Olympus CEO Nacho Abia on why he doesn’t spend time thinking about his role

Beginning his career at Sony Electronics, Nacho Abia joined Olympus Europe in May 2001. Moving up the ranks and over to Olympus Corporation of the Americas, Abia took over the role of president in 2011 and CEO in  2013.

While these position upgrades are exciting, Abia said that he doesn’t ever even think about his role all that often. Ladders spoke to Abia to find out what he thinks about instead,  the key to creating a cohesive global culture, and his open-door-policy management style.

What’s the most surprising aspect of being CEO?

“I don’t spend much time thinking about what it’s like to be a CEO. The company mission is not about me. It’s about teamwork, about being a part of that team.

Olympus turned 100 this year and I found a surprise there. Where you might imagine the impulse with an anniversary is to look back over your achievements, there is this equally strong force pushing you to look to the future, to think about what the company will be like in the next 100 years. What will matter most? Will it be globalization? A changing patient demographic? A new and innovative technology? A combination of these and other factors? Anniversaries, it turns out, are as much about imagining what’s to come as they are celebrating what has been.”

What industry trend are you most keeping an eye on right now?

“In the medical industry, we’ve always been a leader in minimally invasive surgery, and the story has only just begun. Although there is increasingly tremendous pressure for the industry to reduce healthcare costs, and although we know that minimally invasive procedures predominantly compare favorably to open procedures in terms of patient outcomes and cost containment, there is still a very large percentage of procedures conducted as open procedures even when there is a minimally invasive option available. We have an enormous opportunity to help the healthcare industry make the shift that needs to be made – for the better of everyone. This is very exciting to our employees – a challenge that makes for meaningful work at Olympus.

When it comes to HR trends, we have become very focused on Diversity and Inclusion – and we’re not alone in the medical space. As a member of the board of directors of AdvaMed, the leading medical device association, I’m pleased to be actively participating in its D&I committee. Also, this year I joined hundreds of other CEOs who have signed the CEO Action Pledge for Diversity and Inclusion because that kind of public support from business leadership sends an important message to employees, applicants, the community, even the culture. Our D&I initiative is critical in creating a customer and employee experience that aligns with living Our Core Values and driving our business forward.

We know that building a diverse workforce is good for business and good for our employee morale and that it helps us in building Empathy and Unity within the company, which are two of our five Core Values. We strive to cultivate an inclusive culture through a number of initiatives, including supporting our employees to make connections based on their interests, identities, and backgrounds through our Colleague Affinity Network groups, as well as to continually engage leadership in order to drive our commitment to D&I.”

How would you describe your company culture?

“We are committed to making people’s lives healthier, safer and more fulfilling around the world. Not a lot of companies can boast such high aims, so there is great honor and responsibility in that. We have built a set of Core Values – based on the feedback of our employees and leadership all around the globe. They are Unity, Empathy, Agility, Long Term View and Integrity. These values have been enthusiastically embraced by our employees and we know this is because we asked them to contribute, we took our time, we worked to understand and then communicated what the meaning is behind each value, using the individual stories of employees who are living the values every day. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear at least one of the values referenced in a meeting, and there are many days when I hear mention of all five of the values. The company has been through a lot of changes and the values are helping us adapt and become even stronger. I am deeply grateful to the people of Olympus that there has been much thought, effort and follow-through commitment to these values.”

What’s your advice for maintaining a cohesive company culture in such a global company?

“‘Stay true to your purpose.’

There are many different backgrounds, styles, customs, even priorities on the table when we have meetings that pull together stakeholders from all over the globe, but Our Purpose and Our Core Values give us that universal truth that we can point to as a reminder that we’re in this together. It’s not necessarily easy every time, but the awareness that we have a unified set of values fosters a comfort level and an open-mindedness to all our subtle differences.

In addition to ensuring employees have meaningful work, I also believe in the importance of giving employees an open and inclusive setting that is aesthetically pleasing, state of the art, and serves to bring out their best selves. We are aware that employees spend so much time at work — a major part of their lives — and we want to give back to them, to make them certain that every minute is worth their while.”

How do you think the future of work will play into what you do?

“We are seeing the future play out right now at Olympus. Our employees are engaged in such interesting ways. For example, our North American managers and directors find themselves interacting with their Japanese counterparts on a more frequent basis. While both regions employ different styles of decision making – we are more of a “take charge” culture while our Japanese colleagues are more consensus-oriented – these styles complement each other and allow us to learn from each other.

We recently applied some of our ongoing learnings during the planning of our new facility in Westborough, MA. We wanted a place where our stakeholders could connect across the globe, engage with each other, and provide Olympus customers with important medical innovations. We wanted employees to be able to work dynamically, and so we emphasized innovation, collaboration, and flexible workspace options. Additionally, we are prioritizing employee well-being. This building’s setting will have an on-site daycare and will feature natural light that has been scientifically noted to enhance employee satisfaction. It will also include walking and bicycling trails critical to physical and mental health.”

How would you describe your management style?

“I’m an open-door-policy leader who believes in transparency, listening to employees, and being hands-on. For example, as I’ve been inspired to become more proactive with our Diversity and Inclusion initiative, I recently connected with each of the leads of our Colleague Affinity Network (CAN) groups. I was amazed by how our people were forming bonds within the CANs and identifying with one another, whether because they identify as emerging professionals, LGBTQ, African Americans, women, or another diverse group. They were excited about the connections they were making through Olympus; the ways that they could show their leadership in the community; and the activities, events, and discussions they could come up with that strengthened their connections to the community and to each other. Not only that, they were excited to share it with me – so openness is part of my style, which I think connects to Olympus’ Core Values of Agility and Empathy.

Olympus has evolved into a place where there is a lot of substance and meaning behind what our managers say — I want to be just as involved or more involved as the leaders of those CAN groups. I have to be involved in the work to have meaning and more importantly, I have a genuine interest and desire to advance our company to be more inclusive — and luckily for me, the people make it easy to stay connected and interested and enthused.”

What kind of traits do you look for in employees?

“We hope that we can find people who embody our full range of Core Values. More specifically, Integrity and Empathy are probably the most important during the hiring process – these are the kind of values you can often feel when you are meeting a person and learning about their outlook on life. If they have Integrity and Empathy, then you can feel where they are coming from – you know when a person is the real deal.”