When the men’s small group that Dave Hemink is a member of collectively decided to mine for and define their individual life purposes, just over two years ago, little did Dave know how valuable that exercise would be in the throes of the COVID-19 crisis.
At the time, Dave was a division president of a $1B global publicly-traded medical device company. As a seasoned leader with twenty-five years of experience running companies, he knew a lot about leadership. The father of two teenage girls and married to his amazing and beautiful wife, Kristin, for nearly twenty years, Dave had a loving family and an important job. Once Dave’s purpose was clarified, it suddenly opened an entirely different way of thinking.
Purpose is the overarching guiding principle that gives your life meaning. Most people haven’t clarified their purpose. Together with the other men in his group, Dave reflected on some deep questions, his life experiences, his values and gifts. Dave said, “We looked within and clarified our purposes. Your purpose is deep within you, it is there. It’s up to each person to find it.”
After thoughtful consideration, Dave defined his purpose as: “I live life to break barriers, create paths and enable people to live purposeful lives, that positively impacts others, while living in the chaos of life.”
When the COVID-19 crisis hit the US in full force in March of 2020, we all experienced chaos in our lives. Dave included. Dave is the chief executive officer of Nonin Medical, a Plymouth, MN-based medical device company, that has been a world leader in innovating and manufacturing pulse oximetry systems for 35 years. The mission of the company is to improve the quality of people’s lives throughout the world by expanding the capabilities of noninvasive measurements.
The pandemic and resulting public health crisis have created a shortage of pulse oximeters, which have been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a critical clinical therapy in treating COVID-19 patients, citing: “Oxygen therapy is a major treatment intervention for patients with severe COVID-19. All countries should work to optimize the availability of pulse oximeters and medical oxygen systems.” Dave and the Nonin team provide the equipment needed for healthcare workers and patients on the frontlines of this global pandemic.
“In the past few months, Nonin has seen a dramatic increase in demand for its mobile pulse oximeters. I don’t think anybody could have predicted what we are seeing today”, said Dave. “We’ve been fighting this from day one and the global demand for pulse oximetry products globally has been unprecedented,” Dave further stated. Nonin Medical’s executive chairman, Phil Isaacson, added, “The people who have been buying from us in the past are now trying to buy 10 times more. We can’t keep up.”
Dave and the Nonin team are literally working around the clock, expanding manufacturing capabilities and strengthening their supply chain to provide pulse oximeters to healthcare professionals worldwide to diagnose and treat COVID-19. “We have product lines that are up 2,600 percent,” reported Hemink.
Dave said his purpose helps center him during this unprecedented period. “My purpose is front and center now. Your purpose is magnified at different times of your life. You live it – it is embodied in you in times like these,” said Dave.
“As a leader, you have a lot of tools at your disposal, I compare it to a mechanic’s Craftsman red tool chest. Some of the tools you use daily, some of the tools you will never use, until one day, you have a unique job that requires a unique tool. That is where we are today. The COVID-19 crisis has our team reaching so far in the back corners of the tool chest. That chaos component is amazingly real. We’ve got supply chain issues and challenged suppliers. We are an essential employer and we’re committed to keeping our team members safe and well. We have customers who are demanding and desperately in need of product. Every hour it is something different. What I’ve learned is you live your purpose – and that tool chest – to guide you. To provide the team with the path”, Dave continued. “I think of purpose as the grout between the tiles. It holds everything together.”
When asked how he uses his purpose to lead his team, Dave replied, “I’m using it to create calm during the chaos, so I can give our team members the confidence to act. They are doing heroic things. The definition of a hero is an ordinary person in an extraordinary time who takes action. That describes our team members. They are having to really stretch – sometimes doing things they’ve never done – for the greater good. Figuring out as we go, as we’re driving 120 miles per hour. For example, helping our suppliers open shuttered factories in the Philippines and India. Finding new sources of raw materials to meet our customers’ demands. Figuring out how to process and ship orders even faster. Working with the FDA proactively and creatively to accelerate new product approvals. We’re doing this and more, all in real time. I couldn’t be any prouder of the team and the amazing work they are doing.”
If meeting the dramatic demand for Nonin products wasn’t challenging enough, while ramping up their production capabilities, Nonin Medical has had to deal with additional chaos, when one of the first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota was an employee of the company. “Suddenly, that individual, as well as 10% of the Nonin team, were in proactive quarantine, just when Nonin needed every hand on deck. Thankfully, no other team member to date has tested positive and the individual who tested positive has recovered, is healthy and back to work,” said Dave.
Christine Horton, Nonin’s vice president of global marketing states, “Great leaders and individuals grow from adversity and chaos. I see Dave as someone who is positively impacting others through the chaos of life. He’s navigating the company, the leadership team and individuals through this adversity in order to better everyone. It hasn’t been about Dave, about his title or any of that. He could have any title and people would follow him. He doesn’t need to lead with his title. They are following because they feel empowered when they follow him. He’s navigated us through so many obstacles, where we could have had failures, we’ve found opportunities. We are finding solutions. He’s navigating us to make the entire company better and very, very rapidly. In a very short time.”
“The character of a leader is defined in the time of a crisis. This is who we are and what Nonin is all about. It’s a new frontier and we need new solutions. We’re flexing our adaptable muscle for those on the frontlines. This can be – and will be – our finest hour. Having a clearly defined purpose is my rudder in the chaos of life, so I can provide the leadership all our stakeholders desperately need,” Dave said.
When leaders lead with a clear purpose, everyone benefits. It serves as your North Star, the overarching principle that gives your life meaning. Would you want to be led by someone without a purpose? What if that leader, without a clear purpose, was you?
Leading with purpose provides a path, that positively impacts others in the chaos of life. In today’s unprecedented time, while leading Nonin Medical, Dave Hemink is creating great impact.