Leadership Perspective
Building a durable company through culture and leadership

A Q&A with Intuitive’s President Dave Rosa
Image of Dave Rosa, president of Intuitive.

Dave Rosa, who was appointed president in May 2023, has been with Intuitive for nearly all of its 28 years. He started as a mechanical engineer, working on the first Intuitive da Vinci surgical system, and moved into leadership roles in engineering, regulatory affairs, and sales and marketing, most recently leading global strategy and growth before stepping into his role as the company’s president.

Mission centered, culture focused


In your current role, you’re focused on helping the company deliver on its annual and mid-term strategies and goals by overseeing product, digital, operations, and commercial excellence. While your leadership roles have continued to expand over the years, one thing has stayed consistent: You start many of your public talks and private conversations with leadership values. Why?


I learned a really important lesson early in my career. Building great products and a durable company require outstanding corporate values. You must live them and use them to inform the decisions you make – both simple and complex, easy and tough.

I often share an old, but still deeply relevant Stanford Research Institute (SRI) video. It captures the idea of “telesurgery” 30 years ago. It was a vision for how to make minimally invasive procedures safer and more accessible to more people. It was a big idea at the time that honestly seemed more science fiction than reality.

Our founders used that core idea from SRI to launch Intuitive, and a small group of us started to work on the exceedingly tough engineering challenge of developing the robotic-assisted da Vinci surgical system. We were focused on basic technical issues, which today would seem almost laughable: Could we stop the cables controlling the arms from breaking? Could we prevent motors from overheating?

Early in 1997, Lonnie Smith joined as our first CEO, and went on to serve as chairman of the board until his retirement in 2020. He immediately began to codify our core values and he was persistent in bringing them to life in the organization. I was a mechanical engineer, working on the coolest project possible, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was driving his focus on values.

Nearly 30 years later, I have no question whatsoever about his motive. He was setting the foundation for what it takes to create a durable and successful company. He articulated our founding principles and Gary Guthart, who took the CEO helm from Lonnie in 2010, has continued to reinforce their importance to our organization. They serve as our rubric for how we treat our customers and each other and for how we make hard decisions—ultimately putting our mission first in all settings.

Dave Rose with early da Vinci arm

For Dave Rosa, president, Intuitive, the early days were filled with exciting developments and hands-on engineering challenges.

A focus on selfless leadership, reality, humility


Which of Intuitive’s core values have been the most impactful to you?


As new people join our organization, we hear over and over how different our company is versus others. Granted, we have a special mission and unique and complex technology but it’s really our culture that is front and center in their comparisons. I truly believe these values are a central reason we’ve been able to achieve so much and to navigate the inevitable challenges of growing a business, building a team, and adapting to the unexpected.

Let me share a few of my favorites:

  1. Selfless leadership: It’s about what’s right, not who’s right. We work hard to demonstrate the behaviors needed to make this actionable. We use and teach first principles thinking so that we frame problems clearly, understand key performance metrics and evidence, brainstorm broadly, and implement solutions that address the whole.
  2. Stay grounded in reality: This sounds incredibly obvious. But in practice it can be hard. We always strive to describe the environment as it is, not as we want it to be. In the short term, of course, this can make life more difficult—facing reality often involves facing complex problems—but over the long term, this approach has allowed us to make sustained progress against our goals.
  3. And, my favorite, engage with humility: Ideas can come from anywhere. Our doors and minds are open. Take personal responsibility to make things better. Lonnie was famous in the early days of our company for picking up trash he saw on the ground around our campus. He did this because he wanted to impart something important—that we’re all part of the same organization, all responsible for doing everything we can to ensure its success.


Over the past three years, the world has changed enormously. Do you believe values have the same resonance, the same power today as they did in the early years?


There’s no doubt about the change. We’ve experienced a devastating pandemic. And our work lives have been turned upside-down. Many people have fundamentally rethought what matters in their lives, especially relative to their work.

So, do core values in business still matter? Absolutely.

For many, what the last three years have taught us is that it’s important to be part of something meaningful. We’re fortunate if we spend our working time connected to something that matters. We’re even more fortunate, if this happens as part of an extraordinary team. And we’re most fortunate of all, if we’re part of something bigger, an organization that’s clear about the vital importance of both the work we do and how we do it. And that’s what Intuitive is all about. We’re here for a reason: to empower hospitals, surgeons, physicians, and care teams to help their patients and send them back to their lives.

Lonnie understood this deeply. Gary has made it part of our DNA.

You build this kind of environment step by step, year by year. Our core values are simple and enduring. They’re universal and focused. I believe that’s part of their magic. We haven’t waivered from their truth or discounted their power.



Nearly three decades ago, you were a young engineer, working to ensure that the da Vinci system could actually be set up for robotic surgery. And now, you’ve taken on the role of president, leading a company that operates in more than 70 countries and had 2022 revenue of more than $6 billion. How do corporate values shape the work ahead?


It’s true. Back in the late ‘90s, I couldn’t have imagined where Intuitive would be today. It’s all because of our outstanding team – our values are a critical part of how we attract and retain the world’s best. I’m extremely proud of what the team has accomplished. We’ve had a demonstrable impact on physicians’ ability to deliver minimally invasive interventions that get people back to their lives, often more quickly, with fewer complications. But the longer you work in healthcare, the more you understand both the complexity of the challenges and the endless opportunities for improvements.

Access to healthcare remains a massive issue globally. For most countries, the cost of delivering care has continued to rise as a percentage of GDP. Pandemics, 21st century diseases, aging populations all complicate the landscape. But there are so many new skills, innovations, ideas, and technologies to counter these challenges.

At Intuitive, we look at these challenges and opportunities through a particular lens. I believe deeply that delivering minimally invasive care through a tightly connected ecosystem of products is core to our success. This lens helps us focus our energy and resources on delivering on our mission: to help physicians heal without constraints.

Our values shape everything – how we stay grounded and focused and how we address tough, unmet needs. In my early days with Intuitive, I really loved working on our first da Vinci system, focusing in on unique and complex engineering challenges. Here we are 28 years later, having helped surgeons provide care to more than 12 million patients around the world. I believe deeply that our sustained ability to advance minimally invasive care is based on this balance of delivering great products and living an authentic, differentiated culture.

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