The Medicus Sunday Serial: Passion is paramount
Since joining Medicus, one word has defined Rafael Vartian more than any other: curious. Due to his insatiable desire for knowledge and learning, as well as his unique penchant for asking pressing questions, we thought our first-ever Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) would be the perfect person to put CEO Dr. Baher Al Hakim on the spot. Read this insightful interview to find out all about the role of the EIR, and why we’re hiring more!
Rafael: Hi Baher! Thanks for sitting down with me to chat on a Sunday morning. To start, I’d like to take you all the way back to my initial application for Medicus, for a role in office management. I’d researched startups intensively for weeks before I put my portfolio together, so when I did apply, Medicus was already my first choice. I never got the job that was advertised, but instead you offered me something even better: the role of EIR. Seeing as the post did not even exist when I first joined, what was the process of offering it to me?
Baher: I was surprised by your initial application: you were somewhat overqualified for a role in office management.
“All I remember is getting a call from a colleague in HR, who had read your resume and cover letter and told me that I really had to see it too. She was right. It was such a personal cover letter that showed so much desire and eloquence.” — Dr. Baher
However, what really sold me the idea of hiring you was that you speak English, German, and French. We are in all of those markets, so people who speak the languages are usually the ones we want on board, even if we don’t have a particular position in mind. We organized a meeting, an hour and a half that included a 20 minute rant about management consultants, and realized we were a good match.
I started part-time and it took me a while to decide to commit. Despite this, I thought it was great how you coached me through the early stages, even in the first few months when I didn’t think I was doing particularly well. Did you see something I didn’t?
You showed great potential, and I didn’t want anything to stand in the way of you shining. Perhaps the results weren’t there at the beginning, but you showed promise: the more promise a person shows, the more I expect of them, and the more I push them beyond what they think they can take. If I feel I’m giving someone too much pressure, I back off, but I always want to find out whether someone is really up for it: if they show resolve and are ready to go all in. It usually takes me six months to decide.
I don’t have so much time for details nowadays, so if I can meet someone that works things out on their own, it’s brilliant. You asked a few too many questions at the beginning, so when we limited our briefings to five key topics, it worked much better. If I had kept it open your questions would never have stopped!
There was so much to learn! I’m a curious person that wants to know everything, but having that limit really put the responsibility back on me to use my time effectively. I’d say anyone looking to take this role must understand that everyone’s time is valuable, and that you should always try to reflect before asking. That said… here’s another question. To what extent do you, as a manager, think about a person’s potential and career development, and to what extent do you expect them to come to you with something already worked out?
I’d say it’s something like a 70/30 split. 70% of the time I would expect someone to be working on developing their potential themselves, while the rest of the time I would guide them and help them explore. The best ideas are generated organically, from intuition: if I force someone into a place where they’re not feeling great, no one wins.
That’s why the position you made for yourself — EIR — is such a great thing and why we’re now looking for more people just like you.
“It’s for people that have the ideas, want to grow, but don’t know exactly where they want to fit in.” — Dr. Baher
You’ve worked on business development, fundraising, IP, patents, events, marketing — almost everything! You’re one of the youngest here, but you’ve come such a long way. Nowadays, if I need someone with good overview, I always think of you. You have a natural ability to bring clarity and function in uncertain situations.
Before we knew what the role would look like, you gave me a piece of paper and told me to write down what I wanted to do. I couldn’t believe it! I see elements of myself in a lot of the people applying: young, intelligent, but trying to keep as many doors open as possible. Naturally, young applicants have less experience, so what are the key personality traits you’re looking for?
Passion is paramount. We need passion for work and what we are doing. Passion can come from different sources, such as an interest in medicine or the impact of technology, but just having that desire is crucial. Curiosity is also vital.
You embodied that so well: at the beginning you were going in every direction, finding things out. It sometimes distracted from the task at hand, but we liked it!
You also need thick skin. I was very hard on you: I gave you only negative feedback for six months, but you always came back the next day with a fresh mindset and the will to do things better. We call you a survivor, and you’d always bet on a survivor to do well. You’ll leave this job one day and thank me for toughening you up with a few soft punches.
“Whoever you are, you’re never immune from setbacks: slaps in the face from the world that tell you you’ve gone wrong.” — Dr. Baher
It used to bother me, but I’m used to it now. I also had my fair share of punches from the outer world and these are usually much harder than the ones from your manager. It happened so often in the past that I don’t really feel the pain anymore!
Initially, I wanted a couple of years here to learn how to build a company, and then go back to university, but now I’m thinking of the long term at Medicus, because I fit in so well I learn and achieve so much more here. What areas do you think I’ve grown most in since I’ve been here?
Two key points spring to mind. Firstly, your organizational skills. It sounds boring, but the way you take in tasks and process these into actions has improved massively. You hit so many walls at the beginning, but by helping you reinvent your own organizational system, we made sure you can now take on massive amounts of work without drowning. I think you’ve also really excelled with clients, handling their feedback and building it into our processes.
“It’s not just knowing the script, it’s about knowing the content so well that you can adapt the offering that we present to customers on the fly.” — Dr. Baher
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think you were totally ready for a full Business Development role, but you’ve changed my mind. I see you in meetings and hear reports from others about how well you’re doing. I’m happy. There’s always room for improvement, but you’re getting better all the time.
I was alway bad at organizing myself and assumed that my weak points would always remain my weak points. However, your drive for productivity was something I learned from a lot. It’s helped me unlock more of my potential and to improve myself in so many areas. For prospective candidates who may have other weaknesses to address, what else do you think can they learn from you?
In most cases, when the pressure gets too much for people, it starts to result in sloppy work. I can help people fix this reasonably easily in a lot of cases. When I give someone a task, I expect 100%: no distractions from other work or obligations.
“Simply compartmentalize your focus so you can give everything to the single task at hand.” — Dr. Baher
The next thing is the technical aspect. What I mean is really understanding the sense of things, intuitively knowing how the business works. When I ask you a question, you should be able to give me an estimate that reflects reality without having to work it out on a sheet. For example, I can match the numbers generated by the financial team to margin of about 10% by really thinking about it and using my knowledge.
At some point, you’ll be in a meeting and be asked to give an estimate or a timeline, and you won’t have time to open your spreadsheet. However, if you really push it, you can get the answers you want on an intuitive level. This can only happen with enough time with the material, thinking about the issues fanatically, and trusting your intuition.
Last question now, I promise. Since I started working with you, I’ve noticed you have such a free and liberal way of thinking that allows you to get past pre-conceptions. I remember once we were at a conference, you realized we were wasting our time, so you just told me we were leaving. Since exhibitors were supposed to stay until the end, I even had to run from security! How much do you value your own mindset when it comes to business?
I follow rules only when they make sense. Obviously I don’t mean that I break the law, but there are a lot of preconceptions we can get past, barriers we can break down, to make things better. I can already see positive results: thinking past the boundaries means we’ve ended up with assets at the company like you. I’m just really excited now to see who the next Rafael will be!
Learn more about the position of Entrepreneur-in-Residence and to apply to work with us at Medicus, here.