The Heart and Soul of a Great Dane
Thomas Sandgaard fights pain and addiction through his medical devices and a foundation working to end the opioid epidemic.
Thomas Sandgaard grew up on the back streets of Ringe, Denmark, population 3,000. Little did he know that he’d one day helm a medical-device company based in Englewood, Colorado, run a foundation dedicated to helping those with opioid addictions, and get to pursue his twin loves of music and professional soccer. His medical device company, Zynex, founded in 1996, now has more than 800 employees. Publicly traded, the company was valued at close to $1 billion in 2020. The NexWave device that Sandgaard invented offers electrotherapy solutions for pain management and helps people avoid or stop taking painkillers. The medical device was just awarded its third patent and more than 500,000 have been sold.
In addition to his business venture, the entrepreneur in 2019 formed the Sandgaard Foundation, which focuses on ending the opioid epidemic while supporting victims and their families in their efforts to overcome addiction.
Even with Zynex and the success of the NexWave device, Sandgaard was not content with sitting back and watching the business grow. He wanted to accelerate it on a domestic level, but just as important, he wanted to bring more attention to the plight of addiction on a global scale.
That is the roundabout way he got into the business of soccer. He had played soccer as a child growing up in Denmark and that passion never left him. He didn’t envision owning a team, certainly not in London, the mecca of the sport, until a friend asked him if he had ever thought about it. He purchased Charlton Athletic Football Club, and the deal became official last September.
It was an uneasy journey, with speed bumps and detours along the way. The club was in turmoil, but to Thomas Sandgaard, so was the world. He was relentless. With only four to five hours of sleep a night, he was awake at 2 a.m. on the phone to London with reporters and lawyers one minute, and on Twitter with fans the next, convincing everyone that he was the real deal.
As it turns out, he was. His word was his bond, and he has amassed a following on Twitter of more than 10,000 Addicks supporters (ironically, the nickname of the team).
On a recent visit to his office building in Colorado, I met Sandgaard in the lobby and he took me up to his sparse yet spacious office on the top floor. He dresses with flair and drives fancy cars, but never talks about his wealth.
“I have always walked alongside others no matter who they are,” he said. “I never get ahead of them because you cannot read their lips or see them smile. Leadership is not about leading. It is instead freeing talent in others and being around to see it.”
As for his passion for ending drug addiction, he said, “We need to fight the opioid crisis sooner rather than later. We are not passengers: we have to lead. I cannot stand still and watch it grow at an alarming rate without doing anything.”
A mural outside of the office created by one of his sons portrays Sandgaard uplifting downtrodden Charlton supporters. It’s a tribute to his relentless pursuit of a dream, an image of a dedicated father, friend and leader, building the beliefs and raising the hopes of a district in Lon- don previously destined to failure.
His large desk had scarcely anything on it but a phone and was flanked by two 7-foot speakers. They stood like sentries, guarding and looming over three guitars positioned on one side. Sandgaard refers to his collection of guitars as being part of his extended family. Not only does he collect them, he also plays them. Not only does he play them, but he also rocks out with them in that office, to both the delight and dismay of employees throughout the building.
He not only plays in the confines of his office, he also writes and records music in the castle he calls home, located on 30 acres near Castle Rock.
Growing up, his parents told him he was tone-deaf so he wouldn’t pursue music and were convinced music was a passing phase. They believed he would continue to pursue engineering, which he did. He earned a degree in electronics engineering from Den- mark’s Odense University and an MBA from Copenhagen Business School. He previously held management positions with Siemens, GN Danavox, DataCo and Philips. He eventually designed the piece of equipment (and others) that made Zynex a success.
And that has enabled him to indulge passions like music. He chooses to carry a melody in his heart, a tune in his head, a rhythm in his body, but no voice to speak of. He cannot sing a note and he knows it.
Hard work has enabled him to follow his muses, a lesson he imparts to both his employees and his sons. “Anything that comes to your life and is of your life has to be earned,” he said.
Sandgaard constantly pivots between his roles in the medical business, the sports world, and his music, addressing critics, solving problems, finding solutions. “It is neither the journey nor destination that is important,” he said. “Instead it is the company you keep along the way that counts more.”
He listens to the beat of a different drummer and with it, as the saying goes, steps to the music which he hears. Now if he would just take singing lessons—as some of his friends have recommended— his life would be complete.
Rock on, Thomas Sandgaard, rock on.
Zynex, Inc. is an Englewood, Colorado-based medical technology company specializing in the manufacture and sale of non-invasive medical devices for pain management, stroke rehabilitation, cardiac monitoring and neurological diagnostics.
Michael Ditchfield is the author of Life’s too Short for Leftovers – 9 Lessons from a Third World Kitchen.