Safety Conductor

5 July 2009 (Last Updated July 5th, 2009 18:30)

In the medical device industry, safety is paramount for product approvals and continuing innovation. Reiner Krumme has played a key role in the sector after more than three decades in electronics and engineering. He talks to Andrew Tunnicliffe about his day-to-day work, home life and his passion for railways.

Safety Conductor

After joining TUV in 1984, Reiner Krumme has had various roles related to the safety, testing and approval of medical products. His expertise has led to him taking up the role of director of the medical and health services division at TUV SUD Product Services, a branch of the Notified Body that audits companies for CE mark compliance.

How long have you been at TUV?

I joined more than 20 years ago after spending time as a development and design engineer in electronics for a device company in Germany, and working in other technical and managerial positions within the medical sector. I took a position with TUV in part because it offered the opportunity to work abroad.

What is your role and what does an average day comprise?

As director for medical and health services at TUV SUD Product Services, I spend much of my time attending meetings, holding phone conferences with Europe and Asia, answering regulatory questions and participating at conferences as well as seminars for employees and customers.

What was the very first position you held in the medical field?

After university and a short-term apprenticeship as an electrician I worked for my first medical device company as a design and development engineer.

"At TUV you never know what is coming next, but I like the challenge very much."

Where and what did you study, and how did those early years of adulthood shape the person you are today?

I spent time at the Technical University Berlin studying biomedical engineering. I took a lot from that time, including learning how to be more 'stress resistant'. The first part of my study was based around memorising the technical aspects of the field which, for me, didn't offer much. But as we moved on we got more scientific and the work included engineering projects which were much more interesting and fulfilling to me.

Did you ever have any aspirations to do something different, perhaps during your childhood?

Driving steam engines. It's now something I do as a hobby after being taught about eight years ago in Connecticut. It has been a while since I last did it but I will do it again. I also build model train systems and, in fact, am preparing a space for this hobby at home to expand it this year.

If you could have one day in your 'dream' job what would that be and why?

I would love to work in a medical emergency room – I did night shifts during my study and so I have a lot of respect for what the medical profession does. I know that this work is extremely stressful but it does offer its rewards.

Throughout your career, were there ever any times that you wished you had chosen another path?

No, not at all. All jobs are demanding, as is this one, but it is also very interesting. At TUV you never know what is coming next, but I like the challenge very much.

In terms of your career, what are you most proud of and why?

Helping to establish TUV's Chinese operation. I went over there because while our Chinese colleagues tried to do a good job in setting up the operations, the support from our European headquarters was close to non-existent. This was because of our cultural differences more than anything else. So I spent some considerable time out there on a number of occasions with the aim of training our employees. Today the Chinese operation surpasses our other global operations in terms of quality of work
and ability.

"One of the most important things is to keep meeting people because they will introduce you to opportunities."

Throughout your career what is the strangest thing you have ever experienced?

Approving the safety of products like the 'earth ray detector'. Years ago the safety approval did not cover any medical effectiveness issues so consequently we had to approve this 'nonsense' device based on the fact that no harm could come to the patient.

What is your motivation to get up in the morning?

Professionally it is to improve our operations and to continue to help certify safe and effective devices. If you were to ask me personally then I would have to say to keep my family happy.

Do you have any outstanding ambitions and how do you plan to achieve them?

To survive retirement without my 401(k). A 401(k) is a retirement plan that you can invest in together with your employer. As we know, in the US people investing in 401(k)s lost a lot of money throughout 2008 as a result of the economic crisis. I also want to invest in property, which ties the two together. Last year I used my 401(k) to buy a house.

If you have any, how do you occupy your spare time?

Taking care of the house and our puppy. We got a new Scottie dog about six months ago and he needs a lot of attention.

Is there one particular lesson you have learned from your work that helps in your personal life, and the other way round?

Life is limited and wasting time with nonsense never pays off. You need to think about consequences from start to end to see if it is feasible before you start any kind of project.

What advice can you offer those embarking on their career?

Be patient, there are more opportunities than you can imagine. In the beginning I did a lot of planning but later on I found that although planning is a good tool, life has other opportunities you never see on paper. I think everybody has some kind of autopilot guiding them that means they just plough on. One of the most important things is to keep meeting people because they will introduce you to opportunities. Finally, be flexible and never stop learning.

The economic climate at the moment is difficult, how has this affected TUV?

I think it's fair to say that the medical business is a long-term prospect and so is relatively stable, although start-ups have been finding it difficult to secure funding. Thankfully TUV does not need to worry about these sorts of things because of the position we have. Some operations see the consequences on their balance sheets very quickly, such as consumer products, but we don't. We aim to achieve our continuous growth through investments and keep up competence in regard to new
scientific developments. As an example we will continue to invest in technologies to help improve our functioning and customer service offerings.

"I think it's fair to say that the medical business is a long-term prospect and so is relatively stable."

Where do you see the domestic and global economy heading and what impact will it have on the industry?

This is something that is difficult to predict. In terms of the domestic impact, financing new developments will be more difficult if companies need additional money. The global impact may be slightly different as long as healthcare systems in the leading economies remain stable. If this is the case the effect will be temporary with emerging markets such as China and India compensating for any loss in others.

So you see the emerging Asian economies as more of an opportunity than a threat?

Of course – who is buying our cars, trains, tool machines or medical devices? Germany is a good example; without the Japanese competition Germans would still be driving Beetles.

Finally, healthcare reform is a key issue today, particularly with the election of President Obama, what is your view on this?

My experience with reform is that you have to pay more for less. I have never seen a government – and I have experienced different systems including East Germany, West Germany and the US – to be more effective at delivering change than the private sector. By that I don't mean a free market without regulation.