An interview with Jerry Sanders
Interview by: Debbie Read
Gerald (Jerry) Sanders is the founder of San Francisco Science™ and its Managing Director.
Mr. Sanders is a member of the New York and California Bar Associations, and a former law clerk to The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and to Judge O. M. Trask of that Circuit. He is an Honorary Consul, accredited to the State Department on behalf of The Republic of Haiti.
A former Navy SEAL with Israel's storied Naval Commando Unit, Mr. Sanders is a graduate of Queens College, New York, and of The University of Texas Law School, in Austin. He also is a "certificant" in Mexican Constitutional Law from The Autonomous University of Mexico and in German Socio-economics from The Goethe Institute of Bonn.
Mr. Sanders began his professional career in international finance and corporate law at Simpson Thacher and Bartlett, a New York City law firm. As a business attorney, he represented foreign governments in international transactions and prominent families of substantial wealth both in the US and abroad. After several years in Europe and the Middle East, he returned to San Francisco to lead The Shaw Group, an incubator of medical device companies. He was an advisor to the founding group of AVE (now Ave-Medtronics) and several years later, he started three of his own medical device companies ("X-Cardia", "S-cubed" and "NeoVision"). These companies became the platform for San Francisco Science™.
Mr. Sanders is on the board of several start-up companies and is profiled as a "case study" in The Harvard Business School MBA curriculum ("Entrepreneurship"; "Power and Influence"). He lectures periodically at the Harvard, M.I.T., Northwestern and Stanford business schools and at the Hoover Institute.
First of all, a very warm welcome to you. You are the founder and Managing Director of San Francisco Science™ (SFS). Can you tell us a bit about the history of SFS??
SFS came into being through a combination of curiosity and good luck. I had met a physician who was trying to raise money for a start up medical device company. Though far from being an expert (then) on the topic, I knew enough to tell that he was going about it all wrong. I offered to help him structure his presentation and hone his speaking style and much to my surprise he took me up on it. He came to spend a weekend in San Francisco with the expectation that I would provide a one-on-one seminar and for some odd reason, I did. Though the company he was trying to raise money for was not successful, several months later he came back to me with an idea and asked me to partner with him in developing it. That idea was the basis for my first company, X-Cardia, a cardiac output monitor mounted on an endo tracheal tube. The company was successful. It occurred to me then that I had the basis for a long term vehicle: a company that would seek out early stage ideas from physicians, take full management control of those ideas, develop them into products and sell them to larger companies.
Where do you see San Francisco Science™ in 5 years time?
SFS will continue to do what it does now, perhaps on a larger scale.
What was it that encouraged you to move from a career in international finance and corporate law to leading companies that develop unique medical devices?
After law school I clerked for a federal appeals judge in San Francisco. A year later, I went to work for a Wall Street law firm. Shortly after that, I moved abroad to represent private companies. I found that my clients’ business always seemed to me to be much more interesting than my own. I wanted to be the client. Several years later, and through sheer happenstance, I met a very prominent and inventive hear surgeon, trained in both law and business, who was willing to take me under his wing and teach me the medical device business.
What are your views on the general advancement of medical technology in the US in relation to European advancements?
The US is a risk-taking culture. Our heroes tend to be the individual who takes an enormous risk and succeeds. Better yet if she does so against all odds…. “Old Europe” does not share in that culture. Many US-physicians are also alert and astute business people. They have to be in order to profit and succeed in our culture of medicine, a culture which is very entrepreneurial and which requires a substantial investment of time and effort from each physician in tending to the business side of his/her practice. Because there is great financial reward to physicians who innovate, physicians here innovate. Part of that innovation is the invention and protection of ideas that can improve health care and along the way make money.
"I am open to any idea however crazy if it has the possibility of success. I hate to do things the conventional way…and sometimes that comes at a price."
Your website states that “SFS does not believe that every technology is a company; or that every company is an IPO” (Initial Public Offering). Can you expand on this belief?
Venture capitalists will not fund a company unless its technology is broad enough to bear the weight cost and time required to develop a company. At SFS we build modules; they can be combined into a company or they can be sold off to a third-party who has space for just such a module. This approach allows us to take on ideas that would otherwise not get to market. Similarly, some companies, though broad enough to be a company, are not broad enough to go through an IPO and then sustain their share value in the face of the enormous competition and consolidation in the medical device arena. We do not seek to take our companies public. Rather, we seek to sell them to the larger players in the industry.
You are profiled in the Harvard Business School "Entrepreneurship" class and its "Power and Influence" class. As Managing Director, how would you describe your management and leadership style?
I delegate a great deal and I look at an individual’s common sense more than I do at their alma mater or grades. I am open to any idea however crazy if it has the possibility of success. I hate to do things the conventional way…and sometimes that comes at a price.
SFS produces a highly diverse range of medical devices. What do you view as your most successful product to date, and why?
Though we have had several notable successes, I am most proud of a device we developed and sold for cerebral protection during carotid angioplasty. The device reverses the arterial blood flow to the brain precluding the possibility that any emboli could travel to the brain and at first blush seems counter-intuitive. In fact, our first FDA panel refused to believe it could work though we showed them videos of the device being used in humans (in Argentina). Moreover, the entire medical device establishment (J&J, Guidant, Boston Scientific) were against us because they had developed what, in the opinion of many, were less effective and more dangerous “filters” for the same purpose.
Can you explain the processes that you go through from initially finding the "break through" technology, to getting the finished device into the hands of the medical professionals?
Though I could, I would have to kill you afterwards.
Finally, what article or book has had the most profound effect on your professional outlook, and why?
"In Hostile Territory” by Gerald Westerby. It’s an amazing collection of vignettes from a spy’s undercover life covering business and principles of interaction.
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