folks yearn for a sense of ownership, and it is only a zero-sum opportunity if you don’t plan on growing.
SB: What is your leadership philosophy?
BK: My leadership team needs the freedom to take on more responsibility and that requires trust. My job is to coach them on process not tactics, which is a hard transition to make. Most individuals that ascend to a leadership position do so by always having the right answers, but once your are charged with greater responsibility, you need to continually identify the right questions.
SB: Is that part of the family owned, privately held philosophy?
BK: We are fortunate to have the luxury of a long-term perspective to building our business that is not distracted by the constant pursuit of a liquidity event. Our family believes in New World Medical’s mission and this is something we focus on with potential hires. When you join a family-owned business there are freedoms that come with our ability to focus on mission and values, however, there can be struggles too if it is not run as a meritocracy or there are confounding objectives.
SB: How do you think about innovation in your industry?
BK: There have traditionally been two primary types of innovation in our space. First, there is venture-driven R&D that is capital intensive and necessitates a substantial business opportunity to justify acquisition by a strategic. Second, there is less rigorous, incremental innovation driven by firms with narrower capabilities.
These models leave the needs of many vulnerable patients unaddressed. There may not be enough of them to attract the attention of multinationals or venture investment, and their ailments beyond the technological capacity of smaller firms. For glaucoma patients, New World Medical hopes to bridge that gap. Additionally, our long-term approach allows us to develop institutional knowledge and chart an iterative path towards improving patient care.
SB: What is your advice to other CEO’s who are growing their business?
The number one thing is to invest in and empower your talent. If you do this and hold your team accountable to an inspiring, higher cause, it will lead to special results.
Most of us like Bilal, probably want to give people autonomy and freedom to develop ideas that will take your business further. It is logical yet we revert to company controls that used to work but today are obsolete. It seems we invest in data, systems, machine learning, AI and now block chain today. And, we underinvest in building a creative, agile and risk taking culture for our employees. In Michael Arena’s new book, Adaptive Space, he talks about “fueling agility” in our business and touches on this freedom that we talk about. Thank you Bilal for reminding us that the human investment is what matters in setting a collective mission that energizes us.