During the 2018 Haas Alumni Conference, Leslie Trigg strode to the front of Andersen Auditorium and promptly made a confession. As a Berkeley MBA student, she flubbed a curveball question during an on-campus job interview: What, asked the recruiter, do you consider the most profound invention of the last century?
Trigg panicked. “I literally didn’t think of the car, the Internet, or anything,” she told attendees during her five-minute HaasX presentation.”I thought of nothing except for what I had for breakfast.” Her response: “The frozen mini-bagel.”
The audience roared—a mix of empathy and respect for a self-effacing leader who could easily have boasted instead. That’s because, over the last two decades, Trigg has held a number of top-level positions at medical-device firms that have changed the lives of thousands of patients.
Since 2014, she has served as CEO of Outset Medical, which has developed what Trigg calls the first major advancement in kidney dialysis treatment in the last 30 years. The company’s Tablo machine integrates real-time water purification and dialysis fluid production into one relatively compact device, allowing patients to administer their own treatment—and eliminating lengthy and costly visits to specialty centers.
Outset recently received $132 million in new funding, on top of $190 million it had already raised, and is seeking FDA approval for Tablo use at home.
Not many people discover a passion for medical devices at the age of 22. But Trigg, a Bay Area native who studied communications at Northwestern University as an undergraduate, was working as a public relations specialist in Washington, D.C., when she was assigned to a small developer of the first urine test for HIV. “I was completely fascinated by the whole process,” says Trigg. “The fast pace, how you develop a product, design a clinical trial, seek regulatory approval—I loved all of it.”
A coworker suggested business school. Before long, Trigg and her then-new husband, Mike Trigg, MBA 98, were enrolled at Haas. Looking back, she says her classmates’ diversity of life experiences and willingness to help each other made a lasting impression. Haas, she says, also taught her how to look at problems through multiple lenses—and identify the right framework for solving them. “I don’t remember how to do a Monte Carlo simulation,” she says, “but I know when it would be a useful tool to apply.”
Trigg attributes her success to two traits: her “pathological optimism”when it comes to Outset’s goals and an eagerness to surround herself with divergent points of view. “I can count the number of people at Outset who had prior experience working in dialysis,” she says. “Not knowing how things are done can be very liberating. It frees you up to ask questions that you may realize later were tangential but got people to think differently.”
It’s a mindset and ingenuity that just might end up a game changer for the half million U.S. patients receiving dialysis multiple times a week.