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Q&A with Dow Wilson, retired president and CEO of Varian Medical Systems

by Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief | October 05, 2022
Rad Oncology
Dow Wilson
From the October 2022 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

When Siemens Healthineers completed its acquisition of Varian Medical Systems in 2021, Varian president and CEO, Dow Wilson, decided it was time to step down. Looking back on his career, which began in the early 80s and included two decades at GE Healthcare, Wilson shared some of the highlights in an informal interview with HealthCare Business News.

He discusses the importance of being purpose-led in healthcare, his “Camelot” years surrounded by good company at GE, and the challenges he sees on the road ahead for healthcare, and why proton therapy may be the toughest market he’s seen in nearly 40 years of experience.

HCB News: What initially drew you into a career in healthcare?
Dow Wilson: Mostly serendipity. I was one of those college kids that couldn't get enough. I loved all the subjects. I knew I wanted to go on to graduate school, so it was important to me to learn how to think. So, I majored in English Literature, took a lot of philosophy, hard sciences, accounting and economics. After graduating in the summer of 1981 from BYU, I received a temporary four-week job doing data entry for a Booz Allen consulting project.

We were putting Medicare "paid claims" data into an HP3000 in a small computer warehouse in South San Francisco to enable a client to think about their hospital business as a set of products and services, not just a cost-plus profit margin business as healthcare was largely characterized before 1982. The project was the worst! I thought I was going to go crazy doing data entry 10-12 hours a day. In the third week of the assignment, a guy comes up to me and says, "what are you doing?" I told him. Turns out he ran a dedicated healthcare consulting firm. He wanted to make a business out of offering health care clients a new way to think about product line profitability. He told me I could lay out the strategy for them and they'd hire other data entry folks. I was sold. I finished my project for Booz Allen and away I went.

The new firm was spectacular. I got a broad overview of healthcare. We did a lot of financial work for our clients, but also Certificate-of-Needs (I worked on the first CON for the first MR machine in San Francisco), strategy work and more. It was great exposure to the industry.

I then went to business school at Dartmouth — the Tuck school. Coming out, I thought I wanted to go to NYC — doing either investment banking or consulting. My wife, Lynne, had other ideas. Our first baby had just joined the family and she did not like the idea of chasing him around the streets of the city. So I took a job with GE Healthcare in Milwaukee. Of my professional career, I spent 35 years in healthcare/MedTech and two in plastics. I've loved it!
(1)

David Hurlock

Great interview with a great leader

October 06, 2022 09:42

Congratulations on this interview with Dow Wilson. I had the pleasure of working in Varian during his tenure,
(several levels below Dow, of course). But he knew my name, and never hesitated to engage in conversation every time our paths crossed.

His success in nurturing innovation in cancer care, while growing Varian, is remarkable. I would wish him every success in his retirement, but I don't think anything would stand in his way to success, however he defines it.

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