Danaher President on Finding Challenge, Fulfillment in a General Management Career
By Dave Hendrick
Kirk Hetherington (MBA ’11), president of Danaher subsidiary XOS, developed his interest in general management working with the Boy Scouts, specifically, as director of operations for the organization’s camp on Catalina Island, off the coast of California.
A former Boy Scout who rose to the rank of Eagle Scout, Hetherington loved being part of the organization in a professional capacity after graduating from James Madison University, and said he thrived on the responsibility of being in charge of a $4 million business and the ever-changing challenges involved in overseeing an operation — from vendor management to providing services for thousands of guests.
Longer term, however, Hetherington said he knew the title of camp director would probably not help his resume stand out when climbing the corporate ladder, which led him back east to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business with a goal to learn to “lead people with humanity and dignity.”
Then, as now, Darden had the reputation for instilling “operational excellence with a general management focus,” Hetherington said, and while he considered a variety of career paths, the prospect of leading an organization from tip to tail proved most appealing.
In the most recent graduating Darden class, nearly 19 percent of students pursued a career with a general management focus.
“I came back to the idea that I wanted to see the tangible results from the things I was driving,” said Hetherington, who recently spoke to Darden students as part of the Darden Dialogues speaker series. “I wanted to own something from beginning to end.”
As a Darden student, Hetherington interned with a portfolio company of Danaher, a longtime Darden corporate partner he described as focused on best practices with a track record of using process to “consistently raise the bar as an organization.”
After Darden, Hetherington stayed in the Danaher family, taking a position as a global product manager with the water analysis company Hach. Hetherington progressed in the Colorado-based company over a seven-year career, eventually rising to senior director of strategic marketing.
There, Hetherington said he was given the opportunity to undertake what Danaher terms a policy-deployment initiative, a “stretch” goal involving something that the company doesn’t yet have a competency in, learning how to construct a bridge from strategic plan to processes that the organization executes day-in and day-out.
“For me this was an opportunity to go from roughly $95 million in marketing-generated revenue to over $120 million,” said Hetherington. “I had no idea how to do it, but for me it was kind of the proof point of, here is my chance to put all of these tools together from [the Danaher Business System] and Darden and leverage a global team to find out how to do something differently.”
In January, Hetherington was given the opportunity he had hoped for since coming to Danaher, leading his own portfolio company as president of XOS, a manufacturer of X-ray equipment with applications in the petroleum, environmental, and health and safety areas.
In his first year at the helm, Hetherington has faced leadership challenges including significant turnover in the XOS leadership team, new products that had to be delayed and the loss of a valuable contract to a competitor — on top of the day-day actions involved in leading an organization.
“All part of the fun of being in a general management position,” said Hetherington, who said the company is closing in on double-digit revenue growth and record operating profit, despite the hurdles. “It has absolutely delivered on what I hoped it would deliver.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia