Kurt Stitcher’s dual titles at Nihon Kohden America (NKA)—general counsel and vice president of compliance—don’t fully capture the work he does at the medical device company. In fact, since he joined NKA in 2021, he’s spent the majority of his time on executive-level matters that aren’t usually within the purview of either of those roles.
With over two decades of experience in global law and consulting firms, and more years as a federal prosecutor and as an in-house legal and compliance leader, Stitcher has drawn on his wide range of experience to help the company improve its operational and corporate governance structures and processes in order to drive maturity and growth.
But, despite Stitcher’s many successes, his main focus is putting others in positions to succeed.
“My leadership philosophy is that a leader’s success should be judged not by his or her achievements, but by the achievements of those whom he or she leads,” he says. “Yes, I hope what I’m doing makes a difference, but I am a part of a culture, a team. I work with others, I rely on others, I achieve things through others, and I try to help them achieve things through me and my department.”
That leadership mentality underlies the many initiatives that Stitcher has driven at Nihon Kohden. “It’s a pioneer in its field, and the amazing quality of the products it sells, the unparalleled customer experience, and a patient-first philosophy dovetail nicely with my own philosophies and personal missions,” he says. “I view my job as making a difference in the company’s ability to carry out its vision and its mission, and that will be my lasting legacy to Nihon Kohden and all those whose lives it touches.”
One of Stitcher’s first initiatives was to turn the CEO’s executive team into an executive committee, and to draft a charter to outline its responsibilities. As secretary to the committee, Stitcher developed an action items register, a corporate governance corrective and preventive actions plan, and several task forces specifically designed to tackle some of the biggest business challenges facing NKA.
Instead of simply discussing issues among an executive team, he explains, the key is to hold an individual executive accountable for driving each issue to resolution with a group of “stakeholders,” such as through a formal task force.
“This has been a labor of love, and the effort is already bearing fruit,” he says. “If I win Powerball and leave tomorrow, that structure and that discipline for running an issue down and recommending a resolution would be a lasting legacy for the company.”
Stitcher has also worked to build up the company’ legal and ethics and compliance departments. On the legal side, he has conceived and led multiple continuous improvement projects to better serve the company, including by drafting standard contract templates, upgrading the functionality of its contract management system, and positioning the department as an independent voice at the company—all while collaborating with other departments to provide legal support. On the ethics and compliance front, he’s making similar strides, building the department from scratch with new policies, processes, education, and the like.
In enhancing both of these functions, Stitcher says a major challenge has been winning over the hearts and minds of some of his colleagues.
“Because the company hasn’t had a true legal or ethics and compliance function, because it’s a sales-driven organization, and because some folks just like to do things the old-fashioned way, a professional in my role must not only drive organizational change management, but must win over those who are, individually, resistant to change or who view legal and compliance with some degree of suspicion,” he explains. “Whatever past experiences such folks may have had, however, I approach them openly and honestly, seeking to understand their pressures and imperatives, and working with them collaboratively, and with a spirit of humility and service, to get to the right result.”
For his team, Stitcher aims to be the mentor he never had. He came up in the dog-eat-dog world of global law firms. That experience instilled in him a strong obligation to pave the way for others by sharing what he’s learned along the way. He has created formal professional development and mentorship programs over the years and has worked informally to help individuals reach their personal goals.
“If one of my attorneys wants to be a GC one day, I plan out with him or her how we’re going to climb that hill and put them in that chair, whether as my successor or even elsewhere,” he says. “I’ve also mentored younger professionals outside of the company where I work, not only because I enjoy sharing my ‘trials and tribulations’ advice with others but because I would hope that other professionals would do the same for my children.”
As a father of four, he’s hoping to leave a lasting legacy for his children—one of respect, empathy, humility, and teamwork.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are those of Kurt Stitcher and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nihon Kohden America.