Embracing Opportunity

Susan Johnson,R.N., ?85,?95 M.B.A., takes risks and reaps rewards

Susan Johnson, CEO of Magellan Medical Technology Consultants, was perfectly happy as an open-heart intensive care registered nurse in Florida when she was offered a research position at Procter & Gamble/Upjohn. “I loved my job. I went on a whim, because I knew there would always be another challenging nursing position. I’m a risk-taker, and I saw an opportunity to explore the business side of medicine.” She found her new role and industry fascinating, but knew she needed additional education beyond her first four years of nursing. She decided to go back to school.

Johnson returned to Minnesota to be near her family and chose St. Thomas for its reputation in business. “They told me I’d have to start as a second semester freshman. I said, ‘Fine. This is what I want.’ I took six classes a semester and went year round. I finished with a double business major in business administration and marketing and finance in three years, working as an ICU/CCU nurse to pay for tuition.”

Less than a decade later, while working as a territory manager for a medical device company, Johnson was back for her M.B.A. “I had progressed in my career. I believe in lifelong learning, and I wanted to take on more. For four years I took evening and Saturday classes. Some nights I got off a plane and shot downtown to attend class.”

It was while she was in graduate school that Johnson, with the encouragement of her professors, discovered her professional calling. She was on track to receive a finance concentration to round out her education and continue to grow in her career in the medical device industry. During her Management: Challenges and Purpose class, Dr. Sally Power approached her with a different idea. Based on Johnson’s class work, Power believed Johnson should consider a concentration in entrepreneurship.

“I went to talk to Daryl Erdman, the endowed chair in venture management, who agreed I should change concentrations. He said, ‘We want to push you to create a business of value, such that the business is sustained without you.’ Often our classes on Saturday went as long as six or seven hours because of all of the big ideas that were exchanged among classmates, guest speakers and faculty.”

In May 1994, one year before her graduation, Johnson presented her capstone project: Magellan Medical Services Inc. (later renamed Magellan Medical Technology Consultants). Her presentation was successful, but the projected revenue stream did not meet the criteria for a business of value that Johnson wanted to pursue, so she shelved her project and continued to work and complete her coursework. A year later, she decided to develop her business plan further. “I graduated on Saturday, and Istarted work on Sunday, full time, creating Magellan on a blank sheet of paper.”

Single at the time, Johnson worked for 18 months without a salary to test and refine her vision. “We were taught at St. Thomas that success comes from a good business plan – better to fail on paper than in real life. Otherwise, you lack a compass.” During that time, she submitted her plan to Corporate Report’s Annual Business Plan Competition (now Minnesota Business Publication), and won. It was affirming to know that outside experts, business people and entrepreneurs unfamiliar with her work supported her unique business model.

Finally, her first client contracts were signed: 3M, American Medical Systems and SpineTech (Zimmer). Her business has grown from those first few local clients to clients from coast-to-coast, and even overseas. And Magellan has just relocated to new headquarters in downtown Minneapolis.

Johnson sees continued growth in the future: “Businesses either thrive or die. They don’t survive. For every low, you’ve got to keep moving, and for every high, you’ve got to keep moving. What matters is moving forward.”

Magellan Medical Technology ConsultantsMagellan Medical Technology Consultants is a national consulting firm that assists in the development and commercialization of new medical products. As Johnson points out, medicine is very complicated, and, with the aging of the Baby Boomers, the downturn in the economy and changes in Medicare, it will only get more complex. Magellan’s project teams help medical technology companies evaluate and advance innovations. “There are a lot of wins. We help companies make decisions about products so that better products are put into the hands of the medical community faster, offering more options to improve patient care and health care outcomes.” As its “Go Further” slogan suggests, Magellan helps clients take their products to the next level. We provide experienced teams that positively impact businesses, clinicians and, ultimately, patients.”

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