NORTH NAPLES — Reinhold Schmieding never saw himself as a business leader and innovator, and one of Collier County's largest employers.
The Arthrex president and founder, who grew up in Michigan and attended Michigan State University, planned to go into medicine and become a doctor like other members of his family.
A trip to the university's career fair changed his mind when he discovered a company that made joint replacements, blending his love of medicine with engineering and business.
"I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. ... It was love at first sight," the 57-year-old told students at The Community School of Naples on Wednesday. "That's why you should keep your minds open. Your life is going to change at some point. You need to be flexible and open for opportunities, because opportunities come every day."
Schmieding shared some of his wisdom on upper school students, who invited him to speak to members of the international business club, an anatomy and physiology class and the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program.
The students came armed with questions about everything from the health care law to how he comes up with inspiration for the medical devices his company produces. Joseph McCabe, a 17-year-old senior, asked how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would affect Schmieding's business and if he was in support of "Obamacare."
"Well, I started my company in a socialized country," said Schmieding, who started his company in Germany. "Everyone had insurance and everyone could get surgery. But, the Obama administration is putting a 2.3 percent tax on all medical device companies. We sell $1.5 billion, so that's about a $40 million tax hike. They say that it will come back to us because of the uninsured people who can now get surgery. That's how they do the math. We'll see."
That answer surprised McCabe.
"I thought it was a good response. He didn't really say if he was for or against it," he said. "But I thought it was a fair answer."
Schmieding, who had two children who attended The Community School of Naples, told the students that he started his business "in another country, by myself and with no investors." But, he has grown Arthrex to more than 1,400 employees locally and 3,000 worldwide.
He started with one product at a time, which grew to more than 6,000, and spoke about one of his first products, which allowed surgeons to perform medical procedures arthroscopically.
Max Parker, a 17-year-old senior, spoke up and said he had the surgery for a torn meniscus.
"Thirty years ago, you would have had a big scar," Schmieding said. "You would have been in the hospital for a week. Now, you went home the same day and have two small holes. That's us."
Schmieding also urged the students to follow their passions.
"If you find a job doing something you love, you'll never work a day in your life," he said. "It will never be work to you."
Blake Whitsell, a Community School senior and the president of the business club, asked what Schmieding did to make his company international.
Schmieding said his business was international to begin with — he was an American starting a business in Germany — but said the most important thing students can know is that every country is different.
"What is successful here in the U.S. may not be as successful in the rest of the world," he said. "You have different languages, cultures and rules to adapt to ... We haven't had much success in the Middle East telling them, 'You need to be like America.' They want to be their own country."
Schmieding said students who want an international business career should show employers they are ready by learning a foreign language, doing work in a foreign country.
Laura DeGrange, whose son Matthew is vice president of the business club, said the goal of the club is to spark interest in international business.
"We want to reach out to the community to help us reach these kids," she said. "We might spark an interest that could lead to something else, including a career."