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Pushing the Borders of What’s Possible

Iman Jeddi

A single test drive of Intuitive’s technology convinced Iman Jeddi she wanted to be part of the team. A decade later, during her own health crisis, she was comforted to have that technology with her in the operating room. Iman now leads one of our three business units, helping reimagine what robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery can be. “I want to empower people to push on the borders of what’s possible,” Iman says.

Tell us about the Single Port Platform business unit and your role as senior vice president and general manager.

Da Vinci SP (single port), is one of three Intuitive systems, all of which center around delivering minimally invasive care. The innovative system enables surgeons to deliver robotic surgery through a single port. Its highly flexible instruments and camera are on a single arm so surgeons can use a single incision, or even use a natural orifice to gain 360-degree access to anatomy. In many cases, SP allows access in a completely different way. To remove the prostate, for example, surgeons can navigate their way around the abdomen rather than making several incisions and going through it. Another example is transoral surgery, where the SP system accesses tumors through the mouth.

Intuitive started with multiport surgery, meaning the instruments and camera go in through multiple, small incisions, and that itself is less invasive than traditional options—I had a multiport Intuitive surgery a couple of years ago, so I’ve experienced that firsthand. SP and our Ion system, which is built by our endoluminal team and is used to enable lung biopsy, are the two newer platforms.

My job is essentially to be the person thinking about the SP platform—the clinical strategy, commercial strategy, what products we should develop next. In other words, I lead the team in figuring out what we’re going to do, and then making that happen.

You mentioned having an Intuitive surgery yourself—tell us more about that experience.

In 2020, my doctor found a fibroid the size of a grapefruit in my uterus. I was told that in order to remove it I’d need to have a hysterectomy. But I wasn’t ready to make a decision about whether to have another child, or to undergo a hormone preservation program. And I knew that da Vinci surgical systems can be used to perform myomectomies—to remove fibroids while preserving the uterus. I pushed for that option.

This was right at the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns, so I wasn’t allowed to have anyone go into the hospital with me—my husband had to drop me off. I remember feeling nervous and scared, and then I got into the room and saw the da Vinci, and thought, “Oh, I’m not alone.” It was like everyone at Intuitive was there with me, and I knew they’d worked so hard to make this possible for me and all of our patients.

It was a five-hour surgery, but I was able to walk out of the hospital at 6 p.m. I don’t think I even took an ibuprofen. And today I have a few little scars that I can barely see.

Tell us about your path to Intuitive, and to this role.

My brother was a surgeon and I liked math. So the intersection of medicine and engineering was always interesting to me. I earned my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and worked in multiple startups after school, then continued to work while I went back for a master’s and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. I worked in diabetes care and helped build an implant that continuously monitors a patient’s glucose levels, and eventually moved from engineering into operations and then new product introduction.

In 2013, I had an opportunity to test-drive Intuitive’s products, and I never looked back. It was amazing—I fell in love with the technology and the possibilities of what it could do. I also liked the idea of joining an organization with the resources of a large company, but the agility of a small startup. My first role here was as a director in the quality organization, and over the next couple of years I worked my way up to VP. Then our COO at the time, who had seen the improvements we’d been making in quality and knew my background in engineering, gave me the opportunity to move into a role as VP of systems engineering and operations. That was a great role—I was able to move upstream and try to prevent future quality problems through my experience, and I learned a lot about how Intuitive does engineering and systems manufacturing. In 2020, when we organized into the three platforms we have today, I was offered this role.

Tell us about the culture at Intuitive and on your team.

I think our most important company value is “patient first, always.” It really holds true—working in quality, for example, you’re sort of seen as the police in a lot of organizations. But that’s never been the case here. Our engineers are very conscious of how their decisions affect the people we serve, and we make portfolio and launch decisions that reflect that.

I’d also say Intuitive is a very collaborative environment, because so many different areas of expertise need to come together to build these products—the instruments need to work with the accessories, and they all need to work with the scopes. Another company value is “small teams win,” and we do believe small teams facilitate faster decisions and more creative ideas—we’re very thoughtful about who is and isn’t critical for a certain project. But for every project, there’s always a core team that covers different specialties, and then an extended core team that includes some of the centralized services we share across platforms, like regulatory and quality. Those cross-functional conversations are where magic happens, so you really can’t have silos

What’s your top priority as a leader?

What I value most is open dialogues—I want everyone to have a voice, and I want my team members to challenge each other and challenge me. Environments where people just nod their heads and go along make me wary. I try to ask a lot of questions myself, too, and get to the “why” of our assumptions. If you tell me a process is going to take six months because it’s always taken six months, let’s dig into that. What are the steps? I never want to do it in a way that feels antagonistic; it should come from a place of genuine curiosity. Teach me what this process is about, and let’s work together to find ways we can do it better. I want to empower people to push on the borders of what’s possible.

What are you excited to achieve as your team and Intuitive grow?

We’re expanding on several fronts—in terms of where our products are used, what they’re used for, and what they can do. Our single-port launch was in the U.S. and South Korea; we’ve since been approved for use in Japan, and we’re looking at other geographies now. We also focused initially on urology and transoral in the U.S. but have a much wider range of indications in South Korea, and that’s helped us learn how single port is most valuable. We’re currently focusing on clinical studies in colorectal and thoracic areas in the U.S.

As far as what our products can do, we have a full pipeline of new technologies to build. Because we were able to model it off Intuitive’s other products, our SP platform is more advanced than a typical first-generation product—but it’s still first-gen. There are so many capabilities we can add as we learn more about where we’re going clinically. Just like multiport has dozens of instruments, for everything from grasping and cutting to suturing and stapling and sealing, we’ll be expanding our options as we grow.

In the meantime, we’re laying the foundation—doing the work we need to do to scale in an organized way. There are going to be huge opportunities to grow the platform, and that’s really exciting.

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Iman Jeddi

Iman Jeddi, GM and SVP Single Port, leads one of our three business units, helping reimagine what robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery can be.

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