Andrew McDaid (class of 2003), Associate Professor at the University of Auckland/Founder & CEO OPUM Technologies
My first day at Liston was perhaps a typical experience. I arrived in my brother’s hand-me-down uniform with a handful of primary school friends. I felt a little unsure of myself, and completely out of my depth. Fast forward to today and I look back at my seven years there with sense of gratitude. Those few friends expanded and turned into some of my best mates today. I still play football with various generations of old boys, and my experience is burned into my brain so much most of my passwords for my computer and Netflix still contain the words Liston in some form!
I feel like I owe a lot to the teachers and culture at Liston. I walked out the gates not only with all the essential skills needed to set me up for a successful career but more importantly a meaningful life where I strive to contribute to the wider society.
My pathway after Liston included studying mechatronics (mechanical + electronics, or robotics) engineering and then stayed on to do a PhD in medical devices. I was offered a job overseas at Imperial College in London, but that funding was pulled the week before I was due to fly out. However, I was fortunate to then be offered a full-time position as an academic at the University of Auckland. While this wasn’t my ideal plan, I quickly built a high-performing research team around me and was successful at developing a number of innovative exoskeleton and AI focused medical products. I still hold an appointment of Associate Professor at The University.
One of my career highlights include starting a medical device company, OPUM, in 2016 which has developed a wearable sensor and mobile app that tracks motion and progression of knee health for patients’ suffering from conditions such as osteoarthritis and sports injuries. The data is used to show patients how best to exercise and recover. It also sends that information back to doctors and surgeons to help them better monitor patient recovery remotely which improves the care they can deliver (e.g., identifying at-risk patients to come in for a consult) and reduces healthcare costs. We have clinical trial data from studies in NZ and the US showing that our technology can improve pain and function of patients with knee osteoarthritis. OPUM has raised venture capital from around the world including the US and UK. Sales have started in the U.S, and we have partnerships with global orthopaedic companies that will help us grow the business over the coming years.
I can directly attribute both leadership and academic skills to my time at Liston. Having the privilege of being captain of 1st XI soccer, senior tennis team and head boy were all directly relevant me going on to leading a large internationally recognised research team, attracting 3 million dollars funding including from the US Department of Defence and collaborations with NASA in addition to founding and being CEO of OPUM. The academic skills learnt from overly dedicated teachers such as Mr Chandra, Mr Choromanski and Mr Swanink guided me to being named Dux of my year and helped secure full scholarships to The University of Auckland for both undergrad and PhD. I now have over 130 international peer reviewed research publications.
While it’s easy to relate the leadership and academic skills I learnt to my career, these are only the ingredients and while they are super important, most schools can teach you that. What sets Liston apart is the values that were instilled, and I try to live by every day.
I went into the field of medical devices because I wanted to use my engineering and robotics skills to impact other people’s lives who have more struggles than what I have had. I started with a focus on physical disability such as stroke, cerebral palsy and have expanded into sports and joint health (starting with knees).
The diversity that was embedded at Liston and given huge importance has also been a massive factor in my life. It has led to such fruitful experiences where I have been equally comfortable working as a drainlayer and labourer on building sites to presenting to international research conferences and to executives at multi-billion-dollar global businesses. I have done deals with people from various cultures from the French to Americans and collaborate with Māori on research to help improve health outcomes for their communities. I have also been fortunate enough to be bought into the lives of patients and their families we aim to help, who are from all walks of life.
Looking back, I can attribute my resilience and competitiveness, which in my view are amongst the most crucial aspects of success, to my time at Liston (as well as being from a family of 5 kids!). Whether it was fighting on the 1st XI field to avoid a 10-0 beating by Auckland Grammar or just the fact we were always punching above our weight with much less resources than the larger schools in terms of academic performance, it continually drove me to want to win. That attitude and comradery is important, but just as important, never give up and learn to handle emotions when we didn’t perform as well as we wanted to. And there are plenty of examples of that in my career so far. Whether that be the many declined research grants or the one hundred rejections you get from investors and customers about OPUM. The easy thing is to give up, or not try to start with.
As is evident from the foundations I received from Liston, I can’t take credit for any achievements myself. I have always had such a supportive family and friends. As well as surrounded myself with very smart and determined people in both my research endeavours and in my company. I know Liston has only continued to evolve as a school and the spirit and special character is stronger than ever. I am excited to see what the next generation of Liston boys can achieve!