Salesman in the Operating Room

By Betty Adams Roach '43

Keith Lambie ’73 is a master salesman of life-saving high technology surgical products that are often so new and complex he has to train his customers how to use them. This means Lambie or, more likely these days, the sales representatives of the company he founded and manages, often don surgical gowns and masks and stand ready to provide on-the-job support to surgeons and nurses in hospital operating rooms.

Lambie is president and CEO of State of the Art Medical Products Inc. (SOTA), a specialty surgical sales company launched in 1982. SOTA, which employs 32 people, has a special mission: “to bring new technologies to the surgical market.” Products of the manufacturers SOTA represents, Lambie stresses, “must provide benefits to the patient, hospital, and surgeon.” By insisting on products that “make a difference,” he says, “we have helped many patients to a better quality of life.”

With a product-focus concentrated in the operating room, SOTA has two sales divisions: surgery and pain management. The surgical sales division sells products utilized in vascular, cardiac, general, and neurosurgery. The pain management division works with interventional pain specialists, mainly neurosurgeons and anesthesiologists who specialize in pain management.

SOTA salespeople, therefore, spend many hours in the operating room. In the OR, Lambie explains, “they’re there to learn or to be prepared to answer questions about the product. Before any procedure where a new item is being used, the salesperson provides education to the surgeons and nurses involved in the procedure.” Some of SOTA’s products are so demanding that the surgeon must first attend training courses at other locations to obtain certification to perform the procedure.

Chief among these unusual instruments and devices are a new mechanical heart valve, dialysis catheters, high-speed drills for neurosurgeons, and a spinal cord stimulator that utilizes catheters containing electrodes that block pain impulses to the brain. Another key product is a device used to measure the actual blood flow through a new coronary artery graft.

Lambie came to Moravian after his former eighth-grade teacher (a Princeton basketball recruiter who had watched him develop in high school sports) recommended him as a football talent to Rocco Calvo. He started as tight end for three years, played on the 1970 championship team, and remembers Rocco as a leader who had the ability to “bring out the best” in his players and coaches. “I received an excellent education at Moravian,” he says. “I know there are many times I draw upon what I learned at Moravian both in business and in my personal life.”

His charge to business success as owner of a multimillion-dollar enterprise confirms this belief. His first job after graduation was in sales—selling Green Giant Foods, Dole Pineapple, StarKist Tuna, and similar products for a food brokerage firm. He soon moved to a dental products company and, despite a starring sales record and good promotions, quit to join Shiley Laboratories, a manufacturer of surgical products. But when Shiley promoted him to Midwest regional sales manager and tried to transfer him to Chicago, Lambie said no—“I like the East Coast.” He knew then it was time to do something on his own and launched his own business.

His on-the-job experience with Shiley, then the world’s leading manufacturer of heart valves, had provided valuable know-how that he quickly put to good use in organizing and managing SOTA. A unique responsibility as a surgical products salesman had involved going into hospital operating rooms during surgery to provide technical support for items he had sold. He also spent many hours reading product training manuals and medical publications. And so it goes at SOTA.

As the owner and chief executive, Lambie not only oversees the entire operation of his company but also bears responsibility for finding new technologies, maintaining relationships with manufacturers, and determining which surgical markets SOTA should enter.

Customer support also is a major concern. The sophisticated nature of SOTA’s products necessitates a 24-hour emergency system to handle critical problems. Emergencies range from a nurse calling in the middle of the night because the OR crew may be experiencing a problem requiring technical support, to situations where “someone forgot to order an item.” Three persons are always on call.

Keith’s staff includes his brother Craig, who oversees the pain management division, and his wife, Dena, a nurse whose background includes four years as an operating room director. Mrs. Lambie provides technical research for new products under consideration; she also helps train the company’s product specialists, who provide technical support, make key presentations, and “provide continuous training” to SOTA’s sales teams and customers.

Over its nearly 20 years of existence, SOTA has received numerous sales awards. “Many times we have taken a company from zero dollar sales to several million dollars in annual sales in our territory,” Lambie notes proudly. But the most satisfying thing about his job, he says, “is that we are providing products that make a difference to a patient.”

Keith Lambie '73 in his office.

Photo: Tec Axelrod Photography