Medtronic finds first technology and innovation chief in former Amazon exec

Where better to find your first-ever chief technology and innovation officer than Big Tech itself?

That appears to have been Medtronic’s approach to filling its newest executive position. The medtech giant announced Thursday that it has appointed Ken Washington, Ph.D., to take on the job, a newly created role that will focus on building out the reach and depth of the company’s tech portfolio.

“This new leadership role will help Medtronic to harness the innovative spirit of our founders and ensure we are capitalizing on our scientific and technological knowledge to invent, innovate and disrupt the healthcare technology market of the future,” CEO Geoff Martha said in the announcement.

“Dr. Washington will help Medtronic expand use of our technology platforms across our portfolio—including robotics, sensors, implantables and AI—improving our returns on investments in innovation and expanding our technological competitive advantage to drive durable growth,” Martha continued.

Washington hails from Amazon, where he spent the last two years as its VP of software engineering and consumer robotics—a stint that included heading up the development and rollout of the tech giant’s Astro home robot.

Prior to that, he spent about seven years each at Lockheed Martin and Ford. He started at the former in 2007, initially as chief technology officer and then as the defense contractor’s first chief privacy officer, before being tapped to head up its advanced technology center as VP. From there, in 2014, he moved to Ford as VP of research and advanced engineering and was ultimately promoted to become the automaker’s CTO.

Those moves came after Washington, who earned a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Texas A&M University in 1986, kicked off his career with more than two decades spent at Sandia National Laboratories, one of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s R&D labs. Between 1986 and 2007, he held a variety of largely tech-related roles there, from nuclear reactor safety engineering to software development, culminating in a two-year term as the institution’s chief information officer.

The new addition to its executive team comes as Medtronic is in the process of slimming down its business elsewhere. Already this year, it has combined its surgical robotics and surgical innovations into a single business unit and spun out its entire renal care business into kidney care-focused joint venture Mozarc Medical with DaVita.

It’s also in the process of spinning off its patient monitoring and respiratory interventions businesses, with fellow devicemakers like ICU Medical and GE HealthCare reportedly in the running to pick up the cleaved-off units.

Meanwhile, Medtronic is also making cuts on the personnel front. The planned closure of a California facility this year is set to result in the layoffs of 59 employees, and untold numbers of other employees around the world are also now on the chopping block, as the company conducts a monthslong campaign of cuts across its entire global business.