Ricardo Nuñez has worked in legal leadership positions for Fortune 500 companies like Exxon, GE, and Home Depot, and as general counsel for industrial distributor HD Supply. In April 2015, he shifted gears to the healthcare industry taking on the role of general counsel for startup Vivex Biomedical. Nuñez sits down with Hispanic Executive to discuss diving headfirst into a company and an industry he can be truly passionate about.
Hispanic Executive: What prompted your move to Vivex?
Ricardo Nuñez: First, when HD Supply had its initial public offering, I was provided with flexibility to really consider what I wanted to do professionally. Secondly, I’ve always been interested in the challenges startup companies face. I considered every sector from technology, to retail, to manufacturing, but Vivex offers more than just an entirely new set of invigorating challenges. Working in healthcare also presents the opportunity to be part of a team dedicated to enhancing patient care and improving people’s lives. That combination is exciting to me at this point in my career.
HE: Even though you have shifted industries, do you find there are common threads to how you approach your job?
RN: My priorities are still the same: I strive to be a better attorney and to do the highest quality work zealously and effectively representing my clients. I spend a lot of time on updating my knowledge stay abreast of cutting-edge legal strategies and legislation.
HE: What about the ways in which you go about addressing those priorities?
RN: Because we’re a biotech startup, the approach to acting on those priorities is different. In larger companies, I had a full legal staff and with that came the luxury of being able to pick and choose the specific matters I got deeply involved with. Here I’m active in virtually every aspect of operations—everything from HR, IT, and raising funds to R&D, processing, facilities, and investor communications, as well as traditional legal work, of course. It all keeps me very sharp and tuned in, but also gives me a more intimate knowledge of the entire business. I still hope to build a full legal team, but the comprehensive perspective I get from this level of involvement is part of the entrepreneurial experience that I really enjoy.
HE: How different is operating within healthcare for you?
RN: Interacting with physicians and hospitals, the FDA, and other regulatory bodies like the American Association of Tissue Banks, of course, is very different. But compliance has always been an important part of every industry I’ve ever worked in, whether related to accurate marketing materials or the safety of products for consumers. In fact, without a firm grasp on compliance issues in any industry, almost nothing else will matter in a legal role. The biggest difference for me now is that Vivex products literally become part of our consumers’ bodies. I’m acutely aware that my actions, even as a lawyer, directly impact the quality of patient care and their lives on a daily basis. That’s a huge consideration for me.
The pace of innovation in healthcare is also incredibly exciting. As an attorney, that means I have to keep up with that evolution, not just because I want to help us do well and succeed, but also for the good of the patients. What motivates everyone who is part of the company is a passion that goes into the work we do and makes us extremely grateful to the families of our selfless donors. We have events throughout the year where we celebrate their lives and invite their families to honor the gifts of life they have made possible.
“I’m acutely aware that my actions, even as a lawyer, directly impact the quality of patient care and their lives on a daily basis.”
HE: Does all of that mean you’ve had to develop a new set of skills in order to be effective?
RN: The specifics of compliance that apply to us are certainly different. But because we’re a very R&D-driven company, I’ve also learned a heck of a lot more about healthcare regulation than I could have imagined a year ago. Furthermore, I’m continually amazed at how many new ideas and cutting-edge technologies there are in the market—and amazed at how they are completely separate from the many already-existing products that have the potential for new applications that people may have never have thought of before. The volume of innovation and the significance it has in helping improve lives is absolutely incredible.
HE: What are your goals for the company and where do you think they will take you?
RN: First, I want to help the company continue to grow. We’re well on our way with revenue growing in excess of 35 percent year-over-year. Second, I want to develop and implement more efficient legal processes. Our compliance levels are strong, and now it is about continuously improving process efficiency and effectiveness. We continue to garner attention from prominent industry players that are interested in partnering with us. That activity should continue driving performance that significantly outpaces our industry.
HE: With your prior history, could you have predicted that your career would lead you to this point?
RN: My mother and father emigrated from Cuba and served as great role models. Even through they started out penniless, through hard work they were able to provide great opportunities for my brothers and me. From watching them, I learned how to embrace challenges and to strive for success. It became part of my DNA. So being at Vivex makes perfect sense to me. I’m genuinely excited about all of our products and am embracing the exciting ways in which new treatments can affect so many people’s lives. I consider this career move another motivating challenge that I’m very excited about.
Vivex’s current products are comprosed of human tissue, synthetics, mimetic patterning technology, and biocellular products. These include allografts, which are donated tissues that are transplanted from one person to another.
After the death of a promising Berklee College of Music student, for example, Vivex enabled her family to donate tissues that ultimately helped save the lives of eight patients who had suffered catastrophic burns. Through the generosity of another family’s donation, a 36-year-old patient received a tendon graft to repair a damaged anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Fifteen years later, the recipient still enjoys playing ultimate frisbee and soccer.
The following are examples of Vivex innovations that contribute to changing lives, every day.
AlloGen is a multipurpose amniotic fluid therapy that can be easily applied directly at the site of the injury or inflammation. It’s commonly used in orthopedics, neurosurgery, spinal surgery and general surgery.
Via Graft is a viable allogeneic bone scaffold derived from bone marrow and intended for use in bone remodeling.
Cygnus offers mechanical protection while providing a regenerative tissue matrix. It has been used in spine and neurosurgery, reconstructive surgery, oral surgery, wound care, burn care, and dermatology.
Diagnosis with Dr. Hernandez Suarez
“As is evident from this article, there is a no more regulated industry than healthcare. Regulatory challenges and ethical tensions from emerging biosciences are real and ongoing.
These must be managed by compliance experts if we are to see breakthroughs in medicine. Healthcare lawyers, like Ricardo Nuñez, are invaluable to this work.
Nuñez, especially, has served in other sectors and brings a diversity of thought to this job. The alliances between lawyers and physicians to improve healthcare need to be considered the ‘new normal.’
Moving forward, we must look beyond tort reform and malpractice animosity.”
—Dr. Yogi Hernandez Suarez