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SVP and GM Dirk Barten on growing Intuitive in Europe

Dirk Barten

Dirk Barten joined Intuitive in 2016 for a new role with a familiar team—he had spent the previous 14 years working closely with Intuitive partners to develop our visualization technology. Today, Dirk leads the Europe Commercial and Marketing team. Below, he reflects on what he’s excited about right now—for both the product and the team in Europe. 

 

First, tell us about your background and what brought you to Intuitive. 

I’m a biomedical engineer by training, so I’ve always been excited about this space. The combination of being at the forefront of technology and applying those solutions to help patients—that’s enormously attractive to me. My first two jobs after my studies were at GE Medical, which included some time living in the U.S., and a Swedish company called Elekta that makes radiation equipment. 

My Intuitive journey started in 2002 at a small company called Schölly Fiberoptic, which was Intuitive’s strategic partner in visualization technology. We were both small players at the time, but our goal was to develop the best visualization system in the minimally invasive world—which I think we did. Then in 2016, I was invited to move from being a partner to joining Intuitive itself as the general manager for our middle and eastern Europe region, which at the time was one of our biggest challenges in terms of growth. I was thrilled to be asked. I knew it would be difficult to drive the kind of growth we’d had in the U.S., in part because laparoscopic surgery was quite prevalent in Europe already, and in part because there were aspects of our culture that we were ready to evolve. But I’d seen how Intuitive had innovated with the da Vinci, and it was clear to me that our products could change the way surgery was performed in Europe. To have such a large impact on patients—how often do you get that chance? The opportunity to be part of that was extremely motivating to me. 


How has the culture of Intuitive Europe changed over the years?
 

Intuitive entered Europe with a certain rigorous approach, which was necessary at the time. When you’re an innovator landing in a new market, you need to come in strong or you risk fading out quickly. But because of that approach, I think we got to a point where customers loved our products more than they loved us—and they did have alternatives. In the U.S. at that time, open surgery was still the norm. But because minimally invasive technology was first developed in Europe, it was much more heavily implemented here. The view of robotics as a significant value-add wasn’t necessarily a given. 

So we had to evolve and adapt. We spent a lot of time listening, to make sure we deeply understood the local economics, and we started bringing on more local-language-speaking leaders. Over time, we were able to change the perception of Intuitive in the market to a point where our approach is one of our strongest assets. When I talk with CEOs and other hospital leaders, of course they talk about the product and how it helps patients—but what they’re also excited about is the Intuitive team. They’re so proud to be working with these smart, helpful partners; they tell me, “This person you have in our OR is amazing. Don’t ever take them away!” 


As Intuitive expands, how do you approach entering new markets?
 

In every market, we have to explain to multiple stakeholders the value and benefits our technology delivers. One important step is to build our clinical champions—to help surgeons and their teams to get to a point where they’re using our products every day, not just once a week, because that makes it much easier to understand the value. With daily use, that’s when they start seeing complication rates go down, they start seeing rates of conversion to open surgery go down, they see that OR staff can be saved, and more.  

We build believers among employees in a new market, too. As we grow a team, we invest in setting them up for success by teaching them the fundamentals that will help them in their roles, both through our onboarding process and through Intuitive Business School, where team members can build new skill sets throughout their careers. We’re constantly working to not only master the details, but also pass that knowledge along to new team members.  


What’s most exciting to you right now about this moment at Intuitive?
 

The most exciting thing to me is that our employees are so well-appreciated by our customers, in a way I’ve never experienced in any company before. Our customers are happy when we show up. That also makes our reps proud, and it makes their lives more fun—which I think is one of the reasons our turnover is so low, despite a very competitive market for employees. 

That retention itself is exciting for us, too, because we need future leaders. In a fast-growing organization like this one, someone who is willing to master our fundamental competencies and grow with the company can have a lot of doors open to them. 

As far as what’s exciting from a product perspective, our biggest opportunity right now is general surgery, as well as gynecology and thoracic. We have a lot of room there in terms of market adoption, compared to our U.S. markets. And that’s just the existing products. Ion is launching in Europe, and now we have the DaVinci SP (single port) coming to market, along with several products in the digital space that are adding intelligence to our technology. So we are opening up many growth segments already, and there’s much more to come—Intuitive’s innovation pipeline is full. It’s a really exciting time, and the future is very bright.

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Dirk Barten

Dirk Barten joined Intuitive in 2016 for a new role with a familiar team—he had spent the previous 14 years working closely with Intuitive partners to develop our visualization technology. Today, Dirk leads the Europe Commercial and Marketing team.