Kenneth Burhop sat in the United Airlines lounge in Dulles International Airport on a cloudy Wednesday. He had driven an hour and a half from a conference in Maryland to the airport that morning and had exactly one hour to spare before his next teleconference meeting. At that moment, his emails had read like this:
“Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, but I have been traveling extensively—returned from Japan on Wednesday, spent all day Thursday flying from home in San Diego to New Jersey, all day ELT meetings in New Jersey on Friday, fly back home Friday night and then fly to Washington, DC, leaving home at 4 a.m. on Sunday.”
But Burhop never sounds haggard or jet-lagged. He sounds positively upbeat, either evidence of a midmorning espresso kicking in or a natural energy rivaled only by an NFL cheerleader. It’s clear that one or the other has been his secret weapon for the past thirty years and not just this week, sparking his rise at Baxter Healthcare and propelling his work of research-and-development planning, implementation, and optimization at Integra LifeSciences.
While earning his PhD in veterinary science, Burhop became fascinated by how the body reacts to an inflammatory insult, such as shock, burn, and trauma. He spent three years in a National Institute of Healthcare postdoctoral fellowship, learning more about how the body responded to inflammation. Over the years, Burhop has authored more than forty publications and seventy abstracts and has multiple patents to his name.
“Face time is important. I tried to know everyone at work, from the janitor to the CEO.”
He started at Baxter in the corporate inflammation program. There, his team tested the body’s response to IVs, heart bypass machinery, heart valves, and more. “It was kind of like a kid in a candy store,” Burhop says.
Next, he led the animal testing program. Products at the beginning and end of their life cycles went through Burhop’s department. He was constantly learning about new products and how to make them safer and more biocompatible. Burhop quickly assumed roles of increasing responsibility, spending most of his time at Baxter developing blood substitutes.
After ten years of managing people, he developed three rules for being successful at work. The first is to have fun. The work he was doing had to be interesting, helpful, and collaborative. The second is that people are everything. “Face time is important,” he says. “I tried to know everyone at work, from the janitor to the CEO.” Finally, the third is to never stop learning. He spent most of his tenure at Baxter working with universities and researchers to unveil new products and solutions for the body’s ailments.
But after twenty-four years at Baxter, things had changed. At the time, layoffs and restructuring eliminated the fun, made the people disposable, and kept Burhop from continuing to learn. His daughter pointed out he wasn’t living by his three rules, so he left to work at a start-up in San Diego.
A few years later, an old boss from Baxter enlisted Burhop’s expertise. Today, he works at Integra, a company that specializes in devices used in orthopedic extremity surgery, neurosurgery, and reconstructive and general surgery. With more than 3,700 employees worldwide, Integra needed someone versed in both large company processes and innovative medical R&D. Burhop thought it sounded like fun, and he was hired as corporate vice president and chief scientific officer in 2014.
Burhop’s goal is to accelerate the company’s clinical organization and short- and long-term regenerative medicine R&D strategy. One of his first initiatives was streamlining the fragmented R&D resources across the company.
“When I came to Integra, the first thing we did was consolidate all these little fragments of the regenerative businesses and clinical expertise into one,” he says. “It didn’t make sense to duplicate it if you start talking about speed and efficiency.” His next goal was to develop and implement common processes across all divisions.
In the past ten years, Integra LifeSciences has acquired more than forty companies. Integrating these new acquisitions and getting these small companies to operate as one large company has been essential. Burhop’s experiences at Baxter helped him with strategic planning and enforcing common values across these businesses. But he is fully aware that each division—and each person—brings something different to the table.
“Every presentation I’ve ever given for the last fifteen years has a picture of Clint Eastwood from Magnum Force, 1973,” he says. “It says, ‘A man’s gotta know his limitations.’ I can’t possibly know what everyone is doing on a day-to-day basis. I don’t have the same experience as they do. So, I know that as one of my limitations.”
His collaborative management style contributes to his love of learning new things. “I spend a lot of my time trying to understand what is that unmet clinical need,” he says.
Burhop is also helping Integra look far into the future, anticipating the needs of the healthcare industry up to ten years out. “That’s what I get excited about,” he says. “This is what gets me up in the morning, when I go, ‘Wow, this could really change a patient’s life.’ This is the fun part of this whole job.”