Over the course of her fifteen-year career at Minneapolis-based healthcare company Medtronic, Betsy Van Hecke has taken on a wide variety of responsibilities. From working as a senior legal director who worked with individual clients and sales contracting, to her role as a vice president of ethics and compliance, to her current position as vice president, legal for Medtronic’s Cardiac and Vascular Group, Van Hecke credits her success to a deep knowledge of Medtronic’s inner workings. Now, as she runs the legal department of Medtronic’s largest division, Van Hecke uses that experience to spearhead initiatives meant to grow the company’s ability to help patients.
Before joining Medtronic,Van Hecke had a long career in both public and private practice. After graduating from law school, she clerked for a federal judge before joining Minneapolis-based private practice Dorsey & Whitney as an associate attorney. After spending a couple of years as an expat working for the firm in its Hong Kong office, Van Hecke returned to the States to take an offer from Medtronic.
The biggest transition for Van Hecke upon joining Medtronic was getting used to the challenges of in-house practice. “There was a lot of newness when I started,” Van Hecke says. “But it was great fun—lots of variety in the issues I would handle.” Over time, she graduated to larger responsibilities, eventually becoming the lead lawyer for a very significant product recall ten years ago.
This kind of recall has its own obstacles, especially in the case of implantable medical technology. “If there’s something wrong, it might be riskier for a patient to take out a device than leave it in,” Van Hecke says. Nonetheless, she saw Medtronic through a successful recall, which led to greater management responsibilities and, eventually, to her current position.
“Betsy joins her deep industry knowledge with her impressive legal and business skills to provide insight and guidance to Medtronic as it continues to forge new pathways in global healthcare, “ says Marty Lueck, chairman of the executive board at Robins Kaplan LLP.
Her vast experience at Medtronic allows Van Hecke to see the company from numerous angles, which is a useful asset in her legal work. A particular motivator throughout her tenure has been Medtronic’s mission statement, which the company’s founder, Earl Bakken (the inventor of the wearable pacemaker), crafted in 1960. Among its priorities include the need to “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life,” as well as recognizing the personal worth of employees and striving for reliability and quality in their products.
“It really guides people’s thinking and inspires their work,” Van Hecke says. “It helps them remember that there is a patient at the other end of everything they’re doing.” A personal connection also reinforces Medtronic’s mission to Van Hecke as well as the importance of the company’s work. Van Hecke’s husband, John, is a Medtronic patient. “That makes it easy for me to see the connection between the work and the people whose lives are saved as a result.”
These lessons inform her current work in several ways. While her business expertise allows her to contribute to corporate strategy, these positions have also armed her with a broader sense of analytical thinking and a unique perspective on Medtronic’s operations. She also values her legal team’s willingness to have conversations about risk, as opposed to being overly cautious, she says.
Over the past few years, Van Hecke has leveraged that sense of partnership and collaboration into several fruitful initiatives at Medtronic. For instance, the company has placed a greater focus on strategic planning. Van Hecke led the legal function in looking across departments to make sure Medtronic was meeting its strategic goals.
Van Hecke has also been aiding the company in a significant organizational design project for her legal department, putting together groups of people who used to do similar work in different pockets of the organization. With this restructuring, these groups now work as one team on a consistent basis.
One of the most exciting initiatives Van Hecke has spearheaded, however, is a global center of excellence for value-based healthcare across all of Medtronic’s legal business units. While the project is still in its early days, Van Hecke hopes to help Medtronic adapt to a changing healthcare system that is increasing pressure on healthcare providers to increase value of service rather than the number of patients it serves.
“Ropes & Gray values the partnership we have established with Betsy and her team at Medtronic,” says Tim McCrystal, partner and cochair of the health care practice at Ropes & Gray. “We look forward to continuing to serve as a resource for value-based healthcare matters and other key legal issues.”
With these initiatives and more, Van Hecke is confident that Medtronic will continue to play a role in the turbulent, ever-changing world of healthcare. “We’re the largest med-tech company in the world; the approaches we take can have a significant impact,” she says. By focusing more on value-based initiatives and a strong organizational structure, Medtronic’s legal team looks to continue the mission its founder set nearly sixty years ago.
Leaders Helping Leaders
In addition to Medtronic’s other initiatives, Van Hecke is particularly proud of her participation in an executive training program that trains executives to become executive coaches. Van Hecke herself has completed three hundred hours of training to become a certified coach, which she sees as a valuable opportunity for professional development at the company. “When executives learn how to coach other executives, we become better leaders as a result,” she says.
“DLA Piper congratulates Betsy Van Hecke on this well-deserved recognition of her incisive and thoughtful approach to healthcare innovation. We value our relationship with Medtronic and share its commitment to facilitating the delivery of integrated, sustainable care.” -Karen Nelson, Partner