Nurse to CEO – Leadership lessons from a 30 year career
Energy and passion are two words that come to mind when first meeting Lori Chmura. The exuberant former nurse is as committed to helping women advance in the business world as she is with advancing the interests of her company, now focused on women’s health.
As the CEO of Dune Medical Devices, Lori Chmura is passionate about the possibilities her main product – MarginProbe – offers for women with breast cancer. “The goal of a lumpectomy, or breast cancer preservation surgery, is to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible while removing all the cancer,” she says, “ but statistics show that 25% of women have a second surgery because a pathologist later finds cancerous tissue on the margin of the removed tissue.”
MarginProbe is a device that can help identify cancer on the tissue’s margin, allowing the surgeon to remove a little more and thus minimize the risk of another surgery.
“Imagine not having to wonder, did we get it all?” she says.
Dune Medical is an Israeli company that solves clinical problems in oncology by identifying microscopic residual cancer. Dune got an SME Instrument Phase 2 grant in January 2017. The company is working on a ground-breaking smart biopsy tool for real-time cancerous cell characterization at the tip of the needle. Now it focusses on breast cancer but will look at expanding its solution to other cancers in the future.
When mentoring other business women on achieving success and navigating a world still largely dominated by men, her guidance is to start with the one thing that women have complete control over : their mind own mindset. “I want to help women know themselves better, take constructive steps, and achieve positive results,” she says.
Born in Stamford, Connecticut and raised in nearby Danbury, Lori grew up in a traditional Italian family. So traditional, in fact, that her father didn’t see the need for a daughter to go to college. “My father was a wonderful man but he had very definite ideas about a woman’s role in life,” says Lori. “As a first generation immigrant from Italy, he saw life through a slightly different spectrum. While supportive of all of my aspirations, I wanted to go to business school – but was only able to convince him to let me go to college close to home, choosing nursing or teaching, typical girl jobs at the time.” She started at Southern Connecticut State University in the fall of 1981.
Since nursing was not her first choice, the beginning was hard. “I left the nursing program and took a semester off. Returning, I took all business courses and built up my GPA, then reapplied and was accepted back into the nursing program,” says Lori.
After graduation, she went to the Yale New Haven Hospital and became the first graduate hired directly into the cardiothoracic intensive care unit.
Lori worked at Yale from 1987 to 1991 and was subsequently accepted into a graduate program at Yale University. This was a dream come true and much more in line with her initial desire to go to college. But at the same time, Lori’s husband job got relocated from Connecticut to Atlanta when UPS decided to move their corporate headquarters in 1991. Lori’s further formal education plans were shelved.
After having two children and working as a critical care nurse with Emory University Hospital and St. Joseph’s, Lori transitioned into the medical device industry as a Clinical Specialist with Datascope, a job which had her on the road four nights a week. Given more and greater leadership responsibility, Lori ended her 10 year tenure at Datascope as the vice president of North American sales. Lori was instrumental in aligning sales and clinical focus to drive adoption and achieve growth enabling a sale to a larger company in 2007.
“For my next role, I wanted to work for a large medical device company,” says Lori, “to prove I was not just a nurse who got lucky with a small company.”
First, Lori went to Medtronic, the world’s largest medical device company, for a year and was then recruited to Covidien, another large medical device company.
“Covidien was a male dominated company, but the CEO , Joe Almeida was committed to ensuring that diversity was embraced, and they were serious about it,” says Lori. She started as the Area Vice president of the Southeast, in a $125 million part of a $1 billion division. Joe’s vision and commitment disseminated throughout the organization and after a year in the Area Vice President role, the President Scott Flora, promoted Lori to lead Sales and Marketing for the $1 billion dollar endomechancial business, a stretch assignment which transformed her leadership. Lori will always be grateful to have worked with visionary leaders who help grow and develop women.
Covidien also provided her with excellent leadership training. “They sent me to immersive training with PDI in New York City. It was a great experience,” she says. “I spent two days ‘playing’ the General Manager of a division complete with emails and meetings. Feedback was instant. When it was over, I put together a business plan.” They also ranked her strengths and weaknesses and gave her an executive coach to work with for a year.
In 2013, Lori went on to Johnson & Johnson to become General Manager of the $250 million US part of Cordis, a manufacturer of vascular technology devices. During her tenure, she Led an organizational restructure to align with diverse stakeholders reducing cost of sales by approximately 12% and delivering sequential growth for the first time in over 9 quarters. She remained at Cordis until it was sold to Cardinal Health for $1.9 billion in 2015.
Now as the CEO of Dune Medical Devices, Lori is committed to making the Marginprobe device a part of the standard of care for lumpectomies. She also is leading the development of incorporating the science behind the Marginprobe into innovative solutions in the breast cancer space, as well as into other lethal cancers. She spends a great deal of time meeting with investors, thought leaders in the oncology space as well as healthcare providers to educate them on the technology innovation changing the industry.
Lori’s journey has included a heavy commitment to helping others. “I don’t work 24/7 but my balance is my volunteer work,” she says. She has lead numerous women’s leadership imperatives and most recently served as the President -elect of the Atlanta Chapter of the Healthcare Business Women’s Association. She also mentors other women, both individually and as a speaker before larger groups.
Lori tells women whom she is mentoring for leadership that they need to do three things: One, understand your learning mindset; two, identify the core capabilities that you need to achieve your ideal career goals; and three, find your balance.
“Your mindset is a determinant of your success,” Lori says. “A simple belief about yourself guides a large part of your life. Much of what you think of as your person grows from this mindset,” she continues, “and much of what may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential grows out of it.” Whether you have a fixed mindset and corresponding belief that your qualities are carved in stone or a growth mindset and corresponding belief that your basic qualities can be cultivated through effort. “One creates a need to prove yourself over and over again and the other creates a focus on you developing and improving,” she says.
“Core capabilities that you need to achieve your goals are things that you just have to do,” Lori says, “and nobody’s going to do them for you.” Once you figure out what you need to learn you can work on developing these skills. “Don’t compare yourself to other people,” she recommends, ‘just judge yourself against yourself. The important thing is that you are always learning and improving.”
For Lori, finding personal balance is about coping with dignity and grace. The world is getting smaller and spinning faster. Bosses, families, and responsibilities constantly demand more. “You can choose how to engage with this varied and complex world,” she says. Find your personal balance, and you’ll find peace in a world of stress and change, all while doing what needs to be done.
“If you want to be appreciated, appreciate yourself,” she says. “If you start with the right mindset and work hard, you can accomplish a lot.”