Deborah DiSanzo, IBM

Deborah DiSanzo
Her Watson Health unit is a key part of IBM's turnaround effort--and medicine's embrace of artificial intelligence

Affiliation: IBM
Title: General manager of Watson Health

Deborah DiSanzo is being counted on to put an end to a gnarly streak of 14 consecutive quarters of revenue decline at IBM ($IBM). She leads the company's Watson Health unit, the supercomputer's most important one--not surprising given the Big Data craze sweeping med tech.

Few technologies exemplify the move toward data analytics better than Jeopardy-winning Watson, at least in the public eye, meaning DiSanzo will receive her share of the spotlight.

On the day DiSanzo was announced as general manager of Watson Health, IBM deepened its engagement with Apple's ($AAPL) HealthKit and ResearchKit data collection platforms, and added 5 new partners, including Columbia Medical Center and generics giant Teva ($TEVA). It also opened the new IBM Watson Health global HQ in Cambridge, MA.

DiSanzo was the CEO of Philips Healthcare for a little more than two years before resigning following disappointing financial results. Under her tenure, Philips announced it will spin off its lighting business and refocused its med tech efforts on "health tech," which consists of data informatics and long-term services and maintenance contracts with hospitals, in addition to the traditional focus on imaging devices and other hardware.

The woman in med tech also led the acquisition of cardiac imaging specialist Volcano for $1.2 billion.

At IBM, she will be counted on to manage Watson's various capabilities and add new ones. The supercomputer has not only natural language but also image analysis abilities thanks to the recent $1 billion acquisition of Chicago's Merge Healthcare.

DiSanzo recently joined the board of ReWalk Robotics ($RWLK) and Pathmaker Neurosystems.

Her career took off after she became general manager of Heartstream, a maker of automated external defibrillators, in 1998. The Hewlett-Packard subsidiary was acquired by Philips in 2001, putting her on the path to CEO.

She says she learned valuable lessons about business selling Girl Scout cookies as an 8-year-old. Her passion for med tech crystallized early in her career, when she met a flight attendant who was saved from cardiac arrest while in midair by a defibrillator.

"This fit, lovely, 41-year-old walked over and looked me in the eyes and said, 'I was dead, and now I am alive. Thanks to what you do, I get to hug my two young children and smell the flowers in my garden,'" DiSanzo said in a profile written by her alma mater, Babson College, adding, "From that moment on, my reason for working was solidified."

Her advice to women (and men) is pretty simple: "Stay focused. Keep your integrity and trust your instincts to do the right thing. Accept challenges and don't doubt yourself. Learn from mistakes, because mistakes are valuable experiences."

-- Varun Saxena (email | Twitter)

For more:
IBM's Watson deepens engagement with Apple, adds new pharma and hospital customers
IBM to add image management to Watson via $1B buy of Merge
Philips shells out $1.2B for Volcano to gain ground in imaging therapy

Deborah DiSanzo, IBM