Forbes | This CEO Really Does Swim With Sharks

Share this post:

With Warren Buffett at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit (Courtesy Sue Chen)

Sue Chen is the CEO of NOVA Medical Products, a design and manufacturing firm producing stylish health and mobility aids for the aging or infirm. Chen founded this successful and innovative company at the age of 23! She also is the Co-Founder of Operation Blue Pride, which facilitates the reintegration of returning service members, and supports their physical and mental health healing through participation in scuba diving. She engages in complementary environmental issues by serving on the Board of Directors of Shark Savers and Reef Check Foundation, both committed to the health of the oceans and their inhabitants. She is also a role model for flourishing in a state of being she calls Happy Chaos, and blogs on the subject for the benefit of all who find work/life balance an elusive achievement.


Sue Chen with Emma the Shark (Courtesy Matt Heath)

Pivotal Moment of Reinvention

It was when I hit a bottom in my life – personally and professionally. At 36, I was engaged, in love and an invincible CEO. One year later, I was in a miserable marriage, feeling like the most vulnerable CEO on the planet and on the brink … I don’t know. I was living in a bottomless pain and darkness I had never known.

My epiphany in this place was that I owned my emotional bucket. So, there was hope. It was the same bucket, where I could rediscover and reignite the love and passion through the most powerful source for everyone’s bucket – meaningful connections. I connected with my customers, my mission, my family, friends, employees, planet – and that reconnected me back to my loves, passion and myself.

Best networking contact

Sir Richard Branson. He was kind enough to come out for the Operation Blue Pride shark expedition. Sir Branson is a tremendous leader and advocate for our oceans and sharks. He taught me about graciousness, courage, adventure and about LISTS. As I was making my TO DO list for my new mission and organization – Operation Blue Pride — and feeling a bit overwhelmed, he said, “Keep on those lists. I make lists for all of my ventures. You make lists and cross things off. Keep making lists and crossing things off until you’ve got something good.”

British entrepreneur Richard Branson (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Valuable Sponsor/Mentor

My mother—my one woman cheerleading squad. No one comes close. If you asked my mother this question she would say, without hesitation, her mother. I’ve had crazy ideas and big plans and passions and my mother supported the projects regardless of cultural barriers. I had many “firsts” as a Taiwanese girl and woman: president of my high school class, producing a documentary and being the first woman Membership Chair and now Education Chair of my YPO Chapter. I’m here today because of three women – my mother and my two grandmothers. They paved a path that gave me infinite opportunities.

Moonshot Goal

To transform and save the Home Medical Equipment industry, which has been stagnant and declining for decades with very little product innovation and the highest dissatisfaction rates of any healthcare products sector. A symbol of this is the grey walker with tennis ball feet, developed in 1965 with dirty tennis balls never meant for walkers. The dysfunction has been fueled by drastic Medicare cuts and regulations forcing thousands of independent Home Medical Equipment (HME) providers out of business and leaving the rest paralyzed in uncertainty.

I’m not just transforming and disrupting my industry, but imploding and exploding it. I’m doing much more than making great products and saving an industry; I’m changing the cultural stigma towards people with physical challenges and physical differences.

In the past 20 years, I’ve been making beautiful, sexy, stylish and empowering medical equipment and leading campaigns such as Lose the Tennis Balls; Bathroom Safety Fall Prevention Challenge and Mobility Makeovers. I created a program called HME180 that takes the dealer from a Medicare/insurance business model to consumer direct retail – and it’s working for many small businesses who share a mission to improve the lives of millions of Americans.

First Job? Second Job?

Even though we were the only Taiwanese family in my hometown of Davie, Florida there was a Chinese Restaurant. We never ate there, but I felt like I could get a job there … supply and demand.  So, I when I turned 14 and showed up at the New Canton Chinese Restaurant, requesting a job, I was hired on the spot!

Second job?  Yep. Chinese restaurant again.


As a young girl (courtesy Sue Chen)

Unplug–Do you?

I love ocean life and classical music and these passions are a dynamic and meaningful part of my life. I’m an avid diver, ocean and shark conservationist and underwater photographer. I’m a classical music aficionado and student. These two incredible worlds of beauty allow me to refuel, recharge and reinvent with clarity and new perspectives. Both of these passions were seeded from childhood, one semi-forced and one seemingly organic.  Recently, another childhood seed has come to life.  This country kid from Davie, FL who grew up as my dad’s farmer sidekick, is now a proud owner/farmer of a Hazelnut Orchard.  So, I guess I unplug, by plugging back into who I am – past, present and future.

Your Cause

I want to improve the lives of millions of Americans facing the greatest fear of aging – loss of independence . People want to remain active and independent on their own terms and in their own homes. Falling is the 5th leading cause of death for Americans over 65. Most of these falls can be prevented with information, education and some basic products. I’ve become a certified instructor in Fall Prevention and Mobility Optimization so I can educate healthcare providers and consumers.

Best piece of advice

A few months after I started my company a family friend and great entrepreneur, Chris Schmid, said to me, “If you’re going to do something big, be sure to have partners. Real partners … because with partners, the good times are so much better and the bad times not as bad.” The joy of sharing the highs, and comfort in facing the lows, has kept my company going, surviving and thriving.

Secret indulgence

Playing on my Bosendorfer Grand piano.  I don’t deserve such a great piano and it deserves a better pianist, one that can perform for others. A failed piano competition when I was 14 left me with piano performance anxiety and I still struggle playing in front of others. So, I indulge secretly and happily.

This post originally published at Forbes

Share this post:

Contact Us

Fill out this form and we will follow up to create a customized plan to help you build a smart growth organization.

Media & Press Inquiries

including requesting Whitney as a guest on your podcast

Media & Press Inquiries arrow_forward

Gain insight into growth, adaptability and agility

Download our free resources outlining the Accelerants of Growth—including books, podcasts and TEDtalks to help you move up your S Curve of Learning.