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Sense of Purpose: Kenneth Daniel Tan

It’s an exciting but challenging time in healthcare innovation. Varian, a Siemens Healthineers Company, is at the forefront, but its ongoing success relies heavily on its people and purpose, says President of Asia–Pacific and Japan, Kenneth Daniel Tan.

It’s hard to imagine a world without cancer, with half of us expected to experience it if we live long enough.

But while cancer accounts for nearly one in six deaths, Varian, a Siemens Healthineers Company, envisions a world where we no longer have to fear it.

For more than seven decades, the Palo Alto-based company has developed, built and delivered innovative cancer care technologies and solutions for clinical partners around the globe to help them treat millions of patients each year.

“Business has to be driven by purpose. Purpose differentiates great companies from just companies.”

In 2020, Siemens Healthineers acquired Varian, forging a potent alliance. This united Siemens’ medical imaging prowess with Varian’s leadership in radiation oncology and therapy, establishing a shared purpose: pioneering health care for everyone, everywhere.

Kenneth Tan joined Varian in 2017 and became President of Asia–Pacific and Japan in 2019.

As the head of these crucial markets, he quickly understood the significance of purpose for the company.

“Business has to be driven by purpose,” he says. “Purpose differentiates great companies from just companies.”

Improving Outcomes

In line with this, Varian and Siemens have coalesced around a collective focus of Comprehensive Cancer Care, which they aim to achieve primarily through AI, data, precision therapy and clinical training.

“It’s not just been exciting for the company, it’s also been very exciting for our customers,” Tan says. “It’s delivering comprehensive cancer care that covers the entire patient journey.”

The landscape of cancer care in 2024 is a highly specialized amalgamation of engineering and innovation. It encompasses multidisciplinary care, various modes of treatment and multi-modality imaging.

Tan explains that effective care relies on five Ps: preemptive diagnosis; precision therapy that only targets the tumor; personalized treatment; productive and efficient treatment; and predictability, or backing up innovations with research.

“Whatever technologies and treatments that we bring to market, we will tailor or tweak them on a daily basis,” he says.

Effective outcomes for cancer rely on fast and effective treatment. But while cancer patients in most parts of the developed world are treated in a matter of days, patients in some developing countries are forced to wait months.

Determined to create a new benchmark in cancer treatment, Varian has set aggressive targets for patient treatment, aiming to reduce the time from consultation to treatment to two hours. Swifter treatment also allows more patients to be treated without escalating costs.

It’s an approach that is highly valued by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Australia’s largest public radiation oncology provider and leading international academic department, which delivers 90,000 treatments annually across all types of tumors, enabled by Varian’s solutions.

“We strive for excellence in cancer care, education and research,” says Kenton Thompson, the Innovation Lead at the center’s Department of Radiation Oncology. “Our partnership with Varian is an example of the networks we have cultivated with partners who share our aim of improving outcomes for people with cancer.”

Digital Advances

Of course, none of this innovation is possible without digital transformation.

From AI and robotics to cloud computing and big data, the possibilities for health care are boundless, but “highly complex and difficult to implement”, Tan explains.

“It goes beyond technology; it’s about people, culture and strategy.”

“Leaders need to be able to say, ‘This is how I see the world, but I might be wrong’.”

Moreover, healthcare systems must financially sustain these innovations, ensure they are affordable and adequately train staff to use them.

“Without these key components, success will present itself more slowly, or not at all,” Tan says.

These challenges aren’t transient, and may even become trickier in time, he adds.

“I would say over the next few years, we are still going to be in a volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous world.”

Strategic Conversations

Nevertheless, health care remains a focus for governments. They are perpetually tasked with the question of how to treat more patients efficiently without incurring substantial costs.

Varian’s objectives are aligned with governments and healthcare providers, which makes these partnerships instrumental in delivering high-quality health care in a cost-effective manner.

“This is where strategic conversations and good leadership come in,” Tan says.

“In an uncertain world, dissent is going to be powerful, rather than disruptive.”

With health care changing so quickly, he believes effective leaders will need to be able to listen to dissenting options.

“Leaders need to be able to say, ‘This is how I see the world, but I might be wrong, and if you disagree with me, please, I want to hear from you’,” he says. “In an uncertain world, dissent is going to be powerful, rather than disruptive.”

As well as encouraging differing opinions, leaders must also make decisions with empathy and humility, according to Tan. Purpose – both organizational and personal – should be at the crux of every strategy.

“You must ensure that your organization is grounded, your strategies are grounded and they don’t change through this volatility. Companies and leaders that are driven by a deeper sense of purpose will be the ones who succeed.”

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