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Niche Players Can Thrive in the Global Market

Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry Magazine
MDDI Article Index

An MD&DI November 1997 Column

Lauren Andersen discusses the global market and device reuse.

Edward E. Waldron

While some medical device industry CEOs cringe at the mention of trends such as provider downsizing and Medicare reform, Lauren Andersen is optimistic about future prospects for smaller companies in the industry. "The most important forces driving our industry today," says the president and CEO of Andersen Products (Haw River, NC), "are managed care and the globalization of markets. Many large companies have responded to these challenges by focusing on consolidation and standardization. Small and midsize companies like ours can't benefit much from economies of scale. Instead, we rely on our ability to innovate. We can respond more quickly than the big players to opportunities in the marketplace."

Andersen speaks from experience. Her career in the health-care industry spans a dozen years and three continents. After she earned her BA at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH), "I started out in the corporate finance department of a major European bank," Andersen recalls, "raising capital for large companies via the European markets. After completing an MBA degree at INSEAD (the European Institute of Business Administration), I managed regional medical device marketing and distribution businesses, first in Europe, then in Asia.

"Those years of international work taught me a great deal about how to succeed in overseas markets," she continues. "Speaking various languages is no substitute for sensitivity to cultural tendencies. American companies frequently approach foreign countries as they would their home market, going in with aggressive marketing and Rambo tactics. Then they wonder why their sales aren't taking off. Patience and finesse really bear fruit in the export game." Andersen believes in the "think globally, act locally" approach to marketing: companies should set strategy on a global scale, but tailor its implementation to local markets.

Andersen returned to the United States in 1995 to take the helm of Andersen Products from her father, H. W. ("Bill") Andersen, MD, who founded the company in 1958. Andersen Products, a privately owned corporation, manufactures and distributes surgical and infection-control equipment and consumables to health-care and related facilities, with export markets in the Pacific Rim, Latin America, and Europe. The company is notable for its history of innovation in ethylene oxide sterilization, gastrointestinal products, and wound care.

A key issue for Andersen Products, as well as the rest of the industry, is the debate over reuse of disposables. Andersen thinks her company has a unique position in the dialogue.

"Since we are both a sterilization company and a manufacturer of single-use medical devices," Andersen observes, "we can see both sides of the issue. Device manufacturers are understandably concerned about patient safety, but they also want to protect their bottom line. Health-care facilities, under intense pressure to contain costs, are reusing disposables and will continue to do so whether or not they can outsource to a third-party reprocessing company.

"The question is, what role should the device industry play? Clearly, commercial reprocessors should comply with GMPs, just as the original device manufacturers do. In recent history, the industry has advocated less government intervention and more certification to consensus standards. We should stick to that strategy."

Andersen also suggests that more R&D time should be devoted to designing devices that can be reprocessed safely. Such devices could provide economy without compromising patient safety.

Trade and scientific organizations provide important forums for debating and resolving such industry issues, Andersen believes. "Smaller companies don't often realize that their feedback is important to their trade association. We've supported the Health Industry Manufacturers Association (HIMA) since 1976. HIMA has attracted more than 100 new members this year, primarily small companies, and I hope those companies will increase their involvement."

Andersen plans to carry on her company's 40-year legacy of success for the forseeable future. "My personal goals are inextricably linked with my goals for the company," she says. "In the future, Andersen Products will continue to do what we've done successfully for four decades­identify and capitalize on niche market opportunities in infection control."

Edward E. Waldron is a freelance contributor to MD&DI.

Copyright ©1997 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry
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