In conversation with Martin Jamieson

18th Oct 23

Martin jamieson thumbnail

There is not much about the world of med­ical devices with which Mar­tin Jamieson is unfa­mil­iar. He has built a stel­lar career as a Man­ag­ing Direc­tor, CEO, Chair and non-exec­u­tive direc­tor in the sec­tor. It was, though, far from obvi­ous that this was des­tined to be his pro­fes­sion, indeed his true passion.

Martin was born on a RAF camp in Buckinghamshire. His father was in the air force. At the age of five his family moved to Berlin, not long after the wall had been built to divide that city into two sections. He would be there for seven years until just before becoming a teenager. It would be an “extremely formative experience”. He remembers piano lessons in the shadows of Spandau Prison and exploring the woods to discover bullets, shells and other remnants of conflict. War appeared omnipresent. He recalls being “very, very scared of the Russians”. To this day he cannot touch fragments of the wall. Checkpoint Charlie was all too real an aspect of what was an exceptionally unusual upbringing.

When he returned to England, he moved around a number of places depending on his father’s role. He was in Wales when he undertook his A-levels. In so far as he had a career aspiration then, it was “to be a farmer”. He has retained an interest in agriculture and horticulture ever since. It was not, though, that realistic an ambition at his tender stage of life. He went off to London to read Business Studies. He found the material stimulating but, in truth, he “did not know what he wanted to do.”

He needed to do something, nonetheless, so in an “if all else fails” sort of move he enlisted with the RAF as a Student Officer and started to train to become a pilot himself. It just did not suit him. He also felt, rather naively in retrospect, that there would be “no more wars” so that he was heading for a dead-end existence. There have been plenty of military confrontations since, but in any case he was leaving the RAF now.

To do what? He had a heart to heart with his father and some close family friends. One of them came with a word of advice, namely “pharmaceuticals” would be the future, was the assertion. Martin was enthused and wanted to break into it.

This was not straightforward. Martin was interested in marketing and in being a product manager. To achieve that he had first to serve an apprenticeship in sales. To his surprise, perhaps, he had a flair for it. He was a Medical Representative, then Assistant Product Manager and then Product Manager for Wyeth Laboratories, who were on the real cutting edge of drug discovery and an exciting company with which to be associated. He became their Group Product Manager and after that European New Products Marketing Manager.

To move faster and further he moved over to 3M Healthcare as he felt that med tech moved much quicker than Pharma. He joined as Marketing Manager and then became their youngest General Marketing Manager.

All of which only encouraged him to think bigger still. To move faster and further he moved over to 3M Healthcare as he felt that med tech moved much quicker than Pharma. He joined as Marketing Manager and then became their youngest General Marketing Manager. 3M, known for post-it pads also had a $5bn life sciences division. The significant stretch that he spent there prepared him for taking on the most senior responsibilities.

He did this initially by becoming the Managing Director of Simcare and HG Wallace Ltd. Not much more than a year later he was the MD of SIMS Portex, Pnepac, Simcare, Wallace. This was a major shift in that it brought him serious international reach as an executive. The next step was at the helm of an even bigger entity, Smiths Medical Airway and IVF Global Business Units which had a sizeable American footprint. He was advancing on all fronts and at considerable speed. Yet he also found time to do a stint as Deputy Chairman and later Chairman of the CBI’s South-East Region. The CBI then was very much a force in the land and if it had not been for the constraints of time, Martin would have liked to have done more with it. He found the quality of people whom he met to be impressive.

The day job had to take priority. He was the Managing Director of Smiths Medical International, an even larger organisation than the others which he had steered. It required substantial reform and reorganisation, and Martin acquired an expertise in mergers and acquisitions on a global scale. It also involved the integration of differing types of companies in a structure which meant this could be challenging at times.

So, he decided to do “something completely different”. He applied to be and was appointed as the Director General of the Country Land and Business Association, a membership organization which included both large estates, the National Trust and smaller land owners. He made a forceful impact on the quality of its government lobbying and “loved it”. The problem was that he had become accustomed to somewhat bigger challenges.

This meant a return to the medical world. His berth was as the Chief Executive Officer of the Rayner Group. This was an extremely innovative company. It was a global ophthalmic business which developed, manufactured and marketed lenses to seventy markets internationally. He would be required to devise a comprehensive restructuring strategy, recruit a very high calibre management team, open a major new factory and head office, acquire a German company for distribution and expand their American presence. He was not short of a compelling agenda.

He then moved to Nexstim as Chairman and CEO, a listed Finnish company focusing on brain imaging. After 4 years of commuting to Helsinki however, his mind was starting to turn to whether he wanted to continue in a single employed capacity, or whether taking on a range of different projects would have an appeal to him. That shift would occur via a slightly idiosyncratic route, but it chimed with a deliberate line of travel.

What Chair/NXD positions do you hold?

I am currently the Chair at both Ampersand Health and UroPharma. I am an NXD at C-Major Ltd and LightPoint Medical Ltd. I am a Board Facilitator with Rocket Medical Plc. That last one is something of an outlier in that it is a more mature business whereas in general I look at earlier stage ones.

What prompted you to explore non-executive roles?

A combination of my own interests and that of my primary employer. I thought that it would be good for my personal development to acquire experience in a range of businesses. I was strongly supported in this by Smiths Medical who were rather enlightened in approving of this activity.

How did you get your first such role and what attracted you to the organisation?

If we regard my time with the CBI as closer to voluntary work than a non-executive responsibility, then the first was as an NXD with Medway NHS Foundation Hospital Trust. It seemed to be a logical fit to me. I had to learn how a big hospital trust can be managed. I applied for that position (in all other cases in my plural life I have been approached unsolicited). I became the Deputy Chair and the Chair of the Audit Committee (which was unconventional for someone rooted in marketing).

In non-exec roles what has been the most useful part of your prior management career?

I think it has been developing strategies and international expansion. Companies often fail to focus on strategy. Everyone wants to expand in principle, but they often need a lot of help in practice.

What makes a business appealing to you as a NXD/Chair?

I like early-stage businesses with young and vibrant management teams. That is really enjoyable. I also want the product offering to fit in a clearly defined space ideally.

What are the three biggest lessons that you have learnt from being an NXD/Chair?

First, in the early-stage sphere, the ambitions of founders can be unrealistic. You need to assist them in managing those expectations. Second, resources are the key limiting factor to growth. Raising money is always difficult. Companies often do not understand why this is so. Finally, you are not an executive. Your influence depends crucially on how persuasive you are.

What has been your best experience that you have had as a NXD/Chair?

There are a number but if forced to choose it would have to be my time at LightPoint. I have been there from the beginning. I have seen the business expand and save lots of lives through its output. It has been sold to Telex Pharmaceutical and will be a global concern. That has been amazing.

What is the biggest problem that you have faced as an NXD and did you resolve it?

That would probably be one where I joined as Chair but then had to take over as CEO shortly afterwards with the need to refocus the company, switch it back to its original orientation and raise money for it. It was at least partially resolved.

What are the biggest challenges that boards will have to deal with over the medium term?

Corporate governance. NXDs are going to have to take greater responsibility for their actions and with that comes increased accountability. Then there is the surge in the regulatory obligations for medical technology. For early-stage companies fundraising is a constant need and is hard right now.

What advice would you give anyone starting out on a portfolio career?

You have to be clear that you have the capacity to take companies on and a real interest in them. You have to be confident that you will be able to make a difference and that often means that you can offer strategic insights. You must have an expertise but be impartial with how you will deploy it.