Shared by Rachel Lathrop on May 17, 2019


A Corporate Refugee Bares All


Written by Frank Freedman

Illustrated by Robb Miller


Please Don’t Come Anymore

What Was Happening:I was hired in 1979 to be Medtronic’s Director of Clinical Research and bring much needed change to the department. I implemented project management, standard operating procedures and many other changes. Within a year, the department’s corporate image changed from a “liability” to an asset.


What I Learned: Sometimes the job requires a manager to be a coach. If you take the time to do so, it can be a labor of love.


The clinical research department’s role was to obtain the clinical experience required to support the needs of many other departments (design, marketing, regulatory affairs, etc.), before a new pacemaker or pacing lead could be sold. It was no secret that this department was in disarray, when I became its director. On my very first day as director, I was greeted with a continuing stream of telephone complaints, some angrily expressed using four-letter expletives.

The professional staff was constantly subjected to criticism from others at Medtronic about what type of clinical experience was needed and how to obtain it. Frankly, they were demoralized when I took over.

Critical changes were necessary. That was why I was hired. I quickly convened a staff meeting to listen to their concerns and begin the process of making substantial changes. But I honestly did not have any specific ideas about what changes were necessary. It was hard to know if I would need a protective suit of amour, a big box of Kleenex or both to get through this meeting.

One by one, the staff told me about problems they faced. To their surprise (and mine), after a moment’s thought I announced that they would now lead their clinical research studies differently. Those in charge of clinical studies would operate as “clinical study managers.” This was a totally foreign concept to them. It was not how the department previously operated. As clinical study managers, their job would be to seek consensus from product development team members about what clinical experience was needed, what physicians to use as investigators and how to conduct the study. But if consensus was not possible, the clinical study manager alone would make the final decisions. It may have been the first use of project management to lead clinical studies in the Twin Cities or the entire medical device industry.

They expressed great reluctance to accept their new role. I was pointedly told that my approach was not how things were done. I countered by reminding them how difficult their jobs currently were … constantly reacting to criticism and unreasonable requests. Managing clinical research studies, rather than reacting to circumstances, would make them far more productive and make their jobs easier.

I decided to use the pending Spectrax® Pacemaker Clinical Study as the vehicle to introduce the corporation to the new way clinical research would be conducted. Spectrax was a revolutionary new type of pacemaker, one that could improve patient outcomes and boost the corporation’s bottom line. Its leader, Tim Lathrop, was now the Spectrax “clinical study manager.” Tim was a smart, popular scientist who had an engaging smile and warm personality. I don’t think he had led any project in his life. Meetings he convened about the Spectrax clinical study were always disasters.

I also told Tim that I expected him to get at least 95 percent of clinical data expected from the Spectrax clinical study. In the past, getting far less clinical data returned sufficed because very little was required to evaluate older pacemaker models. Getting 95 percent of the data returned to us was critical for two compelling reasons: New FDA regulations would require it before approving Spectrax sales in the U.S. Marketing was depending upon it to support a planned, aggressive Spectrax sales campaign.

Tim understood why I picked the Spectrax clinical study to proactively introduce these changes to the corporation. But he was very hesitant to assume his new responsibilities. A colleague and I became his coaching staff. We talked with Tim daily to make him comfortable about assuming them. Each day for about a week, Tim left Medtronic more and more confident that he could assume this new role as “clinical study manager.” Each morning he would return to work with uncertainty about his ability to do so. We stopped coaching him when he started seeing the bigger picture. The corporation could no longer tolerate clinical studies whose outcomes were marginally useful due to confusion about what clinical experience was needed and how to obtain it.

To completely allay his fears, I sent a memo to the Spectrax development team about Tim’s new role as a clinical study manager and his new responsibilities. I informed them that I planned to accompany Tim at the next team meeting in case any questions arose. At the meeting, I started to explain his new role and responsibilities. To his credit, he took over explaining his new responsibilities and how the Spectrax clinical study would be conducted.

After the meeting, Tim’s first words to me were: “Please don’t come to any more of these meetings. If you do, that could detract from my authority.” He might have expected me to be angry. Instead and with a big smile, I shook his hand and exclaimed, “Congratulations … You are where I need you to be.”

All subsequent meetings Tim convened about the Spectrax clinical study were very productive. He became an outstanding clinical study manager.

The Spectrax Clinical Research Study was one of the most successful, effective studies ever performed at Medtronic. It drew praises from all across the company. I was especially pleased that my expectations for data were met; more than 95 percent of expected data was obtained for this study. This study reset the bar for clinical research study excellence, primarily using a project management approach to pursue it. Tim’s success using my new approach for conducting clinical studies was a real “high.”


But Daddy ...


What I Learned: Very little is required to show a big interest in someone.


I happened to see Tim Lathrop talking to his young son one day. His son proudly showed him a gold star he earned from his teacher on a picture he drew. Tim congratulated his son, reached into his pocket and gave him a quarter as a reward. It was a special moment between a parent and a child.

I remembered this special moment a few weeks later when I reviewed the first draft of Tim’s Spectrax Clinical Study Report. I made a relatively large number of editorial changes and comments in red ink throughout the report. Since I remembered the special moment when Tim praised his son’s drawing, I printed “Great Job” in big bold letters and pasted a large red star I bought specifically for this occasion on the title page. Would Tim show it to his son? How would his son react?

Tim told me about his son’s response to seeing “Great Job” and the star on the title page. His son gave Tim a nickel from his piggy bank and praised Tim. But he became confused when he looked through Tim’s report. “Daddy,” he asked “how come you got a red star when you made so many mistakes?’

Tim was very pleased that I remembered this touching incident. He took great delight in telling others what happened after his son saw his report

An Exceptional Leader

Shared by Anna Legreid Dopp on May 2, 2019

My thoughts are with Judy and the entire Lathrop family.  I am so sorry for your loss.  Tim has been a major force and presence in the lives of so many. I am grateful that I worked for Tim at Medtronic between 2003 and 2005.  While two years is not a long time, the impact of those two years has carried forward in all the years since.  There are a number of stories that I treasure from my time at Medtronic and getting to work with Tim and the FCEs.  I’ll pick one of the favorites to post here – it is one that I tell almost every student or early career professional when visiting about career goals.  

One of the greatest professional opportunities I’ve ever been given was to be hired to manage the Training and Education Initiative (TEI) that Tim and the FCEs envisioned and created.  The purpose of TEI was to train clinical staff on the technical capabilities of Medtronic devices.  One day, early in the new role, I overheard someone ask Tim why he hired a pharmacist to manage TEI considering how technical the training content was.  I don’t recall that I even knew who asked Tim the question. It wasn’t in a judgmental or condescending tone… just a curious tone.  I too, was just as curious to hear the answer because while it was such an honor to serve in the position, I knew I had a steep learning curve ahead. With my ears perked and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, I listened (eavesdropped) closely from my cubicle.  Tim’s response has turned out to be the most influential statement of my professional career. Tim replied, “she went to pharmacy school, she finished a professional degree program, she learned how to learn.”  What an incredible gift to give someone so early in her career.  It was so meaningful to overhear that conversation – it has empowered and emboldened me in every role since.  

The other meaningful gift that came from Tim was the opportunity to work with the FCEs and in-house clinical research staff.  It was a collaborative and supportive culture and one that I consider to be the gold standard.  I hold my memories from Medtronic in such high regard because of Tim’s exceptional leadership style and the example he set for all of us who were fortunate to work for him and with him.  We are all better for knowing Tim Lathrop.

Another walking story

Shared by Judy Lathrop on April 21, 2019

Tim has told me about many times walking with Tom Zicardi on the " canyon  walk". I think it is like a 5 to 6 hr hike. It comes out on the  picturesque Hwy 101. This particular walk Tom's wife with 2  little ones 4 and under said she would pick them up at  a predetermined spot. It seems Tim and Tom weren't there. Poor Kelly drove around for 2 hours looking for them. When they got into the car there was an uncomfortable silence. After a few minutes the 4 year old announced quite loudly " THERE WILL BE NO DESSERT FOR YOU TONIGHT  TIM LATHROP !"

Another walking story

Shared by George Perlic on April 19, 2019

As other people who Tim managed know, he loved taking walks during his one-on-one field visits and stopping at Costco before the walk to stock up on his favorite snacks.  On one occasion, he got a big tub of beef jerky.  When I say big, I’m talking ‘bigger than your head’ big.

He started going to town on the jerky before and after the walk (it was too big and heavy to carry during the walk).  Keep in mind that we were planning on meeting my wife for dinner after our ‘meeting’.  When we sat down at the restaurant and were perusing the menu, he seemed surprised to realize that he didn’t have much of an appetite!  Of course, that didn’t stop him from ordering a beer and meal.

Seriously, I feel very fortunate to have met Tim.  It took a while, but Tim finally asked me to join his group of Medtronic field clinical engineers in 1992, and it changed my life.  He was a great mentor, manager, and leader, and he taught me many valuable lessons related to both my professional and personal life.  I have many fond memories of spending time with him and have a deep appreciation for all his help over the years.


Shared by Larry Dole on April 18, 2019

Tim was famous for what is generally known as yo-yo dieting. Extreme and quick losses followed by the inevitable weight rebound. Tim had tried many different diets over the years and he never went half-way on was go at it full tilt. I recall walking by Tim's cube one day and on his table was a very large jar of dill pickles and an equally large container of red licorice. My curiosity was of course piqued by this odd site so I had to ask Tim what this was all about. Tim didn't disappoint..."It's my new diet really works! You should try it!" 


Shared by Judy Lathrop on April 17, 2019

From Judy

My favorite story of late is we were visiting our brother-in - law Gary about 8 years after retiring. He told Tim that he was going to be retiring in the next few months and wanted some guidance . Tim said the first  thing you must do is to determine what your " retirement uniform " is going to be . Mine is my gray shorts, white Reebok shirt and Crocs. I have my go to Costco tan Crocs and of course my blue Crocs for going out to eat. You just need to decide what your "uniform " will look like and then buy like 5 shirts and several pair of pants. 

Shared by Kevin Belteau on April 12, 2019

Tim developed the FCE group as a true Family. I learned that fact immediately even prior to being hired. I had the opportunity to have an interview with Tim and others. I was hopeful to receive an offer, however, when Tim called he informed me that the current open position had been put on hold for at least three months. He knew that I had another offer and his comment to me was - 

Kevin, as a manager I'd ask you to wait for the FCE position to open. But if you were my son I would have to suggest that you accept the other position outside Medtronic.

The funny thing was that when I called my Dad, he gave me exactly the same advice. I thought, this Tim guy doesn't even really know me and he is already looking out for me and thinking about what would be best for me. That's when I decided I would wait for the position.  From that point on I have always felt he supported me and I know that he treated everyone that same way. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to be a part of Tim's family.

Life advice

Shared by Keith Hebert on April 9, 2019

Tim was a true friend who taught me the value of managing the whole person (personally and professionally) in a people first style.  An amazing example of this is when Tim and I were at Texas A&M and he met my girlfriend whom I really loved and wanted to marry, but as with any post college graduate, I was unsure of whether or not I truly found my soul mate.  Tim just sat me down and asked the obvious question, "Do you love her?"  I said yes, then he said, "well do something about it and move to the next step together".  The advice did not stop there, since Tim then went to Amber and asked her the same question about me, "do you love him?"  After a bit of shock, Amber answered yes and you could say that Tim helped us move to the next step together.  

The life advice did not stop there either...about 2 months later, Tim and I were traveling together in St. Louis and I needed some more life advice.  I was getting ready to meet my future father-in-law and ask him to marry his daughter.  I showed him the ring, then Tim sat by my side and gave me a pep talk before I met with him.  My nerves were calmed and the meeting went great.  I am still married to my wife 19 years later.

Walking Interview

Shared by Keith Hebert on April 9, 2019

I wanted to share one of many stories about Tim and how he guided my life journey from the moment we met on our first interview in Texas.  I showed up in a suit and tie in the lobby of his hotel and he walked downstairs in shorts and a T-shirt...then asked me, "you brought shorts, right?  We are going on a walk (in the 90 degree heat)".  I quickly changed in to shorts and a t-shirt I had in the car, then we just talked.  It did not even feel like an interview, but more like an informal walk with a friend, who was actually selling me on how wonderful Medtronic is.  He told me about the annual Medtronic holiday party where patients come back to tell how Medtronic changed their lives.  He told me about a parkinson's patient who was shaking so bad he could not sit in his chair, then the Medtronic colleague turned on his device and the patient waltzed across the stage.  I knew this was a company and a leader I wanted to work for.

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