Chris McGreevy's Cochlear career

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

Chris McGreevy started his career at Cochlear in Sydney in the company’s coveted graduate program and has since dedicated his life’s work to medical devices and their design, improvement and management.

Fast forward eight years and working across a number of industries in Australia then the United States the time has now come for Chris to return to Australia once again, and continue his career at Cochlear HQ where it all started.

Tell us a little bit about your early life and education.

I was born in Brisbane and stayed there until I had finished University. I was interested in a number of subjects: biology, maths, physics and IT, and I really struggled to pinpoint what it was I wanted to do. After high school, I studied science at the University of Queensland, but I really wanted to combine all my passions somehow. I found out that an available course was Medical Device Engineering at the Queensland University of Technology, which was something that piqued my interest immediately. As soon as I started that course, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because it involved biology, physics and helping people. So, after trying a few different things it was a relief to find what I really wanted to do.

So how did you get involved with Cochlear?

I remember seeing Graeme Clark on a Telstra commercial years ago and he was talking about the cochlear implant. While I was studying, so many people told me I shouldn’t complete a medical devices degree because there are no jobs in Australia. I thought even if that’s partly true, I know it’s what I really want to do so I’d figure it out later. I knew Cochlear was the pinnacle of medical device manufacturing but did think it was a little out of my reach.

I knew Cochlear had a graduate program that was notoriously hard to get in to – where they accepted six people out of about 750 applications. Luckily for me, I flew down to Sydney from Brisbane and got the position the same day! I had two weeks to move. It was incredibly exciting.

What did you do after the graduate program, and transition in to your current role?  

After the graduate program, I got a permanent job in Design and Development in sustaining engineering, which is looking at the products that we have in the field and thinking how to improve their reliability. I don’t think a lot of people realise we’re constantly improving the products after we launch them.

While I was working in Sydney, a job came up in the US that I was interested in. I joke that I was having a quarter life crisis. I was 25 and was getting itchy feet. I applied for the job and before I knew it I was off to the US!

You’ve been in the US for eight years? How has your experience been?  

Yes, I was 26 when I arrived, and I joke when I moved here I had about two things. I met my wife in the US – she is American – and we now have a 9-month-old daughter, so now I’m taking two people back with me to Australia, plus a house full of stuff. I’m a much different person from when I came over! 

While I was here in the US, I wanted to get some management experience, so I switched over from engineering to operations, and I found that I really liked it. I’m a real numbers guy, and I found that I could look at the numbers that people hadn’t looked at before, and it was cool to see what was going on. When I manipulated the numbers and the graphs, I found that the mist cleared and I could see the “truth” to what was going on.

What is your role going to look like when back in Australia?

My new title is Manufacturing Shift Manager, which means I’m basically responsible for day to day running of the production line. Essentially, you make sure everything runs smoothly.

It’s been interesting working across different departments. For example, when I was working in engineering, I would have thought a cochlear implant user’s primary focus was the quality of hearing and nothing else. When I came to the US, I learnt cosmetic appearance is also really important to someone. That’s been a really good experience and I’m still learning about how people interact with the device.

I’m looking forward to going back and being reminded of the engineering perspective and seeing if I can add anything to the device.

What has been the most rewarding part of your work with Cochlear?

I would say seeing people getting “switched on”, which is after surgery when users get the system switched on and either hear for the first time, or the first time in ages I think it’s pretty cool to think of the impact this technology has people’s lives; I’ve heard people say that “before my world was silent, and now it’s full of sounds”.

I think it was Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, who said “blindness takes you away from things, deafness takes you away from people.” I think of some of the recipients who have really cool personalities, and I imagine what their lives would be like if they were disconnected from people – almost like their personality would be locked up inside of them. Hearing really opens them up to society, and gives them the confidence to be who they are.

Any thoughts on how you’ll continue to embrace change in Australia?

I think always questioning things is good. I think the Australian mindset is already pretty well set up to do that. Australians question things a bit more than in the US!

I’ll be interested to see when I get back to Australia if that’s still the case. Someone taught me at Cochlear to always get down to the “why”. So, if someone asks for something, don’t focus on what they want but why they want it. Because maybe we can’t do that exact thing but it will feed in to why they want it. I’m very interested to see when I get back the mindset of people that work there. Cochlear is already a really good company at innovating – we just need to constantly challenge and question what’s already there.

What will you miss most about the US?

There are two things! Number one is Mexican food, the other is American football. When I first came over here I didn’t understand a bit of it, and then I started doing fantasy football. I was the commissioner of the Cochlear fantasy football league – we had a lot of fun in the office with that. But I am missing Australian sports too! I do miss watching cricket and rugby, it will be good to get back in to that.

What are you most excited about returning to Australia?  

Definitely being around my family and friends. 

I hate to admit this, but KFC in Australia is so much better than KFC in the US. I want to have some KFC in Australia again! Definitely not something I make a habit of, but once in a while I do enjoy a zinger.