Jerry French began his career with the world's largest car manufacturer, General Motors. A project to develop a urological device led to an interest in medicine and he left his post for a career in this field. In 1980 he joined Cook Medical and 28 years later has worked his way up to senior vice president and global business unit leader for urology.
Andrew Tunnicliffe: When you were a child, what did you imagine your career would be?
Jerry French: I definitely saw myself in automotive engineering. When I was younger I had a passion for cars and thought this was the career I would end up in. I was given the chance to work in this profession and started off my career as an automotive engineer, but life had other ideas for me.
AT: Over the 28 years with Cook Medical, how has your career evolved? Where did you start and what do you think were the major contributing factors that put where you are today?
JF: I started off as a design engineer at General Motors trying to develop and sell a medical product. This is where I initially heard of Cook and came into contact with one of their representatives. I remember being very impressed with the Cook ethos and the positive impact their products were having on people's quality of life. Arguably, it's this dynamic and positive approach Cook incorporates in matters of business that reflects my own values and has got me where I am today.
AT: How has the medical profession changed in the time you have been involved?
JF: I've seen many changes during my time. There are so many new issues making waves, from reimbursement to compliance, which can sometimes inhibit the job. However, change is good for progress so I'm not complaining.
AT: What do you think the single biggest change has been?
JF: The single biggest change is the regulatory part of the business of medicine. It's become a lot more stringent with new rules and regulations; but at the end of the day this has been a good thing since it protects patients' interests much more than it used to.
AT: Thinking about your entire career, is there one thing that you are most proud of and why?
JF: That's a tough one! There have been a few examples that I'm quite proud of. If I had to pick an achievement then probably learning how to fly would come top of the list. Cook gave me the opportunity to learn how to fly a plane and with them I flew to Europe. I've been given quite a few opportunities at Cook to do some exciting things.
AT: If there were anything you could change or perhaps do again, what would that be and why?
JF: Well, I've been pretty fortunate in my life and career and probably wouldn't change much. Although, saying that, give me a time machine and there are a few things I'd quite like to do again from my youth; and a couple of things before my formulative working years that I wouldn't mind changing.
AT: Is there something that you had always wanted to achieve but have never been able to for one reason or another?
JF: Running my own business, but I guess everyone says that. I'm quite happy where I've ended up and don't have any regrets on the work front.
AT: Were there ever any times that you wished you had chosen another career?
JF: In brief, no. I've always liked working in marketing, sales and business management.
AT: If you could have one day in your 'dream job' what would it be?
JF: My dream job would have to be President of the US, I know how clichéd it sounds. Seriously, it's hard to think of something when you have a job that you love. Maybe being a professional golfer. I've always liked walking the golf course and could picture myself winning tournaments every Sunday.
AT: What are the strange or funny experiences that stay with you from your career?
JF: That's a tough one but if I had to choose one incident that would make you laugh and cry at the same time it would have to be a Latin American business trip that went horribly wrong. I was trying to get from a small town in Brazil to Cancun, and had opted to get there via a stopover in Miami. To begin with the flight from Brazil to Miami was cancelled due to heavy rain, which forced me to travel to another airport to get on another connecting flight. However, when I arrived at that airport it was also closed.
In hindsight this should have been a telling sign that the trip was destined to be a bit of a nightmare. That night I checked myself into a hotel and in the morning I got a new flight to Miami. I guess at that point I was starting to relax and think my troubles were over. Not so! Once at Miami and in the process of picking up my connecting flight to Cancun I realised that I had not been giving a boarding pass to get on my flight. By the time I sorted this out the gate had closed. The next flight wasn't until the following day. So a further day later and I attempted to make my way to Cancun yet again. En route to the ticket desk I realised that I had left my passport and ticket at the gate the previous day. If it hadn't been so serious it would have almost been the outline for a comedy sketch. A journey that had meant to take one day ended up taking three. Needless to say, I eventually got to my final destination. Moral of the story – always keep your passport with you, and try and take direct flights if you can.
AT: Business trips can be amusing, although you probably don't feel like laughing at the time.
JF: That's right. One of the funniest moments I can recall is attending a major meeting. As I travel a lot I've become a fastidious packer and always have to have a suit for every day of a business trip. When I arrived at the hotel for the first day of meetings, I realised that I had packed four suit jackets but no matching trousers.
My (long-suffering) wife, after going through many trials and tribulations, managed to get them to me in record time. One dreads to think what would have happened if she hadn't managed it. Needless to say I would not have been setting a new trend in office fashion anytime soon.
AT: So what about Jerry French the man; what is your motivation to get up in the morning?
JF: Every day is exciting; I always have the motivation to get up in the morning. I just love what I do.
AT: Away from work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
JF: Skiing and reading. But not at the same time, I hasten to add.
AT: Is there one particular lesson you have learned from your personal life that you find helps in your professional one?
JF: The lesson of tolerance is the most important one to learn. It's easier to get to where you want to go by being tolerant of other people.
AT: What do you take from work that helps in your personal life?
JF: Simply patience.
AT: If you had been able to offer yourself some advice on your very first day what might that have been?
JF: I would have told myself that patience is the key to getting what you want; knowing things come with time is one of the greatest lessons in life to learn. It takes time to adapt and learn and helps if you have a good attitude to life and an amicable personality.
AT: What advice would you offer to youngsters looking to get into the medical profession?
JF: I sit on the board of Kelley School Indiana, so I get many chances to speak with the students. One thing they always ask me is 'What should we expect?' What I tell them and the soundest advice I can give any youngster, is that where you start is not necessarily where you'll end up. Always keep your mind open to possibility and change. Keep a good, positive attitude and you'll go far.
The medical profession like any other requires a solid character and someone who has the drive to make a difference. It helps if you care about people and take pride in what you do. Look at me, my life didn't quite turn out the way I planned, but I've found my way and I'm very content with what I do.
AT: Finally, what are your hopes for the future? Where do you want to go next?
JF: My hope for the future from a business perspective is that Cook will continue to grow and be successful. I hope we cultivate the right people to move the business forward and develop those people to take over from where we will eventually leave. It's about maintaining a vision of excellence for the future: what you put in you'll reap the reward tenfold in years to come.