Todd Pope ’87 came to Carolina in the fall of 1983. The men’s basketball team was fresh off a national championship. He met his future wife that first semester, walked onto the JV basketball team coached by Roy Williams and had plans to go to medical school after graduating.
So to get to medical school he did what everyone aspiring doctor does: He majored in industrial relations. The major combined courses in business and economics, and more important, showed him a way to begin making a more immediate impact in health care.
“I realized that I didn’t want to wait 10 years to practice so I decided to pursue the business side of medicine,” Pope said. “Shortly after graduation, I went to work for Johnson & Johnson in their medical devices division.”
Carolina had helped change the trajectory of his life. Instead of sitting in a classroom, he was in operating rooms connecting doctors with cutting-edge medical devices.
Over the next 30 years, Carolina would continue to impact his life. He moved 11 times, living in the Northeast, Florida, Chicago and San Francisco, among other locations. Many of those moves were, in part, because of strong relationships developed from the Carolina alumni network, a shared love of all things Tar Heel.
That network was never more apparent than when fellow alum Bill Starling ’75, who ran a business incubator in Chapel Hill, reached out to Pope about returning to North Carolina to build a business from the ground up. Pope was in charge of Cordis, a multibillion dollar medical device company then under Johnson & Johnson, but changed course and took the opportunity to transform surgery with TransEnterix.
“I had an entrepreneurial pull,” he said. “I wanted to come back to North Carolina. I really believe in the area. Most investors look to Silicon Valley and Boston for startups, but I think we can be that for health care right here in Chapel Hill.”
Beginning with only a couple of employees, TransEnterix began creating impact in minimally invasive surgery, eventually moving into robotics. Today, that technology is producing great outcomes for patients and lowering the cost per procedure.
TransEnterix promises to change the future of robotic surgery by introducing high-tech advances that include cameras to track surgeons’ eye movements as they operate and haptic feedback to help doctors feel what the robotic arms are doing.
Since its beginnings, the company made it onto the New York Stock Exchange, and in 2018, Pope was named to Time’s Health Care 50 — a list of the 50 most influential people in health care. He’s quick to give credit to his team.
“You can’t do these things as an individual,” he said. “What we’re doing is trying be one of the more influential companies in health care. We’re really proud of that.”
And he’s also quick to give credit to Carolina, where he serves as chair of The Rams Club’s Board of Directors and on other campus boards.
“I’ve had multiple circles in my professional life and my personal life, and Carolina is at the center.”