Janet Burki – Fast 50 2003


What happens when you combine the technozeal of Silicon Valley with the Six Sigma discipline of a giant company? A medical breakthrough. Janet Burki and her 280-person operation, acquired by General Electric in December 2001, developed the world’s fastest CT scanner. Launched six months ahead of schedule, the eSpeed system works 10 times faster than other systems and produces clear 3-D images of the beating heart. The best news? The procedure takes less than 15 minutes. Sometimes faster really is better.


Janet Burki
President and CEO, GE Imatron
San Francisco, California


Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
We’re leaders in GE Imatron, a subsidiary of General Electric located in South San Francisco. Our 280-employee company designs and manufactures electron-beam tomography scanners (a form of CT scanner) used to diagnose disease. In CT, an X-ray tube rotates around the body, capturing x-ray data that, when put together, create a detailed, 3D image of the patient’s anatomy. Speed is important to capture detailed images of the body’s moving organs, such as the heart. The challenge was to produce the world’s fastest CT scanner, capable of scanning at around 50 milliseconds to produce clear, 3D, still images of the beating heart (conventional CT scans at 400 milliseconds, which is not fast enough to capture the fine detail while the heart is moving). That was the technology challenge–a critical challenge, as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the Americas and Europe. Another challenge was cultural.

What was your moment of truth?
GE saw the potential of our technology and our expertise and, in December 2001, acquired Imatron. Later, we realized we had to make something happen. Customers needed a faster scanner to create motion-free images of the heart. The cardiac CT market was growing 30% annually. Competing technologies were improving at twice our pace–a strong threat to our company. We needed to leverage the acquisition to produce results fast. But GE and Imatron represented different cultures. Imatron was the entrepreneurial innovator of Silicon Valley, passionate about technology, focused on creating the next great machine. GE is strongly process focused, passionate about business and customers. We had to unite the two and make GE Imatron fly to produce a solution meeting our cardiology customers’ needs. The answer: An integration process celebrating each company’s unique values and opening employees’ minds to new possibilities. Following numerous cross-function team work-outs and discussions, we carefully evaluated all options and trade-offs. We kept the Imatron innovation focus and added GE’s process strength–product development discipline, Six Sigma methodology, teamwork, execution strength. (The exact date? 3/1/2002)

What were the results?
The result: eSpeed, the world’s fastest scanner, launched six months ahead of schedule. There are no moving parts besides the patient table, so the design is free from the limitations of centrifugal force. It can scan 10 times faster than any conventional CT system. With the GE eSpeed, physicians can now help determine the extent of heart disease in patients without or prior to invasive procedures. Physicians can see the heart’s wall motion, blood flow and perfusion, and details not possible at slower scan speeds. For the patient, an EBT scan is a simple and fast exam.

What’s your parting tip?
Be open to the possibilities in different cultures.