Matt Likens, President and CEO at GT Medical Technologies, on The Beni.fit
Matt Likens has been in the businesses of improving lives through biotechnology for more than 10 years now. As the president and CEO at GT Medical Technologies, Matt seeks to improve the lives of people with recurrent brain tumors. He won Phoenix Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO’s award in 2012 and was awarded an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for the mountain region in 2015. With more than 25 years of experience leading companies, Matt has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about how to lead people.
In this episode, Matt chats with podcast host and Beni.fit CEO Kate King, about why it’s important for CEO’s to be authentic, why he came out of semi-retirement to work with GT Medical Technologies, and why balance is key for leaders. If you want to be inspired by an incredible, experienced leader, this episode is for you! Listen below.
Also, check out all of our podcast episodes featuring interviews with inspiring, respected leaders who prioritize their employees. Then, learn more about how Beni.fit does employee benefits differently.
[1:30] Matt shares his opinion about the role CEO’s play in setting the tone for a company’s culture
[2:00] “The CEO has got to live and breathe and act that way, or there’s no chance for that culture to really gain momentum and be effective.”
[4:00] Matt discusses why CEO’s should move slowly when joining a new company and trying to affect the company’s culture
[6:00] Matt shares how he established operating principles and values as the CEO of Ulthera
[8:00] “I think the most important characteristic that a leader needs to exhibit is authenticity.”
[10:00] Matt talks about why leader’s must overcome the desire to always be liked
[14:00] Matt explains why he joined GT Medical Technologies
[16:00] Matt talks about why balance is a key to a successful life
[18:00] “My advice to people who strive to get into a leadership role is, it wouldn’t hurt to work.”
[25:00] Matt sheds light on his morning routine
[28:00] Matt talks about why he thinks people should work to fulfill as close to 100% of their potential as they can
The Benifit Interview w/ Matt Likens, President and CEO at GT Medical Technologies
Kate King: Hi, this Kate King host of The Beni.fit, where every episode we dive in and explore companies on how they enable employees to thrive.
Our guest today is Matt Likens, the president and CEO at GT Medical Technologies, which is focused on improving the lives of patients with brain tumors. He has a long history of success in both the corporate and the startup world. He shares his insights to culture and leadership and his key guiding principles to life.
Good afternoon, Matt, and thank you for joining us on The Beni.fit podcast today.
Matt Likens: Yeah, thank you, Kate. Nice to be with you.
Kate: Wonderful. So, I’ve got some, you know, few questions. One, um, is much more generic for you to get us started. Some people say that the CEO sets the tone for company culture. As someone who’s led several companies, do you agree with this sentiment and why?
Matt: I do agree with the sentiment. And I-I think that that’s one of the obligations or responsibilities for leadership. Um, and-and I think one of the biggest issues related to culture, relates to authenticity. And so I think the CEO, as the the leader of hopefully a group of leaders within an organization, um, to lead with credibility, they must be seen as authentic and truly believing, uh, in what they are espousing. And so, that’s why I-I do think that the CEO taking the lead and establishing whether there’s a purpose or operating principles or a big herodaceous goal or whatever the key elements are that define a culture of an organization.
[00:02:00] The CEO has got to live and breath and act that way, uh, or there’s no chance for that culture to really gain momentum and be effective. So, I think it’s gotta start there and hopefully, it’s something that as you’re building an organization, you’re inspiring people to join you who can relate to that culture in– and really thrive in that type of environment.
Kate: Thank you, uh Matt. Now, it’s interesting because some, um, CEOs are coming in as kind of taking on an existing culture and some are having the pleasure of kind of starting up a culture. And I believe you’ve been in both of those arenas. Um, what would you say to that CEO coming into a culture, just to how they would, uh, embrace and kinda change that take the lead and the reigns in there.
Matt: Yes. So, I would caution them to move slowly. [laugh]. Yes. And so, um, as I’m sure you know, change is very difficult for every person and certainly every organization. And so, I think it’s really important for anybody coming into an existing organization to be, uh, take your time and really understand what the existing values are, what the operating principles are, what that culture looks like, and is it effective. Is the company thriving? You know, are they achieving their goals? Is it a place with low turnover and highly inspired employees or very productive? If it is, you know, you probably don’t wanna change too much.
And if you do wanna change things, more to your way of thinking, if it’s slightly different than what’s operating there, then I think doing it over time with incremental change is probably more likely to be successful than if-if you want to establish a new operating [00:04:00] environment tomorrow. [laugh]Uh, that would be my recommendation. If-if it’s not an organization that is highly performing, then I think you-you probably have a license to still take your time and understand what it is exactly before you embark upon a major, uh, change to-to the environment. But you probably can do it much more quickly because there is more of a sense of urgency when the ship is sinking, or it’s just not achieving its goals and people are more likely to understand the need for change in that environment.
Kate: Now, I think that’s, um, some wonderful said advice. I think you have people coming into a– or CEO’s coming into a new company who want to make a kind of a quick impression. And I think that caution is absolutely required in what you should build for the long term and have that long view plan. So, thank you for that.
Now, you worked to 10 years of President and CEO of Ulthera. Um, how did you enable your people to thrive there?
Matt: So, in the early stages, I-I was the second employee, and, um, it was the first time I’d been a CEO, and so you really have a blank slate, right? So there isn’t an operating environment, there-there aren’t principles or values, uh. And-and so, I really when– in an operating room previously with Baxter Healthcare organ-organization, um, Healthcare, uh, I was able to come into different operating roles and establish my principles and see whether they would work well or not. And I-I made all the mistakes, right? I tried to change certain divisions of the organization probably more quickly than they should have been changed. Um, and-and so having learned from all that and having really been able to refine, um, what was important [00:06:00] to me as a leader, coming into Ulthera and having that blank slate, you-you establish something where nothing existed previously.
And I found that to be, um, a-a-a great way to do it. There was no change required, [chuckles] there was nothing, right. And-and then I-I established operating principles really as the foundation to the culture and I established five of those. And, uh, then as we were hiring people, I got to talk about what you can expect if you join Ulthera and or the operating principles in some detail. And I interviewed everybody, of course, because initially we were a small group of 220 employees. But even at the end, I was interviewing everyone just so they could hear from me what they could expect if in fact this was a good place for them to work and-and whether they had the skills that we needed in order to continue to grow the business. I just thought it was a-a great filter to use.
And then when somebody did join us, there shouldn’t have been any surprises if in fact, “Oh my god, you’ve got these operating principles who– I don’t agree with these two.” right? Um, eventually the five that we established initially grew to seven when the management team that had been assembled came to me and said, “No, I think we need to add a couple of more. I don’t think the five that we have really fully define what we need to be as an organization.” That’s when I knew they weren’t Matt’s operating principles anymore, but they were Ulthera’s operating principles, and-and everyone saw value in them. So that was, uh, really-really a great point in time for us.
Kate: That’s tremendous. Yeah. I love that, uh, statement, “They went from Matt’s to Ulthera’s.” I think many CEOs aspire to get that moving very quickly. Um, so you have over 25 years of experience in people leadership, what’s one lesson [00:08:00] that you’ve learned about leading people?
Matt: Again, I-I think the most important characteristic that a leader needs to exhibit is authenticity. Um, along with that, you’ve got to operate in a consistent fashion. So, I have worked for other leaders in the– it was like going to an amusement park and being on a roller coaster ride. You know, one never knew, when you showed up for work in the morning, [chuckles] you know, whether you were going to be, you know, at the beginning of the ride, either at a point of stability, or whether you were going to be, you know, plummeting down the highest decline, you know, in the roller coaster. And people don’t do productive work if there can’t be some, uh, sense of consistency, uh, in-in the work environment.
And so, consistency doesn’t mean that you don’t change, but when you do change, you change in a more controlled fashion and all the right communication is accompanying that change, and you’re explaining why we’re-we’re, you know– so, we’ve been operating this way, this way, and this way. Now, from this point forward, we’re going to change and these are the reasons why. The outside dynamic has changed, the market environment has changed, our capabilities have improved or declined or whatever. And then people move along with it because you’ve taken the time to really explain to them.
So, I- so, I think it’s authenticity. You-you-you can’t be seen as saying one thing but acting in a different way, uh, and-and if you are saying it, and you say you believe it, then you better damn well believe it because people are really smart and they will catch you, you know, if there’s anything that’s, you know, not quite true. Uh, and-and then just be consistent in the way you operate.
Kate: Fantastic. And do you believe authenticity is learned? You know, if you look at the operating principle, was that you’re authentic to the operating [00:10:00] principles and culture of the organization, or that you have a natural authenticity as a leader.
Matt: Yeah, I-I think you have to have a natural authenticity. And-and so maybe you grow into that over time and you realize that you can’t be all things to all people, you’re never going to please everyone, and it doesn’t matter. And-and also it doesn’t matter whether people like you, okay [chuckles]. I think a lot of us grow up, you know, wanting to be liked, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and it is great to people like you, but obviously much more important that they respect you, and they respect what you stand for, and they view you as operating, uh, in an equitable fashion that you’re-you’re exhibiting fairness in what you do.
And if you’re gonna-going to move in a new direction, you know, you build trust over time and you have, um, the capability to move the organization in new-new direction because you’ve earned that respect over time.
Kate: Fantastic. No, I-I couldn’t agree more around the, you know, to be- to be respected for what you stand for, it’s really that consistency that you mentioned earlier. So I think, you know, being able to align that to have a natural tendency to be authentic or have that honesty, and then to align with the company culture to live and breathe it everyday is absolutely the key to success there.
So now you’re president and CEO of GT medical technologies, what do you do to find great people to join the team? And other than authenticity and consistency, what do you look for in them?
Matt: Yes. So, um, until we get some more, um, uh, external funding, we won’t be looking for a lot more people to join the team [00:12:00].
Yeah, and we-we have four full time employees currently, uh, but a fifth has agreed to come on at the end of this month, so we’re very excited about having, uh, having that person come on board as well. Um, two of the people out of the five that will be at the end of March, uh, I’ve worked with previously. And so having done that and having seen their work and understood who they were as individuals and how committed they are to, um, to the task at hand, you know, it does give you, um, a-a really great feeling that they will be effective contributors here. A lot of the-the risk that is sometimes inherent in hiring new people is taken out of it. So, um, but-but what you really look for is people who, um, believe in what– we-we have a purpose at GT Medical Technologies. You know, the purpose is improving the lives of patients with brain tumors.
And so, you know, one might say, “Well, isn’t that motherhood and apple pie?” Yes. [laughs] So, certainly is for people who are going to have brain tumors, if we can improve their lives, that’s a good thing. But it is something that we need to be emotionally behind and committed to because that-that’s really what it’s all about. And so I think if you can appeal to someone’s emotional, uh, being as well as their intellect– I mean, intellect is pretty easy to get. I mean, they bring that to work with them every day, but if they’re emotionally involved and committed to the cause as well, you’re just gonna get so much more out of them. The company will benefit from it, they will get more satisfaction out of the work experience, and ultimately, and in our situation, patients will benefit and hopefully patients can live much longer tumor-free as a result of the technology that we bring into the marketplace in the next couple [00:14:00] of years.
Kate: And is that why you joined?
Matt: Yeah, that’s exactly why I joined. So, I’ve been in a variety of therapeutic areas in the healthcare business in over the last 10 years, you mentioned Ulthera. And Ulthera’s business was really, uh, more aesthetic medicine. So, we had a focus ultra sound device that was very consistent in providing a firming tightening and lifting result for, um, customers, uh, not really patients, because they weren’t sick, but-but cash paying customers who were looking to, uh, improve the way they looked compared to, uh, the chronology that they represented tha-than their age. And we can do that in [unintelligible 00:14:47] and we had a very high percentage of ethicacy, uh, and-and it was fine. But we worked, um, you know– we-we weren’t curing diseases and we weren’t dealing with, uh, illness at all.
And so having been, I think pretty effectively semi-retired for about 16 months, um, I wasn’t really looking to get involved in an operating wall again. But I did feel like this GammaTile technology that is represented with GT Medical Technologies has the potential to significantly improve patient outcomes, uh, with brain tumors, which is, you know, that’s just not a great prognosis, uh, no matter what type of brain tumor you have, um, and-and no matter how skilled the neurosurgeon may be if in fact you have to have that tumor resected.
So this-this feels like it’s really worth while work and something that certainly I can get emotionally behind and-and I think attract others to this, uh, where it’s quite meaningful for them as well.
Kate: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is, you know, not just life changing for the people working there, you know, to your point the life changing of the patients [00:16:00]. Um, how do you, you know, being so passionate about it and, you know, clearly there’s lots of work to be done, how are you finding balance?
Matt: So I think you’re going to ask me a question maybe in the future about [chuckles] one of the keys to, uh, being successful, you know, and-and what drives someone. But I think balance is a key to a successful life. And-and so it is something that’s worth socializing with the team as well because if any one aspect of your life gets out of balance, you won’t be effective in the other aspects of your life. And so if you think of physical wellbeing or your spiritual being, uh, and also of your professional life, um, and-and, uh, all of that has to, uh, be, uh– you have to pay attention to each aspect of that for you to have a chance to be effective in everything. And so that’s-that’s just something that I think you learn over time. I don’t think my life was always as balanced as it is now, and I encourage anybody who joins our-our company to– We have talked about it, I have lunch with one-one of our former employees today, and that was part of our discussion of lunch because of some things that he has going on his personal life.
And so I think it was good for us to talk about it and recognize it and we’re all whole people and we always see a portion of that whole person at work, but we should see the whole person here, and we should talk about things overall and I think that that makes a better operating environment in itself.
Hey Kate, coul-could I go back to one other point on leadership?
Matt: Yeah, I-I really– I-I don’t think there are, you know, ‘natural leaders’ necessarily. Um, [00:18:00] I think people learn over time what resonates for them and what style works for them if they, uh, if their desire is to be a leader. Um, and so I know that, you know, the sort of environment and the-the high tech and healthcare tech community that, you know, you have a few Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of hulled who, you know, they drop out of Harvard or some other fine institution and these are leading what becomes a, you know, global, you know, multibillion dollar enterprise and somehow they-they do it, and they lead it and they do it fairly well. But I think that’s really a rare-rare exception.
And so my-my advice to people who strive to get into a leadership role is, it wouldn’t hurt to work. Uh, you work for AmEx, right? And-and for a significant period of time, and I worked for Baxter and J&J for a significant period of time, and I was exposed to really good leadership practices, management practices, process practices, and-and-and I was also exposed to some miserable behaviors and practices and stupid rules. And-and so over time when you’re exposed to that, you realize [unintelligible 00:19:21] this is how– If I’m gonna have an opportunity to be in the leadership role, this is what I would bring forward with me, they’re really best practices, and this is what I would definitely leave behind. And this is what I would add, you know, my own twist on things to make sure it’s authentic.
And so I encourage younger people to– you know, J&J got to be $150 billion market cap company because they do a lot of things right. Uh, and at the same time, I wouldn’t want to work there anymore because they’re large, and they’re slow, and they have all those things. And, you know, AmEX put a lot of things right, but I’m sure there were a lot of things that drove you crazy.
And so as you move into a startup [00:20:00] world, then you’re only bringing forth those things that-that make sense to you as an individual and are more effective than some of the practices there.
Kate: Now, I think you bring up a great, um, differentiater between, you know, learning to be a leader in a corporate environment versus that of an entrepreneurial venture. Um, you know, I think last time we met, we spoke about in the corporation, you have many people. Many people have specific roles and responsibilities, and being a leader and, um, also being a doer, whereas in an entrepreneurial mindset, especially in a startup, you literally are doing it all and bringing the best of what you bring from this skill. Um, you’re both a leader as well as the doer always.
Um, but why I liked the-the what you said was the progression to being authentic, and that really is that personal growth and learning and really taking what you love, what inspires you as an individual to then become authentic with that. And then, if you go to a company and have that matched with the operating principles, that’s where you found your kind of like working Nirvana, so to speak.
Um, and I think that le– being able to lead authentically is absolutely the priority, but how you get there with an organization does involve that questioning learning really what do you stand for and do you have also the experience to be able to stand where you are. So I thought that was– that’s a great intro into kind of ways in which to become more authentic as a leader. Coz I think using the word is great, but a lot of times, you go and say, “I’m authentic.” or what does that really mean?
And I think having that, uh, perspective in self-development, self-perspective, self-compassion, really understand what lights you up, what inspires others, um, is a process that you have to continually work on.
Matt: [00:22:00] Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I-I-I think you just said it very well. Um, and just, you know, we’re diverging a little bit maybe from what– where are you going next, but I was on a panel last week as you know, and, um, you know, it was from a very accomplished folks. And-and one of the folks in the panel, um, is a-a young leader of a very successful company and they’ve got an unbelievable culture.
Uh, and he was talking about, gee, I just, you know, ho-how did you develop such a great culture? He said, “Well, it-it just kind of happened and-and I don’t think you need to necessarily be intentional about it. You get the right people and voila, it just happens.” And-and I had to speak up and say, “That’s wonderful that it worked that way for you, but I wouldn’t take that chance.” [chuckles]
Kate: Yeah. [chuckles]
Matt: I think you absolutely, as the leader, you have to be intentional about it and-and-and drive what’s the right culture for you, [chuckles] you know, and-and then, you know, if it’s the right culture for the right other people, then great, but, uh– Anyway. We-we-we had a little bit of a difference on that, but I-I-I still stand by my conviction. I think the CEO has got to drive that culture and represent it and be authentic about it.
Kate: Yeah. Absolutely. Maybe, you know, he’s one of the outliers like Steve Jobs and-and-and Bill Gates, where he just, you know, was able to ins-inspire or create that as it was going. I think, you know, to a point, most people are deliberate with culture. And I think when you look to other examples in the industry, that we’ve seen in the news in the last kind of year, not having intentional culture has serious impacts to the bottom line.
Matt: Yes. Um, are-are you thinking Uber, by any chance?
Kate: [chuckles] It’s just to name one, yes.
Matt: Yeah. The-the-there are lots of examples. And again, I think a great idea, you know, and obviously a very valuable company, but, you know, it was just, uh, wasn’t moving in the right direction. So, big changes and, you know, it’s too bad [00:24:00] but in a way, it’s understandable, right?
Kate: Yeah, absolutely. When you grow that quickly, um, without a doubt, but I think it opens the doors that CEOs and the leadership teams to really think about this, and more and more this becomes really the winning formula to how successful you actually are in your industry.
Matt: Yup. Yup. I agree.
Kate: So, Matt, I have a couple of questions more personal for our listeners, um, if that’s good with you. Um.
Kate: You know, there’s much talk about successful leaders having morning routines, and it’s really been seen as scientifically proven and critical to their success. Could you share your morning routine with us?
Matt: Um, sure. Um, I-I-I get up early, um, and-and by early, you know, it’s 5:00, 5:30, uh, timeframe, and three– at least three times a week, and four if I’m lucky.
Um, I-I go to Orangetheory. It’s a one-hour exercise class, there are franchises all over the country.In fact, I read last week, it’s one of the fastest growing franchises in the country. And, you know, monitoring your heart rate, uh, and your metabolism, and you have an ideal, um, activity level, which is the orange level. And you should spend at least, at least 12 of the 54 minutes or so of workout at that orange level or above. Uh, and I-I just find it, um, if I devote that time early in the day and really get a great workout, you monitor your how many calories you burn based on your, uh, your body mass index as well. Uh, I have more energy all day long. So, um, so that’s a great way to start. But even before I go there, I have to do, uh, my stretching. [laughs]
I play a lot of basketball, and I run marathons and, they’re not great on your back [00:26:00] or knees. So-so I-I do that religiously as about a 20-minute program, where I’m stretching and sit-ups and moving so that I can move and go to Orangetheory and actually be on the treadmill or, uh, or on the rowing machine, or in the weight room and-and perform well. But I think that taking care of yourself physically at that time, I think sets me up for a very productive day. I also try to spend some time, and even when I’m doing the stretching, I wouldn’t call it meditation, but I wouldn’t call it thanking deeply about, you know, who I am, who I am [laughs] how far I need to accomplish, and, you know, whether-whether everything’s in balance. And so I find that to be, uh, very relaxing, and also gets my mind straight for the day ahead.
Kate: Wonderful, truly wonderful. And the last question for you, um, and it doesn’t have to be three, I just put it out there. What three rules do you live by?
Matt: Yeah, and so I-I don’t know if I live by three rules, but one thing that drives me, and always has, for some reason, is, uh, that one should strive to reach one’s potential. So and, and not to be too spiritual about this, but, you know, God has given us certain gifts and certain capabilities. And I almost feel like it’s a sin if you don’t take advantage of your God-given abilities. And so, we all have potential as human beings, along a number of different fronts.
Um, but then if-if you relate it to business, you know, so you’re-you’re starting a company, and you have a technology, and you need to hire resources, and you need to try to define the market, and you need to try to figure out how you’re going to compete effectively. And by definition, you-you-you [00:28:00] have a certain potential for that business, and it might be the number in-in health care, of course, the number of patients treated or benefiting from your product. There are– For me, after all those [unintelligible 00:28:11] there’s gotta be a financial potential for the company, uh, and that helps to measure things as well.
And so what is that overall potential? Can you try to define that? And then the goal of the company is to achieve the– as close to a 100% of that potential as you possibly can, and you’ll never get there, right? But, but I think, uh, lost potential is to me a– it’s a- it’s a big- it’s a big waste. [laughs] And so, I’ve always admired athletes who may not be the most talented, but you just know that they worked harder than anyone else and they achieve a greater percentage of their potential than a lot of other people who are more physically talented and gifted than they were. And-and that relates to for me across business and across life in general. So, I guess that’s, that would be the one driving, uh, force in my life.
Kate: Fantastic, I love it. I think that, you know, this will give many of our listeners foo-food for thought, in terms of how many of you could do strive for, uh, their potential every day. You know, as it is interesting you give the experie– the example of business, but I think from a personal standpoint, how many of us could really put our hands on our heart, and every day say I’m striving for my top potential, I’m better than I was yesterday.
Um, that probably comes to people maybe, you know, “Oh, I remember that,” “I’m supposed to do that,” or, “Oh, I remember”– Like a couple of months ago I was thinking that on the day to day, you know, when a new show gets taken over, but I think that’s a-a fantastic, you know, guiding principle with you like of, of, uh, leading your lives.
Matt: Yeah, I-I-I guess other thing is, you know, treating people the right way, right? Where any-even in a company, you know, obviously there is a CEO, uh, in a lot of companies and-and there is that person who’s, you know, just starting for the company and maybe has, you know, a-a first level role. Um, each person is equally important even though they’re at different levels and play different roles, but it does– You know, so you’re-you’re in the mail room, right? [laughs]. That’d be the traditional way-way of stereo–typical way that-to-to look at that. Well, that role is really, really important, and that person is important. And so treating people the way you wanna be treated, I mean, it almost goes without saying but, um, it shouldn’t matter the level in the organization, it-it’s, we’re all individuals and deserve that respect.
Kate: Fantastic. Matt, we’re coming up on our time today. I truly want to thank you for not only your insight but your experienced insight, uh, for our listeners today. I truly appreciate it.
Matt: Sure, thanks, Kate. Thanks for having me, and I really enjoyed it.
Kate: Firstly, thanks for listening and spending time with us. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Matt. For a transcribed version of the show, head over to beni.fit/podcast. That’s B-E-N-I.F-I-T/podcast. This is the start of compensations that begin to identify the best practices when human strived companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anybody for the show, please email me at [email protected] [email protected]
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