By Gerard O'Brien of The Montana Standard
Talking with Montana Tech grad Bryan Larson is like trying to keep up with a rapid-fire machine gun. He answers your questions and is on to another topic before you have time to reload.
Larson's career since Tech has jumped by leaps and bounds from one discipline to another, yet they are all tied to the disciplines he learned at the Mining City campus.
It shows how careers can take divergent paths from one's course of study, yet it's the foundation learned in college that permits one to be able to adapt to the changing marketplace.
For Larson, his skills have taken him from the major sports arenas in the U.S. to exotic places all over the world. He's been to Japan several times and plans on more Far East travel soon.
Q. How did you choose your area of study?
A. In high school I excelled in math and physics. My father was also friends with engineers from the oil and power industries. They helped me with school projects and influenced me by showing what sorts of things engineers did.
Q. Why did you choose Montana Tech over other schools?
A. Montana Tech was a reputable school in the Rocky Mountain area. I also looked at South Dakota Tech and the Colorado School of Mines. I had visited the Tech campus during high school while at a family friend's wedding in Butte. I enjoyed the town and the area. I was being recruited for football out of high school, and Montana Tech was one of the schools I visited. Upon touring the campus and meeting with Coach Bob Green and the professors, I felt it was the right place for me. When my father and I visited the campus, I signed before we left. For me, it was Tech's worldwide reputation; its track record of nearly 100 percent job placement and the small classroom sizes.
Q. What is your proudest moment in your career?
A. Montana Tech was a great experience both academically as well as athletically for me. My proudest moment academically was achieving an A in Dr. McGuire's Tech Writing Course (one of the notoriously most challenging courses in the curriculum). My proudest moment athletically was representing Tech in the NAIA National Championship Football Game on Dec. 7, 1996, against Oklahoma State. The final score was 33-31, and we lost on a controversial safety. I'll always remember that day; plus it was Pearl Harbor Day and the day my daughter was born.
Later, I had an interview with Halliburton, but a teammate, Eric Finley, passed my resume on to Stryker. When I came on site, I really clicked with the guy who was to be my boss. I started at Stryker in the spring of 1997.
Stryker Corp. is a Fortune 500 company that specializes in orthopedics for hips and knees, spine and severe body trauma. We got into arthroscopic or "keyhole" surgery and then developed a small camera to go along with it, allowing a surgeon to see his work on camera. From there, the business just took off.
A year after joining Stryker, I joined the sports medicine group, which focused on ACL repairs. We visited sports doctors and surgeons all across the country, and sports stadiums. We launched about 15 product platforms. It was pretty gratifying to know that if a professional ballplayer had torn an ACL, it was likely the repair work was done with our equipment. I did that for about 1½ years, but we were small players in a small sandbox, and I was ready for more responsibility, and became the research and development manager for video, camera light sources and scopes.
Q. What goals did you accomplish or project that you are most proud of?
A. Academically, starting my career at Tech, I was very proud to get a 3.8 GPA for my first semester at college. The first semester can be a rough time. Getting high marks my first semester gave me confidence that I could excel at college. I was very proud to be named to the Dean's List (I believe 8 out of 10 semesters). I was also very proud to graduate with honors.
Stryker is now the industry leader with our arthroscopic cameras. Most of my travels now are to Japan, China and Vietnam, outsourcing our technology. As a kid growing up in Wyoming, I never dreamed I would visit these countries.
I never really wanted to go into R&D, but I became good at being a team leader, a mentor and picking talented engineers. Our group is responsible for about $300 million of the company's revenue annually.
Q. Tell us about some memorable college experience.
A. My advisor, Leroy Friel had me take computer courses in both word processing and spreadsheets when I started at Tech. To a kid today that may sound silly, but the command of those programs that the classes gave me allowed me to excel in the rest of my courses as well as step right into the work environment where these programs are used daily. My expertise in technical writing from Montana Tech to this day also plays a huge role in my ability to write accurately and concisely.
From Coach Bob Green, I learned about positive leadership. As a team captain my junior and senior year, I got to use those skills on the football field. Through my professional career at Stryker, I use those skills daily.
Q. Who is a favorite hero to you — mentor, public, private and why?
A. My mentors would include Coach Green and William Chang.
Daily, I use the same positive coaching style with my team at Stryker that Coach Green successfully used with us. These skills have helped me develop a culture of accountability and dependability that have allowed me to build a successful, high functioning team. Our team has won two Best Product Development Team awards at the Stryker Corporate R&D congress (22 divisions, roughly 50 teams, approximately 1,000 engineers). I have also developed more than 10 leaders that are now leading engineering teams both within our department and throughout the division.
William Chang is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Vice President of R&D for Stryker Endoscopy. He invented the first solid state camera for medical device use in 1982 and was the originator of 3-Chip® camera technology in the medical arena. He has been in the business with Stryker for 27 years. He has taken me under his wing and trained me in both camera technology as well as business. We have traveled together internationally more than 30 times to places such as China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Australia, Korea, France, Germany, Italy, Israel and Poland. His mentorship and counsel have taught me invaluable experience and lessons in the world business workings.
Q. How did Tech serve you in your past, current or even potential, future jobs. Give us some examples.
A. Former Tech football teammate Eric Finley was the reason that I got started at Stryker. When Stryker spotted my resume in an ASME resume book, they asked Eric if he knew me, and that started me on the path to a job with Stryker.
I helped teammate Chris Whitmore get into Stryker after he retired from college coaching. He is currently a top 10 sales representative (260 reps) in Orange County, Calif. To keep the Tech pipeline flowing, I come back to the annual career fair at Montana Tech to interview potential hires. We have hired two interns in the last three years.
Q. How do you stay connected to Montana Tech?
A. I stay in very close contact with Coach Green and the guys I played football with. I speak to many of them at least monthly, and we try to plan events to get together during the year. We try to make at least one game and also attend the annual Jackpot Fundraiser.
We also created a group called M-Club Alumni (MCA) to help support projects and raise funds for the football program. In 2007 we successfully raised more than $75,000 to install premium stadium seating in Alumni Coliseum and to fund another full-time assistant coach for the football staff. We are currently raising funds to install a new jumbo-tron scoreboard in the south end zone that will make Tech the only school in all of NAIA football with such a feature.
Q. What advice would you give students who are considering entering college?
Take a hands-on approach to what you want — or think you want — to do. If you want to be an engineer, go shadow an engineer for a few days. If you want to be an accountant, go get a summer job at an accounting firm, even if it is only delivering the mail. Find out first hand what the careers entail. Ask a lot of questions! If you find something you love, be passionate about it and find a way to get involved and do it. Don't let people/things stand in the way of your dreams, passion can overcome any shortcoming.
About Bryan Larson
Age: 34, born in North Dakota and grew up in Gillette, Wyo.
Current address: 6726 Positano Lane, San Jose, CA 95138
Job title and company you work for: Director of Research & Development; Stryker Endoscopy
Brief work history: Currently the director of R&D at Stryker Endoscopy, a medical device company in San Jose. He has been in various roles during his 11-plus years including: Manufacturing engineer — Power group (1997-99); production unit manager — (1999-2000); R&D project engineer — Sports Medicine (2000-2002); R&D manager — Visualization (2002- 2005); director of R&D — (2005-Present); Holds an MBA from Santa Clara University in 2001.
Personal data: In 2003 married Kim, and in December of 2007 had their first daughter Logan Elizabeth Larson. Parents are Ivan and Arthleen Larson.
When did you attend Tech: Fall of 1992 thru Spring of 1997; graduated in the spring of 1997 with honors in Engineering Science and a minor in Business Administration