Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.
I am Naji, your host, joined today by Dorota McKay a creative problem solver with a passion for finance and personal development. Dorota is currently a Vice President Controller and Chief Accounting Officer for Vapotherm, Inc., a publicly traded medtech company that develops innovative, comfortable, non-invasive technologies for respiratory support of patients with chronic or acute breathing disorders. Dorota holds active CPA, CMA and CFE designations. Prior to joining Vapotherm she was a Controller for Decibel Therapeutics and a Finance Director at Oxford Immunotec. She is also corporate trainer and coach certified in Canfield Methodology and a Certified Culture Transformation Tools Practitioner with the Barrett Values Centre.
Dorota – It’s a pleasure to see you again and have you with me today!
Dorota McKay: Thanks, Naji. It’s great to be here.
Naji Gehchan: Let’s start first with, uh, your personal story. What brought you to accounting specifically in healthcare, and what’s the story behind the great leader you became today?
Dorota McKay: Yeah, so, so it wasn’t a straight path for me. Um, and I think an important part of my identity is, uh, being an immigrant.
I was born in communist Poland under martial law, and I, uh, lived in communist Poland until. At the age of seven, that’s when communist fell. And um, I still remember that moment actually. It was, um, extremely important for us. And I, I remember the, the shortages of those years. Um, and I remember our neighbors actually hiding in our apartment for, from the militia.
So, um, was definitely a, a very different reality from, uh, where I live today. Um, and my parents were both teachers, uh, when I was growing up in Poland. My dad w is a linguistics professor and my mom was a high school teacher. And so when I grew up, I decided to follow in their footsteps and also become a teacher myself.
And I studied English studies and I got, um, masters in American literature and American Studies. My masters was on virtual and real in, uh, American science fiction. So very different from what I do now. And, um, after graduating from, um, a university in, in Poland, I decided to, uh, pursue doctoral studies. So I became an academic teacher and, um, I was also an exchange student in the summer.
That’s how I ended up meeting my husband, um, in Maine of all places. And, um, after a couple years, we, we decided to get married and I, uh, moved to join him in the, in the United States. And, um, I continued to work on my doctoral thesis, uh, remotely. But in, in 2009 during the great recession, my husband lost his, uh, job and he worked for a nonprofit on the, on the coast of Maine that provided us with, um, our only source of income and our source of housing.
So when he lost the job, Uh, we basically ended up with nothing. Um, and, um, that was a pretty difficult time in my life. So I was, uh, new to the country. I didn’t have a, a community, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I didn’t have a job. I was working on a, on a doctoral thesis, uh, remotely. And, um, I remember having, having, um, a very difficult time just adjusting.
One day I ended up walking down the beach and, uh, just crying. I f I was feeling very miserable and, uh, and very, very down. And I, um, as I was walking down the beach, I tripped and I fell, um, head first or face first into the sand. And as I was, um, as I was, um, you know, on the ground, I saw this little piece of, um, uh, seaglass.
On the ground, and it was just beautiful and, and, and, um, very blue and, and this like, colorful thing in this very, very depressing reality. And it allowed me to just take a pause and think to myself that in every hard situation there was something positive. And I got up and I decided to really change things.
Um, so the, the transformation just took place in that very moment. And so I decided I was going to quit my doctoral studies do something different to better adjust to, to the reality and help my family become, uh, financially independent and, and successful. So what I end ended up doing is I, I quit the doctoral program and I went and got a job as a waitress at a local Olive Garden restaurant and I enrolled in a, a community college.
Um, and from there I did really well. Ended up going to, uh, state, uh, university. Uh, getting a degree in, in business ad administration, becoming a cpa. Uh, I got a job with a local, um, public accounting firm. And then from there I moved to, uh, the big four, uh, firm in Boston. And things just started happening for me.
And so while I was at, at, at, uh, Ernston Young, I worked with a, um, a large pharma company, and that’s kind of where I, uh, really, uh, started. Appreciating the, the pharma, biotech and medical industries and, and felt that I wanted to pursue a career, um, in those industries. Um, so after, after spending about four, uh, four and a half years in, in public accounting, I wanted to really, um, go and work for a business just to go really deep and, um, and help grow a business as opposed to just being a generalist.
And so, um, my first, my first job in medical device was, um, was actually, um, with Oxford Immuno Tech. And I stayed there for several years and, and grew my career there. Um, and it was a company that made, uh, tuberculosis tests, um, and really, um, very patient-centric, um, that, that, um, Allowed me to grow my career from, you know, a manager position to, uh, to a director.
Um, and what I would say is coming to the us, you know, starting in a, a completely different country and then basically start starting from nothing in the US and getting to where I am today, which is, uh, you know, a vice president of a publicly traded company. Um, For me, it’s proof that the American dream still exists and, and you can still be successful, um, if you really devote yourself to it and, and work hard.
And if you’re also fortunate enough to have the mentors and, and help that I had. And I think for me as a leader, it’s important to give back to others what I’ve received on this, uh, journey.
Naji Gehchan: Wow. Thank you so much, uh, Dota for sharing, uh, with us, uh, this, this journey. Uh, it’s powerful and inspiring, uh, for sure.
Uh, and you shared specific moments, uh, a as we call them, sometimes crucifix or other peak experiences. Uh, I’d love you to, to kind of share with us a little bit more, uh, on how you take these into leadership. You shared about, uh, the early moments in your life. When, uh, in, in Poland and then coming to the US and then the crisis in the US and several others, uh, I, I’d love to know how you took those, and you obviously reacted to them in a way that brought you, uh, where you are today and being this incredible leader.
Uh, can you share a little bit more this, those, those moments and what are the key leadership learnings that you’re taking with them, from them, with you?
Dorota McKay: Yeah, I think definitely, uh, starting, starting my career in the service industry in the US was, uh, was a really great experience. I think it learned me, it, it, I think it, I learned the respect for, for hard work and also the, the humility.
So I think the advice I would give to others is just be humble. Be open to opportunities. When things come your way, just say yes. And I think. My success has mostly been because I said yes to new assignments, new opportunities, um, and I, I definitely worked very hard, uh, throughout the years to, um, to advance within the various companies that I worked for.
But, um, I think just saying yes to new opportunities and often being uncomfortable was what got me to where I am today. So you’ve led
Naji Gehchan: teams and organizations in a very specific domain of the company. Uh, you’ve done auditing, uh, finance, financial controller, and accounting. These are usually functions, uh, that are challenging, uh, internally.
Uh, I, I don’t know. You might disagree with me, but I, I actually would love, uh, we’d love to hear from you how you approach those roles. Internally because they are crucial roles, but again, sometimes might be perceived as challenging or controlling, et cetera. I’d, I’d love to
Dorota McKay: get your thoughts about it.
Yeah, it’s definitely a challenging working in an administrative and support function in healthcare because you, you don’t really deal directly with patients all the time and you don’t necessarily deal with customers all the time, but you have internal customers and I think there’s also a sense of mission, um, especially for a company that might not yet be profitable.
Where you know that the, the financial results, the financial reporting that we deliver to our shareholders is basically what helps the company survives is we get additional funding to help us continue going for, for a couple more years until we show profitability. So I think, uh, my team has definitely had a sense of mission and, uh, working at Vapotherm specifically.
A company that makes devices that, um, you know, help address respiratory distress. It’s been an extremely interesting experience, um, and challenging during the pandemic because we, we literally had to do everything we could to make as many devices as we could and deliver them to customers because it was a life or death situation.
So I think in that way, it made it easier for my team to have that sense of mission and just work through, you know, long hours. Um, Constant deadlines. It’s something that we definitely deal with. And, um, I struggle sometimes with, uh, staffing as well because as you know, uh, usually in support functions there’s, there are budget concerns.
So I think it’s very important as a leader for you to fight for your team to make sure that you have adequate resourcing and that people are, you know, not working 70 hour weeks, uh, or 80 hour weeks. Um, cuz it’s just really, as much as we’re mission driven, it can have a negative impact on, on people’s wellbeing and, and health.
Um, and so I always, um, I always make it a. Make it a point to, um, to tell my team to, you know, recharge after periods, which are usually very busy for us, which is quarter ends, year ends, audits, things like that.
Naji Gehchan: Can I double click on, uh, the mission? As you shared, it’s important. Sometimes you feel you’re a little bit more, uh, like far from the patients and the impact you have, even though it’s a great example of what you’ve done and the impact.
You obviously help actual patients, uh, through the pandemic. How do you make sure that this stays alive daily with your teams these
Dorota McKay: days? Yeah, it’s, it’s, um, definitely been very different for us. After the, the pandemic ended, um, we we’re focusing now on a different subset of patients. Uh, so we’re focusing more on C O P D patients and our more traditional, um, kind of patient groups.
Um, for example, um, you know, patients who, um, Come down with the flu or RSV or, or similar respiratory conditions. Um, but I think what has been, what has united us together is after the pandemic ended, our company has been through several restructurings. So, you know, during the pandemic we worked extremely hard to make sure that the patients were served and, um, Our sales were really booming.
Then when the pandemic ended, the market has really been saturated with, uh, um, respiratory support equipment. And so we’ve seen a, a really pretty steep decline in our sales in, uh, 2022. And the company went through, um, you know, downsizing, uh, twice last year. And for my team, uh, it’s been especially challenging because we get to see all those changes, uh, firsthand.
And, um, I think just working together as a team and focusing on the, on the wellbeing of the company and helping the company as a company survive that, that difficult time has been what kept us together. Uh, cuz we. You know, have a lot of influence on, we’re watching budgets, we’re making sure that, uh, um, the financial resources are being used, uh, responsibly.
And, um, and we’re also responsible for, um, we’re helping with fundraising and we’re helping with reporting that, you know, uh, helps us, uh, continue as, as a business and as we’re retooling our business and making a lot of changes in it, we’re also expanding globally. We’re hoping that we can come out on the other side stronger.
So there’s, there’s still a lot of, there’s still a lot of patients who need our help and something that really drove it home for me is I visited one of our clinics, um, at one point that was serving C O P D patients. And I heard firsthand the patient who was doing the rounds around the clinic and how difficult it was for him to breathe.
No, I think. After hearing that, I feel like our mission is as much alive as it was during the pandemic. Not being able to breathe is one of the, the worst feelings in the world. And um, you know, as long as those patients are out there, we’re gonna be there to serve them. Oh,
Naji Gehchan: I, I love it. And really the centricity around patients right there is the urgency that the pandemic brought.
But at the end of the day, what we do, what you do, what what I do every day is really trying to improve life on patient at a time, at a time, make their life better. Uh, tell us, you touched it a little bit, your, your. Growing your team, you’re dealing with uncertainties, uh, with several different transformations.
Also business transformations growing, uh, you know, uh, funding, et cetera. Uh, and you have a passion for cultural transformation. Can you share with us a little bit more your learning as a practitioner, uh, and how to make sure that those transformations are
Dorota McKay: successful? Yeah. So, uh, so, uh, for me, uh, the culture transformation is really about understanding your teams and your own values and translating them into the ways that they, they map onto your organization’s values.
And so the first step you need to do is, you know, identify the values that you have, and there are various tools available for that. Uh, that I’ve worked through with, with my team. And then you also map the, the company’s values, which usually have the mission, the values that’s, that’s stated, and then compare it to what the company’s actually doing to see if it’s living those values.
And then if there, hopefully there’s an overlap bef between the two. And if people understand that overlap, it’s easier for them to bring themselves to work because. You know, their own values are aligned. So for example, if somebody’s value is, uh, family and wellbeing, you want to make sure that the organization is also providing them with time to, you know, devote to their family and wellbeing.
And if there’s no overlap, then you’re probably, your people are in the wrong organization, or the organization needs a lot of work. And usually what we do, um, as part, as part of the cultural transformation, it’s just showing whether there’s overlap and if there’s no overlap, what can we do to bridge that?
Naji Gehchan: I want now your first reaction that comes to mind when I tell you a word. So the first word is leadership.
Dorota McKay: Okay.
I think, uh, service is what I would say. Women
Naji Gehchan: in tech.
Um, can be more than a word.
Dorota McKay: Can be more than a word. Yeah. It, it brings, it brings to mind. A little bit of oppression, but then also examples of some really amazing, uh, tech leaders. So I think maybe, uh, future, maybe hope. And
Naji Gehchan: if I go down this one, is there a specific advice you would tell yourself when you started your career in MedTech that you would now take and give it to other, uh, brilliant
Dorota McKay: women?
Yes. I would say, um, I would say, um, don’t be afraid to take risks and, um, always ask. Ask for opportunities because as women especially, I think we tend to, uh, just expect that people will notice us. And, and you know, if we’re doing a really good job, somebody will come to us and say, here, how would you like to be promoted?
Or, how would you like to try this new opportunity? And I think we’re sometimes afraid to ask for things. And if you go to your leader, mentor and say, Hey, I’d like more exposure to new opportunities. How about this role? Do you think I could be good in this role? Uh, they will often say yes. And the worst that can really happen is they say, no.
And you’re exactly in the same place where you started. So I think always ask, ask, ask, because you might actually get what you want.
What about Six Sigma? So, uh, six Sigma. I’ve worked in, uh, in a, in a couple manufacturing, uh, type, uh, companies. So every medical device company has, has a manufacturing function and I was fortunate to work for companies that, um, were very keen on process improvement, uh, lean and Six Sigma. And, uh, the companies that I worked for actually put.
All of their employees through the process, uh, through training when they started with the company. And, um, really Im implemented this, um, need to, to improve processes and understand processes, uh, from day one. And that was really helpful for me as a leader in the finance function. You know, you might think that this is very different.
It’s not a manufacturing process, but it’s a process. You know, there are inputs, there are, there are steps in the process. There are bottlenecks and there are outputs. And so I’ve fled, uh, several kaizen, um, process improvement events with my finance teams at various organizations. And we always find that that.
Brings the teams together. And it also makes their jobs more fulfilling because they can see exactly how their, um, job and what they do interacts with other parts of the process. And, um, we often discover that. People sometimes don’t talk to each other and they just don’t know that something that they’re doing really hurts somebody else.
And so when you bring the team together, you actually take that time to put them in the room for a couple days and, and walk through the process. And then maybe have, you know, couple fun events, um, like, like a dinner or, or some sort of a, a team bonding game that really, really, um, helps improve the day-to-day.
And, uh, we see a lot of, uh, benefit from that. Love it. You’re
Naji Gehchan: combining cross-functional work with fun, with a purpose. I, I love this. The last word is spread love and organizations
Dorota McKay: spread. I, I really love this, um, the, the premise of this entire podcast, and I, I think we should all be doing that. Um, so I think. The way, the way I like to spread love in organizations is by helping other people learn and grow. I think, um, it really makes me happy when I can coach somebody and, and provide them with opportunities for advancement.
Sometimes it’s hard because that also means that they might leave your team or they might even leave your organization. But I think as a leader, you, you have to be, um, Happy with that. You have to really be happy, uh, with the fact that somebody might develop so much that they will no longer, you know, be satisfied with, uh, with either your department or, or your organization.
Um, and I think, um, I think also as a leader, you know, it is a bit of a cliche where, where, uh, people say leaders take all the blame and give away all the credit. I think it’s very, very, Needed, um, because you need to provide psychological safety to your team. So people need to be, um, confident enough to be able to make mistakes and they need to know that if they falter or or if they make a mistake, um, there will be somebody there standing up for them.
And so, I would say that whenever something an issue happens in, in our team, we try to focus on the solution and not point out, you know, who did it. We might, we might, um, investigate why something happened, but it’s not a people problem. It’s usually a process problem. And so that makes it a lot easier for us to, uh, to proceed and it’s, it helps people come to you as a leader and bring up problems instead of try trying to hide them.
Naji Gehchan: for sharing this. And it’s, uh, you’re bringing powerful concepts around psychological safety, about recognition, teamwork, and obviously, uh, another point for your incredible leadership, uh, grounded in resilience as you started, uh, this podcast sharing about, uh, your story. Any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with, uh, healthcare leaders around the world?
Dorota McKay: Yes. So my words of wisdom for healthcare leaders probably especially important for finance leaders, but I think for, for everyone is if you are ever in doubt, always choose integrity and follow your moral compass. I think your, your reputation is more important than any kind of short-term gain. You take it with you everywhere.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much Tta for, uh, for your, those final words and for being with me today, uh, and all this incredible chat. Thank you.
Dorota McKay: Thank you so much. My pleasure.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
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