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It is not easy for a firm to change its focus, particularly to the medical products industry. Teleflex Incorporated has managed to beat the odds and succeed, according to Chairman, President and CEO Benson Smith. “It is something few companies have been able to do,” he says. “The medical device business itself is extremely competitive.” Based in Limerick, Pa., Teleflex provides products and services for vascular access, respiratory care, general and regional anesthesia, cardiac care, urology and surgery. Teleflex also has an OEM business, through which it makes specialty device components for other medical device companies.
Teleflex was founded in 1943 as a manufacturer of mechanical controls for airplanes. The company grew primarily by acquisition over the years, with a focus on acquiring providers of engineered devices for the commercial, aerospace and medical device industries.
By 2005, Teleflex’s business consisted predominantly of businesses within the automotive, aerospace and marine industries, with a niche presence in medical devices. Approximately half of the company’s sales at that time were generated by its commercial businesses.
Teleflex recognized that its future was limited if it remained in the commercial and aerospace markets. The leadership chose to switch its focus to medical devices, which offered stronger prospects for long-term growth and sustainability.
“The downturns in those particular industries and globalization were dramatically affecting the profitability and future prospects of our business,” Smith says. “Generally speaking, the medical device market has been quite robust since the implementation of Medicare.”
Today, Teleflex makes hundreds of medical products. One of its largest divisions is vascular access, which manufactures a variety of central venous access catheters (CVCs). “Central venous catheters are largely used in the delivery of medication, such as chemotherapy,” Smith explains.
The use of catheters has been linked to bloodstream infections in patients, so Teleflex, through its Arrow brand, has focused on developing technologies and coatings to help reduce these incidents.
“We’ve got some really exciting technology that helps physicians address the risk of infection in this area as well as in our respiratory and anesthesia offerings,” he says. “We recognize that tools and techniques that help protect against infection and that improve patient and provider safety are valuable assets for our customers.”
Teleflex’s portfolio also includes cardiac assist products, such as balloon pumps and catheters to be used with them. “When a patient’s heart is not sufficiently strong to beat on its own, a physician can insert a special catheter that is connected to an intra-aortic balloon pump. The catheter inflates and deflates relatively rapidly to reduce the work of the heart, allowing it to rest,” he states.
Smith also highlights the company’s surgical products. “One of the most important products in that area is the Hem-o-lok clip, [which is] a polymer clip that is used to securely ligate vessels,” he says.
Teleflex’s leadership and R&D teams focus on spending time with clinicians. “Every time there is something new in the field, it’s important to consult nurses and doctors so they understand how to use the new products,” he states. “The personal touch is vital. Manuals alone aren’t an effective way to train people in critical missions such as healthcare.”
Smith joined Teleflex in 2005, but previously spent 25 years at C.R. Bard Inc., a medical technologies company in New Jersey. There, he held numerous positions, including president and COO, and was a member of its board of directors.
“I thought I was going to retire in 1998,” he recalls, but he became part of Teleflex’s board seven years later. He enjoys the medical device industry, which he finds to be challenging and dynamic.
“Companies that do well in this industry have to challenge themselves daily to find better solutions to healthcare problems,” he says. “When you’re able to introduce products that make a big difference in people’s lives, that’s a satisfying line of work.”
He describes Teleflex’s working environment as an active one. “It is really necessary to be a contributor,” he asserts. “Great strides have been made in our organization as the result of teams working together to develop new products.”
The Teleflex culture also fosters two philosophies among its employees. “Our [first] goal is to turn our customer into an advocate,” he says. “A customer advocate is one who actively recommends your company and your products to others.”
Teleflex’s other focus is employee engagement and providing employees with tools to move forward. “Those are important in the medical device arena,” Smith says. “An engaged employee is a valuable asset in driving business performance.”
Smith believes Teleflex will maintain its role as a solid contributor to the medical device industry as it introduces clinicians to new products. “We have some valuable core technologies,” he says, “and we’re looking to continue to build upon them. We have critical elements in our strategy that we do really well. As we move forward, we will continue to focus on providing new technologies and tools to address clinical needs across therapeutic areas.”