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CMR Surgical recruits the next generation of talent




CMR Surgical CEO Martin Frost with, centre, Emma Dalryrmple, Grant Thornton tax advisor and, right, Erik Langaker, chairman of CMR Surgical with the robots at Crome Lea Business Park. Picture: Keith Heppell
CMR Surgical CEO Martin Frost with, centre, Emma Dalryrmple, Grant Thornton tax advisor and, right, Erik Langaker, chairman of CMR Surgical with the robots at Crome Lea Business Park. Picture: Keith Heppell

Portable surgical robot sector calls for new expertise for new roles

CMR Surgicals Versius robot is a game changer for many surgical procedures
CMR Surgicals Versius robot is a game changer for many surgical procedures

CMR Surgical’s exponential growth is so rapid that it challenges conventional HR and employment strategies.

The company, which has developed the portable surgical robot Versius, recently won the ‘Venture financing deal of the year’ at the Medtech Insight Awards for its successful £100million Series B funding round in the summer.

CMR Surgical operates in the robot-assisted minimal access surgery market which, globally, is estimated to be worth $20billion by 2025.

With a growth strategy as close to vertical as can be it’s not surprising that CEO Martin Frost says the firm is “recruiting like crazy”. The skill sets required are especially rare because the sector is so novel conventional courses haven’t yet been created. Current roles on offer include regulatory affairs specialist, senior IT engineer, technical skills trainer, DevOps engineer, supply chain manager and graduate commercial development. So what’s the way to recruit world-class employees?

CEO Martin Frost with the Versius at CMR Surgicals Crome Lea Business Park base. Picture: Keith Heppell
CEO Martin Frost with the Versius at CMR Surgicals Crome Lea Business Park base. Picture: Keith Heppell

To find out I popped along to meet Martin, who was accompanied by CMR Surgical’s chairman, Erik Langaker, and a representative from Grant Thornton’s tax advisory team, Emma Dalrymple, who are advocates for changing workplace practices.

“We’ve grown very fast, but stealthily, to 240 people,” explains Martin. “Two-thirds are in engineering, either mechanical or software, plus – increasingly – clinical, marketing and other commercial roles. Not to forget manufacturing because the final test assembly takes place here, and to have that combination of skills in a Cambridge company is quite abnormal. I’d say Marshall is the only comparison, and they probably don’t have so many software people, but you could compare what we’re doing to building a modern-day Marshall.”

CMR, which is building its new home at Evolution Business Park in Impington, has doubled its head count in the last 12 months, while being very specific about both expertise and personal skillsets.

“When we built our engineering team, we’ve never advertised for roboticists, there’s lots of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists and natural scientists.

CMR Surgicals Versius robot is awaiting certification prior to launch in early 2019
CMR Surgicals Versius robot is awaiting certification prior to launch in early 2019

“It’s really a question of recruiting on capabilities – being bright, self-starters – but also people who share our values and if there’s an interview situation where the candidate doesn’t buy into the mission and values then it would never even get to the money.

“All I try and do is have a conversation with them. You can tell, especially with young people these days. Young people are looking to join a cause as much as a job and this is the greatest cause you can possibly sign up to in Cambridge.”

The average age of a CMR Surgical employee is 30, and there are 17 nationalities working for the company.

There were “25 interns over here in the summer”. Right now there are 40 vacancies. “We’re recruiting like crazy though, where possible, we never use recruitment agencies.”

The management team at CMR Surgical is well aware that their mission isn’t just about selling a surgical robot, it’s about changing perceptions so people understand and accept that some procedures can be more competently done with a surgeon directing the process behind a console.

And a lot of that involves talking to future customers and employees: school pupils.

“We’re constantly doing stuff, with schools and colleges – such as Hills Road – visiting, and not just the 16 and 17-year-olds, but much younger.”

In effect, Martin and his team are building a new type of company. The robots are built “from the ground up” for keyhole surgery. Millions of people in the UK don’t get the right sort of surgery – either it is late, or it’s far more intrusive than it would be using Versius. And that’s going to change.

“It’s a journey and, though we are five years old in January, this is still early foothills,” adds Martin. “There are very very few world-class medical devices firms, so there’s very few places to recruit, so we’re recruiting globally or getting great people in and training them.

“Our involvement in schools is not because they’re going to be our employees in a few years’ time, it’s because it’s the right thing to do, especially for anyone who is a parent – you want to inspire the next generation of students.”

Education, as anyone working in this sector will tell you, is an ongoing situation: it never stops. And talking with one of the most significant innovators in the robotic and the medical sectors proved to be a lesson it itself.

:: This article is part of our latest series, focusing on skills and talent, published in association with Grant Thornton and its Vibrant Economy initiative.

Read more from the series

Grant Thornton’s Owen Butler discusses recruitment, training and retention

Ridgeons’ Su Britter on building a positive team

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