Catherine Burzik

Math major adds up to health care leadership

Cathy Burzik.

Catherine (Cathy) Burzik 

“I just decided after we went through that ($6.1 billion) buyout that I really wanted to go out and try some other things, and that's what I'm doing. ”
Cathy Burzik
UB Alum, Mathematics

Education has always been paramount to Catherine Burzik. Growing up in Jamestown and Depew, N.Y., as the daughter of a grocer, her parents emphasized the importance of learning. Burzik became valedictorian of her high school class, and went on to become a first-generation college graduate. 

Burzik's career was launched as she was pursuing her master’s degree at UB, commuting between the makeshift Ridge Lea campus in Amherst (the math department was housed in trailer-like classrooms at the time) and the main campus in Buffalo, where she taught classes as a grad student.

Eastman Kodak came to campus to recruit and Burzik was chosen. “Everything I learned about software I learned on the job,” she recalls. This was the beginning of a formidable career in the health care industry, which included building a worldwide digital diagnostic imaging franchise. Burzik was later recruited by Johnson & Johnson to revive its franchise in vital signs monitors in hospitals. She helped stabilize the division and then went on to oversee J&J's clinical laboratory and transfusion medicine markets.

Her scientific insight and business acumen established Burzik’s leadership in life sciences. She served as president, chief executive officer and director of Kinetic Concepts, a leading medical device company specializing in the fields of wound care and regenerative medicine. KCI was taken private by London-based private equity firm, Apax Partners, for $6.1B (9 X EBIDTA). During her tenure KCI’s stock price doubled. Burzik led significant product innovation and global expansion as well as diversification into regenerative medicine through the $1.7B acquisition of LifeCell.

Now she is a general partner at a young venture capital firm focused on medical device, life sciences and biotech investments in San Antonio, Texas, where she and her husband, Frank, reside. The couple met when Frank asked her to his high school prom.

Together—her husband is also a first-generation college graduate—they have established the Catherine M. & Francis N. Burzik Education Foundation, dedicated to benefiting higher education and the performing arts. Burzik states, "I just decided after we went through that buyout that I really wanted to go out and try some other things, and that's what I'm doing."

Burzik's fond memories of the relationships and education at UB have stayed with her through the years. She visits Buffalo regularly to see family and she is impressed at how far UB has come in life sciences, and the burgeoning medical campus downtown.

That prom date, incidentally, proved to be the couple’s first dance in what would spark, some four decades later, an avid interest in competitive ballroom dancing. They have even built a professional-size ballroom in their home to practice. Burzik sums up the boardroom-to-ballroom experience with apt comparison. “The lessons of ballroom dancing apply to real life and work. You’re absolutely in lock-step with your partner. You have to know and maintain a positive connection.”

Five Questions for Catherine:

  1. Fondest memory of UB?
    All the friendships that I made.
  2. Favorite UB class?
    Algebraic topology.
  3. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
    To take control of your own life.
  4. First job?
    Working during the summer of my junior year in high school as a secretary at the Moose Club in Lancaster, N.Y.
  5. Desired legacy?
    It has been fulfilling to have contributed to the development of medical products that change people’s lives.

 ~This article is derived from the UB Almumni profile on Catherine Burzik.

Executive Summary: Catherine (Cathy) M. Burzik

Executive Summary: Catherine (Cathy) M. Burzik is president and CEO of CFB Interests, LLC and former president and CEO of Kinetic Concepts Inc. Previously, she served as president of Applied Biosystems and also held senior positions at Eastman Kodak and Johnson & Johnson. She also served on the boards of Bausch & Lomb and Cordis Corp., prior to its acquisition by Johnson & Johnson. Cathy was appointed to the San Antonio Branch Board by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in 2010, and elected as chair of the San Antonio branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2015.

She is chair of the board of trustees for Canisius College, and was elected 2003 Humanitarian of the Year by the Martin House in Trenton, N.J. Burzik also serves on the boards of AdvaMed and InHealth Institute for Technology Studies. She is the founder, and currently serves as President and Director of the Catherine & Francis Burzik Foundation.

She holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Canisius, a master's in mathematics from the University of Buffalo and has graduated from executive management programs at Penn State University, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the Center for Creative Leadership.


For the convenience of our students, alumni, and friends we are featuring the insightful article, Ballrooms and Boardrooms, as told by Cathy Burzik to Abby Ellin. This article was first published in the New York Tmes. A version of this article appeared in print on August 7, 2011, on page BU7 of the New York edition with the headline: Ballrooms and Boardrooms.

AUG. 6, 2011

MY father fought in World War II in the First Cavalry Division of the Army and achieved the level of staff sergeant. Later, he started a grocery store in Jamestown, N.Y. My mother was a cashier in the store; they married and had my sister and me. I am the only person in my family who has gone on to college.

My parents always dreamed that I would be a teacher, and so did I. From very early on, I did well in school; I was the valedictorian of my high school class, vice president of the student body, president of the math club and editor of the school paper.

I majored in math and classical languages at Canisius College in Buffalo. I received my master’s degree and started working toward my Ph.D. at the University of Buffalo. But then Kodak came in and started interviewing. I was hired as a software engineer, doing programming, and left graduate school. Within three years, I was promoted to supervisor and then advanced to senior levels of management.

Along the way, I became involved in educating people about leadership. Early on, I tried to understand what it takes to get people to follow you. How do you create a vision, and how do you inspire an organization? I learned how to motivate a diverse team of people and how to encourage it to go after a mission.

You don’t learn those skills in college. I think you learn by doing and you learn by having some great role models. I have been fortunate to have people who helped me build those skills. I’m close friends with my first boss at Kodak, John Gallenberger, along with my last boss there 20 years later, Carl Kohrt, who now serves on the board of my company, Kinetic Concepts.

I made a decision in 1988 that I wanted to put technology to use in health care; I wanted to do something that helps patients. I was recruited to Johnson & Johnson in the late 1990s and ran two of its businesses — first in Tampa, Fla., then in Raritan, N.J.

Johnson & Johnson is smack in the middle of health care, which is exactly what I wanted to do. It’s the same at KCI, where I’ve been the chief executive for about five years. We provide, among other things, regenerative medicine products and high-end wound healing products that use a technology called negative pressure wound therapy to remove infection, thus speeding the healing process.

I’ve been married to Frank Burzik, my high school sweetheart, for 40 years. We met while roller-skating when I was about 13. We have always liked to dance socially; we used to go to the Rainbow Room in Manhattan. We now go ballroom dancing together. In fact, we just built a house with a ballroom in it.

Ballroom dancing can teach you a lot about both life and business. You can dance well only if you’re connected; you learn the power of the partnership. I have to be so unbelievably connected, myself as the follower and my partner as leader. I have to intuit in fractions of seconds how to respond to a lead. So you learn to read a person’s mind.

I talk to my people at work about ballroom dance, about how to be connected, and to be aware of musicality. In a business sense, this means learning a three-dimensional presentation of yourself that allows you to understand how to harmonize with others in the organization, as well as with customers and patients. It gives you the insight and intuition to anticipate and take initiative quickly, and then to follow through in an informed way.

Once or twice a year, I invite my leadership committee members and their spouses over to my house and we dance. And they’ve turned out to like it. A few are even taking ballroom dance lessons now. I like to think it’s my influence.

—As told to Abby Ellin.