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Meet VirtaMed: "I've never wanted to be average"

July 05, 2017

Millennials are lazy and entitled; we’ve all heard this. Russell Horton, our Technical Support Manager in the USA, doesn’t recognize himself from the description. Russell graduated in the middle of the worst economic crisis in decades and he knows he needs to work hard to achieve great things.

Russell’s career couldn’t have started at a worse time. He graduated in 2009 in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Central Florida, a subject inspired by his passion for good old American muscle cars. The brand-new engineer was met with a crashing housing industry and a brutal job market; the decline in the auto industry made it clear that he would not be working with cars.

Apart from a couple of short stints, such as being born in South Carolina, Russell is a bona fide Floridian; he has spent over 20 years of his life in the Sunshine State and can no longer imagine living anywhere else. Yet his first engineering position was in the Texan oil industry, designing rotary connectors for oil drills. The work was fascinating, but eventually Russell wanted to return home to a broader job description in a healthier industry. Medical technology was a good candidate: as long as there are living people, there will be a need for medicine.

Russell joined VirtaMed Inc. in February 2016 as the third employee in the new US subsidiary, which meant a drastic change in the daily routine: instead of spending eight hours in front of a computer designing a highly specialized part, Russell’s day at VirtaMed is shaped by the customers who contact him with new puzzles to solve. “No day is the same,” he describes.

Once Russell had to fly to a customer to fix a malfunctioning simulator caddy. He took the entire thing apart to access the computer on the inside and discovered that one of the magnetic sensor drives was busted. He changed the sensor, put the caddy together, and started up the system—only to discover that another sensor was also broken. He had to take the caddy apart once more, replace the second faulty sensor, assemble the simulator once again, and start the system one last time to find out that it worked flawlessly.

Having two copies of the same minuscule and normally very reliable component break down at the same time was a freak accident; there was no other explanation. The work took an entire day, and had it taken five minutes longer Russell would have missed his flight back home. The customer was awed by the amount of effort made and grateful to have a perfectly functioning simulator once again, and Russell can now consider himself an expert in the art of breaking apart and re-assembling a simulator caddy under a customer’s watchful eye.

“You can sell anybody something once, but if they don’t like the service they will never come back.”

A true measure of any company’s customer service is how they deal with something going wrong. Every self-respecting company works hard to develop products that work without a glitch, but the best ones also have clear and smooth routines in place to handle the unexpected yet inevitable issues. “You can sell anybody something once, but if they don’t like the service, they will never come back.” Russell takes great pride in VirtaMed’s customer service, and the newly introduced service packages make hospital customers’ lives even easier.

To provide the best possible service, a support person must be able to put themselves into the customer’s position. Nobody calls support when they’re having a good day, and this is something the customer servant needs to keep in mind. Solving issues fast is important, but even more important is clear communication. “Simply letting customers know we’re here and that we’re working on their problem makes a great difference”, Russell says.

Most cases are not as demanding as the mystery sensor drive malfunction; the majority of all VirtaMed support cases can be solved remotely. Nonetheless, having local support for the ever-growing number of North American customers is important. People in a country as large as the United States want to talk to someone who lives in the same time zone or at least close enough, someone who understands where they are from, someone who speaks their language with a familiar accent.

“There are more similarities than differences between Americans and Europeans”

VirtaMed’s US subsidiary, VirtaMed Inc., was founded in 2014 in Lithia, Florida, to serve the North American customers better. As the Swiss part of the company keeps hiring and taking over new office space, the smaller US arm does the same. VirtaMed Inc. is adding more sales people to meet the growing demand and more support people to maintain the high service level; meanwhile the company is moving into a larger office to house all these operations.

Joining VirtaMed means joining a very cosmopolitan community: the company employs nearly 30 different nationalities between the two countries. Yet Russell assures he has experienced no culture shock due to this diversity: “My biggest surprise was that we’re so much more similar than we are different”, he explains. Working in an international company with many cultures and personalities makes you a more rounded person, Russell summarizes.

For Russell, learning the job as the first support engineer outside the Swiss headquarters meant several weeks of training in Switzerland, plenty of tinkering on his own on all the different simulators, and a lot of Google Translate: many of the internal support manuals at the time were written only in German. The Swiss and US support teams still communicate daily to exchange knowledge and experiences.

Russell oversees VirtaMed’s support in the United States, and his goal is to evolve together with the company and to take on even more responsibilities. The ten-year-old VirtaMed can tout a steady, healthy growth throughout its brief history, and the company has ambitious growth plans for years to come. “VirtaMed has achieved all this by simply not being content with its previous success”, Russell analyzes; this attitude also happens to be the backbone of his personal work ethics. “I will always strive to be great at whatever I do, whether it be with my career, as a husband, or as a father. I’ve never wanted to be average.”

When it comes to that passion for muscle cars, Russell still has his 1979 Trans Am from before college. He admits that old cars are a terrible investment, albeit fun, so for the past few years he has been making the adult decision by focusing his attention and money elsewhere. But who knows what the future holds?

Would you like to know more?

Year One
“A great website for parts for old American cars.”

Foster program of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Florida
“Every State will have its own branch but fostering pets (I have fostered around 20 dogs in the past) can be a rewarding experience. You get to help animals in need and the only real commitment you have to make is time as most shelters provide you with all the supplies you need.”

Visit Tampa Bay
“A website which is filled with Tampa area venues and thing to do in the Sunshine State.”

Russell (in the middle) is by far the tallest member of the VirtaMed Inc. team, which has earned him the nickname Baby Moose.