How Michael Butler had the backbone to make Life Spine a nimble company

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Michael S. Butler, CEO, Life Spine, Inc.
Michael S. Butler, CEO, Life Spine, Inc.

Health Care
When Michael Butler founded Life Spine, Inc. 10 years ago, his objective was to focus on a specialty of orthopedics — customized approaches to spinal surgery. He felt that he could create a company that would be flexible enough to quickly respond to these specialized surgeon requests.
Life Spine has become a fast-response, nimble company. Employees set goals for how many products they plan to build, time those launches and are empowered to make decisions quickly. Failures are “learning events,” and risk adverse perspectives are not welcome. This has been a key to innovation.
In addition, all employees are cross-trained, which provides a more seamless business model compared to larger corporations that tend to work in silos. Butler fosters a team model with supportive behaviors such as nicknames for employees, Friday lunch cookouts and so on.
The company culture at Life Spine is a tight-knit entrepreneurial one that attracts and retains creative doers who want to control their own destinies. Butler believes that the key to retaining talented individuals is to make sure they are continually challenged. His rapid decision-making style and philosophy also applies to people management: If new hires are deemed to be less than a good fit with Life Spine and its culture, decisions to “help those people pursue other career opportunities” are quickly made.
The philosophy also extends to vendors. At one point, Life Spine had to change vendors and revalidate a part, which had formerly tested incredibly strong. Upon revalidation, the part was failing quality tests time and again. Unbeknownst to them, the vendor had used an alloy rather than titanium as specified. The problem was corrected immediately.
Butler has been able to guide Life Spine’s market entry into 19 countries. The company is currently pursuing new markets in India and China, where it sees significant growth potential. Life Spine built a factory in China in 2005 that currently provides a variety of instruments.
How to reach: Life Spine,