An MD&DI August 1997 Column
William Mercer is helping Alaris ascend to new heights.
When William J. Mercer was named president and CEO of IVAC Corp. (San Diego) in 1995, the San Diego Business Journal alluded to his reputation in the industry as "a business turnaround whiz." Today, as president and CEO of the newly named Alaris Medical, Inc., and Alaris Medical Systems, Inc. (formerly Advanced Medical, Inc.), Mercer is demonstrating that his management skills go much deeper.
Chosen as the new corporate name for Advanced Medical, Alaris is derived from the Latin "to have wings," says Mercer, to reflect the company's progressive vision and global expansion strategy. A large part of that vision comes from the man at the helm.
Mercer's IVAC Medical Systems merged with its former infusion device competitor, IMED Corp., when IVAC was acquired by Advanced Medical in November 1996. Together, the two pioneers in the development of intravenous infusion systems and hospital thermometry hold more than 200 unexpired U.S. patents and approximately 390 unexpired patents in foreign countries.
Mercer retains a long-standing sense of excitement about this industry. For 17 years prior to joining IVAC, he led the Medical Imaging Group of Mallinckrodt Medical in St. Louis. He also previously held positions in research and development at Becton Dickinson, Inc., and manufacturing at Abbott Laboratories.
Advances in computerization and miniaturization are adding greatly to improved patient care. "In the near future," Mercer says, "physicians will be able to administer therapeutic drugs from a remote location. New developments in computer chips have made possible a rapid conversion from an electromechanical 'dumb box' to a highly sophisticated 'smart box' at the patient's bedside.
"Telemedicine will have a tremendous impact on our business," he continues. "The ability to transfer patient information back to a physician will be a key driver in this industry over the next three to five years. And the information we gather in the process will add value to clinical outcomes."
Mercer believes that flexibility will be critically important for medical devices of the future. "We need products that can follow patients as they are moved into the home, so they don't have to stay tethered to a hospital bed," Mercer adds.
The acquisition that brought IVAC and IMED together reflects the consolidation occurring throughout every sector of the health-care-delivery system.
"Smaller companies either do not have access in the U.S. marketplace or lack global distribution channels," Mercer observes. "Joining forces creates a stronger company. IMED was stronger in some regions of the country; IVAC was stronger in others. Internationally, IVAC has historically been a dominant player.
"Sourcing was positive surprise. Combining IVAC's purchasing capabilities with IMED's volume allows us to negotiate much better terms from suppliers."
Mercer is particularly upbeat about the future of overseas market growth. "Our markets are now China, Malaysia, India. The ability to get our products into those markets rapidly is critical," he says. "One of this country's strongest assets is health care--the ability to diagnose disease and treat people quickly. Having the expertise to take that knowledge around the globe is a national strength."
In the United States, Alaris faces the same harsh reality confronting every medical device company: The double impact of the drive for cost containment and the ongoing consolidation on the customer side, with managed-care plans and physicians battling for control.
"The situation is very fluid," Mercer says. "It has created opportunities, but it has also changed our thinking. For the last century, companies tried to find ways to sell more to customers. Now, we try to find ways to sell less."
With almost three decades of experience in the industry, Mercer is well prepared to meet the challenges of domestic and global marketplaces in flux.
Edward E. Waldron is a freelance contributor to MD&DI.