Mike McDonald: Stanford Basketball Player Helping Athletes Recover Faster in the Medical Device Industry
Basketball was always part of Mike McDonald’s life, as his father, Glenn McDonald, had a long career as an NBA player and coach. Mike utilized his time at Stanford not only by helping his team remain one of the top in the country, but by taking advantage of academic and networking opportunities. After getting his master’s degree, he decided to pursue a career outside of basketball instead of play overseas — which has ultimately led to him working for the leader in sports medicine products.
Where are you from and how did you get into basketball?
I grew up in Southern California in Long Beach, and basketball has always been in the family. My dad played at Long Beach State with Coach Jerry Tarkanian, and played for the Celtics for a few years before I was born. When I was two months old we moved to the Philippines where he played and coached. When I was five we moved back, and he eventually coached back at Long Beach State. Ever since born I was born I was immersed in basketball. I played for an AAU travel team, played at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, and also played baseball growing up. When I was a sophomore I gave up baseball to focus on basketball, then was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship to Stanford.
How was your time playing at Stanford?
I had a great time there under Coach Mike Montgomery. I was lucky enough to play for some good teams, and started my junior and senior years when we were ranked first in the country for a period of time. We made it to the Final Four my freshman year, won three consecutive Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) Championships, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament all four years I was there. It was a wonderful experience. Basketball was great, school was challenging, and the people I met were extremely interesting. Stanford is one of those places where you think you are doing something cool because you are the part of the number one team in the country, but then someone down the hall has won multiple gold medals or created a successful start-up. It’s a unique place and I was excited to immerse myself in the school both athletically and academically.
How were you able to take advantage of your time at Stanford academically?
Through the athletic department you can meet all kinds of people being in the heart of Silicon Valley and create your own path. I was lucky enough to intern at a venture capital firm named Technology Crossover Ventures that was started by Jay Hoag. He was a great mentor to me. I was very interested in the whole venture capital model. I finished my undergrad requirements a quarter early so I was able to begin taking a few grad school classes and eventually landed an internship during the last semester of my master’s program. I took sociology classes for my master’s degree, with a focus on business as I thought at some point I would get involved in either venture capital or sports. I interned for HRJ Capital spring semester, and eventually started working there.
How did basketball play into these decisions?
After I graduated I was trying to decide whether I would play overseas or potentially the NBA which I knew was a long shot. That summer I played for the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league and had a couple offers to go overseas after. My dilemma was that I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree and had the option to go back to school to get my master’s degree and then go play after the year. The salary for the first year overseas wouldn’t be great, so I decided to go back to school and take a year off basketball. I thought if I didn’t go back to school at that point, I never would, and planned to play again after I completed my master’s program. I realized half way through the year in a conversation with my dad that my playing days were done and I needed to start looking for a job. I never looked at that decision as anything other than a great one for myself.
Was it a difficult decision to make at the time?
I tried looking at it two ways: it would have been a great opportunity and experience to go overseas and play; but as much as I didn’t want to believe, I think that would have been my ceiling. I had to be honest with myself. Do I go do this for five to 10 years, but come back with no career? Or do I bite the bullet and start my career now? For me, I thought it was more important to start my career at that point. It was hard, as basketball had been part of my identity since I was four or five years old. There was definitely a transition period. For the most part, I was still on campus during my master’s and going to sporting events with friends and keeping in contact with those playing in the NBA and overseas, and I was asked many times if I was going to keep playing or why I wasn’t.
What was the hardest part about your transition period?
It was mostly the unknown. Every year from eight years old to 22, I was playing organized sports and knew what the year was going to look like. When I gave that up, it was tough to not have a job or structure, and have to put myself out there. There is rejection in sports and jobs, but in college you have a safety net — when you’re done, you don’t have it anymore. I spent at least the first six months looking for a job and trying to create a new identity for myself.
What happened between then and now in your career?
I worked for a HRJ Capital for 2.5 years. I was doing marketing and investor relations for them, but I thought I wanted something different but was unsure I took four to six months off working after that and traveled, saw friends, went home, and saw family. I started networking and talking to people about what they like and didn’t like in their careers. I got this random message from someone who helped with Lacrosse at Stanford named Mark Lipscomb who is now the Vice President of Global Talent for Adobe, but at the time was working at HR at Stryker, a medical device company. Mark wanted to discuss the position with me, but since I knew nothing about the industry I reached back out to Jay Hoag and asked what he thought. He had nothing but great things to say about the industry and thought I should speak to them. I went through their interview process and got the job. I worked there in a few different capacities for 9.5 years: in finance, product marketing, sales, and sales consulting. Then I left five years ago to a competitor and I’m now a regional sales manager covering the northeast and eastern Canada. It’s crazy because I knew nothing about it this industry and now I’ve been in it for almost 15 years. My parents always told me when I was going to school: “Get to know everyone you can, you never know what is going to happen – perhaps a job, a referral, or just being able picking someone’s brain who may be in a field you are interested in. Take advantage while you are there as much as you can.” It paid off.
So what do you do in the medical device industry?
Arthrex is the leader of sports medicine products. I work on our 4K visualization platform, like scopes for knee, hip, small joint, or shoulder surgery. Instead of filleting your knee or shoulder open like they used to do, surgeons can now stick in a scope that is connected to a camera and uses little instruments to perform surgery and make repairs. It’s easier on the patient’s body and quicker recovery time when it’s done that way. We just came out with a smaller 1.9 mm Nanoscope you can stick in a knee, shoulder, etc. under local anesthesia for procedures instead of going under in the operating room. It’s extremely exciting as it’s changing the future of surgical procedures.
It seems like your job really incorporates your education and athletic experience, and I imagine it feels good knowing you are helping other athletes recover quicker from injuries. Is it a fulfilling career?
Yes – it’s most enjoyable working with a team day-to-day, and every day is different. I get a lot of joy out of assisting the sales reps I work with succeed and reach their personal goals. It is also fulfilling to know we are helping high caliber athletes. For example, Drew Brees used some of our products in his most recent hand surgery. They originally told him he would be out for eight weeks, but he and came back in five. Tua Tagovailoa, the quarterback from Alabama, had an ankle surgery and came back in a week and a half after using our products. It’s cool when you see something like that because you feel like you are making a difference. We make products that help surgeons treat their patients better which is extremely rewarding.
Speaking of injuries, did you sustain any during your career?
I was really lucky, I only had one major injury in school. I was out for 16 games with a Lisfranc injury in my foot my sophomore year. Since then I’ve had nothing major but just muscle pulls that come with age. I also don’t play basketball much any more, which probably helps. I don’t have a ton of time to play in leagues with work and two kids, but find time to run, ride a stationary interactive bike, yoga, and lift weights when I have time. Pick up hoops a couple times a week is out of the cards. It’s not my knees I’m worried about, those are easy to fix — I’m more concerned about my Achilles tendon. I just stop what I’m doing every time it gets tight. I’ve had some friends who have ruptured it and it’s not a fun recovery process.
How did basketball prepare you for your career?
In sports you have to be prepared and practice until things become second nature. My job is very similar to that on a day-to-day basis, as you have to prepare for different things whether it be a sales pitch to a customer or product launch. You also learn to celebrate your wins and learn from your losses, but the goal is to get better every day regardless if you win or lose. In my current role and similar to basketball, we work as a team to get a goal accomplished. We have to be prepared, focused, and be willing to adapt if a curveball is thrown our way. Plus the competition is fun because it becomes engrained in you after being involved with sports for so long.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
No. If you are lucky enough to play a sport in college, you give it your all, and prepare yourself for either continuing to play that sport professionally or for moving on into the working world. I believe I did that and was fortunate for the opportunity to have played a sport I love at a school like Stanford. I think you can always network better, which is so important in college. It’s so helpful to talk to people who are in roles you think you may want to try when you graduate to gain knowledge. My sister works in the athletic department at the University of California, Irvine, and I always tell her if any athletes are interested in my field of work to have them call me with any questions — whether it’s about this industry or about getting a job in general. Networking is something we should talk about more, especially with college athletes looking to transition into the real world.
Follow Mike McDonald on LinkedIn.