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Deciding Among ‘Five Different Ways to Solve a Problem’

Mathew Haller Advanced Bionics Sylmar Mathew Haller never set out to be the CTO equivalent at Advanced Bionics, a Sylmar and Valencia-based company that develops cochlear implants for the “profoundly” deaf. “I was initially in engineering and not interested in management,” said Haller, 44, who obtained a doctorate degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, adding he wanted to become a professor like his father. “But once you’re willing to take on responsibility you seem to get more,” he said. “My goal is to make a contribution.” Haller, who has worked with Advanced Bionics for more than 10 years in a variety of capacities, and designed ultrasound equipment prior, is vice president of research and development. He accepted the position in 2007 and oversees 70 employees working in four research and development groups including: systems, which focuses on quality of sound; software; hardware, which deals with electronics; and an implant mechanical and materials group. “It takes years of experience, understanding the market and attending conferences,” said Haller. “Then you have to put all of that together in a complex puzzle. You also have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team.” In 1996, Advanced Bionics received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market the Clarion cochlear implant for use in post-lingually deafened adults, and in 1997 received approval to market cochlear implants for use in children. Today, the company focuses on advancing the Harmony HiResolution Bionic Ear System. The implanted part of the technology is surgically positioned beneath the muscle tissue and skin on the side of the head. The implant electrode is threaded down into the hearing mechanism of the inner ear (the cochlea) during surgery. The external component is a miniature computer called a sound processor worn on the outside of the body, either over the back of the ear (Harmony Sound Processor) or at waist level (Platinum Series Sound Processor). Approximately 35,000 people worldwide use devices made by the company. “Hearing is one of the only senses that can be restored,” said Haller, adding the human hearing system is easier to understand than many other parts of the body. He is also responsible for work related to intellectual property such as filing patents and patent disclosures, and being the technical person on Advanced Bionics’ intellectual property review board. Mix of work Haller’s typical day is a mix of responsibilities. Some time is spent working on personnel issues, such as hiring and firing, and attending meetings. He also works in the trenches with engineers, and generates and documents his own tech ideas such as novel algorithms, novel surgical techniques, and novel external device configurations. “A lot of it is deciding between five different ways of how to solve a problem,” said Haller. “I want a solution and to know how that solution works.” “Vision” and “intellect” are often touted as characteristics of a leader, said Haller. But as CTO of a high-tech company, “judgment” what he defines as the ability to hear information about technologies and come up with a decision about whether or not to pursue it further is equally, if not more, important. “There are lots of shiny objects out there, and you have to look at the market and trust your gut,” said Haller. “That happens every day. I’m interested in the business side of Advanced Bionics and want to be part of a successful organization.” Jeff Greiner, CEO of Advanced Bionics, said development of new products is the lifeblood of high-tech companies. And the leader of research and development is a crucial part of that effort. “Matt is both the conscience and focal point of making sure that in our attempt to innovate we do so with robustness of design,” said Greiner, adding Haller is considered a key member of the executive team. But, he is one piece of a larger picture for getting a quality product to market, added Greiner. Success depends on the leader of research and development working closely with heads of manufacturing, quality control and marketing. Research and development happens to be the longest parts of the process, said Greiner. “Matt is absolutely one of the key people in getting it done.”

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