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Delve Talks: Adam Elsesser, Penumbra

Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our third season continues to explore how leaders help create a culture that supports innovation, especially with the stressors and new opportunities that businesses face during the pandemic.


Show Notes

Dave Franchino and I had the opportunity to catch up with Adam Elsesser, the CEO of Penumbra, a medical device company focused on neurological and vascular conditions. We were interested in talking with him about innovation and how things have changed for him and his company as a result of the uncertainty driven by the Covid epidemic.

Adam shared some very interesting insights on culture, prioritization and working with uncertainty. Below are a few highlights:


A strong, clear mission creates efficiency and focus.

Adam’s career shifted from real estate law to running medical device companies. What drove him then and now is creating a company that had a meaningful purpose and developing it from an abundance mindset. Helping people is doable.


    Penumbra has grown to a 2,800-person company. Adam has worked to maintain a start up mentality by hiring people who are entrepreneurial and want to work on something that matters.

    Finding opportunities

    The key is listening, trusting your friends and colleagues when they say something is a good idea, it’s worth looking into with an open mind. Adam shared a story about falling down the first time he put on a VR headset and seeing the possibilities for stroke rehab. Not being afraid of being embarrassed by situations where you’re not in control and don’t have all the answers is a key to discovering new opportunities.

    Prioritizing ideas

    A sort of strategic opportunism (nimble, focused based on broad mission and business viability) are the philosophies behind Penumbra’s new product development efforts. Adam has created a broad group that is able to decide and prioritize. They are not looking to build their portfolio by extension or competition but by curating things that really matter.

    Trust-based culture

    The pandemic has forced Penumbra’s leadership to be better communicators. When hiring, they look for certain traits, such as leaders that are self-aware, humble, and are able to be wrong.

    Headshot of Adam Elsesser from Penumbra
    “The way therapy is delivered has dramatically changed in the last three months...It has given us the opportunity to rethink how many people we can probably impact.” — Adam Elsesser

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