David Royster knows the value of patience. Though he has worked as an attorney for more than twenty years now, Royster has changed jobs just two times in his entire life. That career path has taught Royster to play the long game. More so, it’s taught him to play the game his way.
In the three years following his graduation from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, Royster worked as an associate on the litigation team at Baker & Daniels. And in January 2000, when he joined the legal department at Zimmer Holdings as a staff attorney, it would be the start of an era.
“I was there for seventeen years,” Royster says. “I know that other people would try to move through the various levels of in-house practice as quick as they could by changing jobs and changing companies, but that just wasn’t my chosen path. I knew I had a long horizon to get wherever I wanted to go—it was a marathon, not a sprint.”
To Royster’s mind, his long tenure at Zimmer is what made him a perfect candidate for the general counsel position at BIOTRONIK, a Germany-based medical device company that specializes in innovative cardiovascular and endovascular solutions.
“Staying so long allowed me to get to know the company inside and out, and to grow as the company grew,” Royster notes. “And I was never interested in specialization. I definitely have my strengths in terms of legal practice areas, but I wanted to take advantage of all opportunities to learn and sometimes volunteered without even being asked to be legal support for a new project. It is rare that opportunities open up in in-house legal practice, so you have to take them as you see them, even if you don’t think they’re a natural fit.”
Royster’s experience working in many different practice areas and in-depth knowledge of company operations are invaluable for any general counsel role but especially one at a smaller company like BIOTRONIK, he says. “They needed a general counsel with a lot of experience because the legal department here is fairly small,” the GC remarks. “And for me, it was an opportunity to have a fresh start and to come in and profoundly shape a fairly undeveloped legal function—to really make a mark on something.”
“Do your own thing. Have your own journey. And be patient with it—because it’s a long haul.”
And now, less than a year after joining the company, Royster believes he is well on his way to making that mark. The legal department at BIOTRONIK is responsible for ensuring that the company grows their sales and market shares in a compliant manner—a task made all the more challenging by the intense regulations associated with the medical device industry.
Essentially, the legal department is focused on “getting obstacles out of the way of the business” and making sure it doesn’t get bogged down in unnecessary litigation or investigations. “The company needs to be able to focus just on its products, which are excellent,” Royster offers.
But when Royster first stepped up to helm the legal department, it wasn’t perfectly positioned to deliver on all that was expected. “There hadn’t been a general counsel for quite a while when I got here, so the department wasn’t in a position where it could make much of a difference and steer the company at a higher level,” Royster says.
But ever since his arrival, Royster has committed to cultivating relationships with internal leaders at the company and changing how other senior managers perceive the legal department as a whole. “I think I’ve made sure that the legal department is going to have a new prominence and highly visible place in the organization,” the GC says. “And that has fairly rapidly changed the culture and outlook of the legal department here.”
Comparing his own outlook to his mind-set in the early days of his career, Royster says that things have completely changed. “I used to be constantly worried about getting the next promotion, taking the next step, and competing with my colleagues—just getting caught up in the game,” he recalls. “But that wasn’t my natural habitat, and I wish I’d just ignored all the noise and done things the way that fit with my personality and goals. Do your own thing. Have your own journey. And be patient with it—because it’s a long haul.”