Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Reinhold Schmieding, an MSU grad and the founder and owner of Arthrex, a medical device company that produces 13,000 different products and trains surgeons from around the world on how to use them.
We spent an hour talking about his experiences at MSU and his career. The conversation reminded me how the things students do alongside their majors – be they clubs or classes or friendships – are far more influential on their future success than we typically acknowledge. Reinhold’s life and his incredible success beautifully demonstrate that.
Reinhold arrived at MSU in 1973. His parents had emigrated from Germany to the US when his mother was pregnant with him, and his father established himself as a dentist in Flint, Michigan. Reinhold pursued a pre-med degree at MSU and hoped to become a physician. His grades were good, and he did well enough on the entrance exams to believe that he had a reasonable chance at being accepted to medical school. In addition to the classes in his major, Reinhold took a handful of elective courses – including a drafting class that he enjoyed – while he minored in German and joined a fraternity.
In his senior year, not yet accepted into medical school, Reinhold decided to attend a career fair. Then, as now, there was a lot of competition for a limited number of slots in medical schools, and Reinhold wanted a backup plan in case he was not accepted. At the career fair, he found himself in front of a table with samples of replacement hips, knees and shoulders, and – as he told me – his future changed. They enthralled him. After graduation he secured a job with Med Tech International and was sent to Germany as a salesman.
In Germany, Reinhold worked with surgeons and was able to join them in the operating room. Watching them work and talking with them about their needs, he realized that with a few new tools, surgeons could repair patients’ knees through less invasive surgeries. Using the skills he had learned in his drafting class, Reinhold designed a scissor-like instrument called a biter that allowed surgeons to grasp and clean out tissue through a significantly smaller incision. Combined with other new devices coming on the market, Reinhold’s biter helped make knee surgery far less invasive and dramatically improved patients’ outcomes.
Reinhold started the company that is now called Arthrex in his apartment in Olympic Village, and for the first two years he made no money. Today, Arthrex does over $3 billion a year in sales to hospitals in over 150 countries. On the surface, Arthrex is a medical device company, but a closer look reveals that it is also one of the world’s largest medical educators. As Reinhold told me, “We make bicycles in a world in which no one knows how to ride a bike.” Every one of the thousands of devices that Arthrex makes requires the company to provide education to surgeons, so they know how to use them.
That drafting class Reinhold took, and the German minor that he pursued, opened doors for him and gave him the ability to do something fundamentally different than what he expected to do with his pre-med major alone. Given his family’s history, the German minor seems easily explainable, but why the drafting class? I asked Reinhold why he took it and all he could do was shrug and say, “I don’t know, it was just interesting.”
“Just interesting” is an incredibly important indicator, and one that more students should heed. We have long been saying that we are creating a university that empowers students to pursue their purposes and their passions. The more we can encourage students to follow those passions – no matter how tangential they may seem to their majors – the more opportunities they will have to create fulfilling lives.
Reinhold talked a lot with me about the leadership experiences he had in his fraternity, the education he received at MSU, and the chances he was able to take early in his career. Today, he is a billionaire many times over. More significantly, Arthrex provides livelihoods for nearly 5,000 people and has improved the health of millions of people through its products.
Thank goodness he took that drafting class.
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