Ragan Cheney’s Military-Inspired Leadership Philosophy at Titan Spine

Ragan Cheney draws on her military upbringing to fearlessly lead Titan Spine toward continued growth

You could say Ragan Cheney is Titan Spine‘s three-star general.

The Army brat was born in West Point, New York, and moved twenty-seven times growing up, as her father, Col. William T. Zaldo, III, now retired, rose to one of the top military ranks. Cheney watched and learned as her dad led. Over the years, one instance of her father’s leadership has stuck with her.

Zaldo noticed that the Army base’s convenience store was raising prices on certain items coincidental with paydays. He took action to stop these increases and was successful, Cheney says. The lesson, he shared with her, was that you must always take care of those who don’t have a voice or the power to effectively battle those trying to take advantage of them.

Ragan Cheney, Titan Spine Photo by Michelle Schneider

“I was raised on the saying, ‘Lead, follow, or move aside,’” she says.

At Titan since January 2016, Cheney has helped lead the spinal implant technology startup to growth that has necessitated a tripling of its workforce. Hired to be executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, Cheney has also built the company’s human resources infrastructure; helped evaluate and upgrade the health, welfare, and benefit plans to be better than competitors in its geographic region and industry; helped with the HIPAA compliance program; helped build the board infrastructure; and advised on all corporate documents.

She worked with her legal team and Titan’s finance team to convert the company from an LLC to a C corporation to make the company more nimble to enter other markets, whether through private equity or the public market. Cheney helped recruit and hire the firm’s first CFO and COO, as well as other key members of the sales, finance, and leadership teams. She also oversees contracting for Titan’s indirect salesforce, a division that has more than doubled.

This Swiss Army Knife approach began when Cheney got to talking with retired surgeon and Titan’s cofounder, CEO, and president, Peter Ullrich, at a community event before she worked there. The two live near each other and knew each other socially. At the time, Cheney had been working for Associated Benefits and Risk Consulting—a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated Bank Corporation—since 2007 as senior vice president and senior human resources consultant.

During the chat, Cheney suggested a few things to improve Titan as it grew, and before she knew it, Ullrich and the other founding member of Titan, Kevin Gemas, had offered her a role. To begin, she was just hired as general counsel and was tasked to build the company’s human resources and compliance programs. However, Cheney says the urge to take on more responsibility was too great, and she began to immediately look for additional ways to improve the company.

“It’s how I’m wired,” she says. “Dr. Ullrich, when he tells the story, always says, ‘We knew we needed someone like Ragan, but we didn’t know how much we needed her until she got here,’ which I take as a great compliment.”

Cheney’s impact has always gone beyond her standard job description. At Associated, she helped design and deliver a program known as “Emerging Leaders, Emerging Managers.” This program identified individuals who may not have the title of manager or supervisor, but who exemplified core leadership strengths.

Similarly, when she joined Titan, Cheney sought to build various internal employee training programs that reinforce fundamental leadership skills such as building trust and setting goals, in addition to a New Year resolution program referred to as “Your Attitude Determines our Altitude.”

“I love to connect individuals who have similar interests, creating a supportive and collaborative environment,” she says. “Some like to call themselves leaders, but they’re not. They have the title but don’t lead. The responsibility of leaders is to make sure you are instilling confidence and knowledge in people to the point where they can function without you if you leave.”

In addition to improving the company’s internal processes, Cheney also strives to maintain Titan’s leadership status in the surface technology marketplace. Titan’s proprietary surface technology has already changed the interbody fusion market. As outlined in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research, its proprietary combination of nanosurface textures works at macro, micro, nano, or cellular levels to quickly encourage the production of bone growth factors needed for rapid bone growth and fusion.

“To remain the leader, my team has to work with outside professionals in intellectual property to make sure our competitors aren’t infringing on our intellectual property or misrepresenting their own FDA clearances,” Cheney says.

Always learning is one of Cheney’s tactics to keeping her leadership skills sharp. Podcasts, books on tape, seminars, and interaction with peers ensure she stays on top of today’s news and philosophies.

“Keep an eye on your competitors, but obsess over your customers,” she says. “I see customers and their families as colleagues. I’m so fortunate to work for a company that truly makes a difference in people’s lives.”

We are thrilled to congratulate Ragan Cheney on this recognition. Ragan is an instrumental part of Titan’s success and impressive growth trajectory. Her ability to manage fiduciary responsibilities while executing key business points have allowed for fluid decision-making and a like-minded relationship with her banking partner.

Titan Spine is a fast-growing medical device company that specializes in the design, manufacture, and marketing of implants used in the cervical and lumbar spine. Stradley Ronon’s IP group has worked closely with Titan’s GC Ragan Cheney to develop a robust, comprehensive, and worldwide patent portfolio covering the company’s technology.