Successful Strategies for Australian Manufacturing

Cook Medical

Making good on this commitment has its challenges, but several key strategies keep the Brisbane based company ahead. Not surprisingly, wise management has been foundational to the company’s success. “You’ve got to be continually looking at how to improve your processes,” Managing Director Barry Thomas insists. “You have to maintain the quality of your manufacturing and the standards of the employees.”

People First

Putting people first is also imperative, Mr Thomas says. “The philosophy of the company is very much that we are committed to the patient and the patient comes first. If you do the right thing by the patient the rest of it will come.” This dedication extends to employees as well. “[It’s about] protecting your employees and looking after them. I always get quite distressed when I look at an announcement in the paper that says, [for example], ‘fifty workers were laid off.’ Well, it wasn’t fifty workers. It was fifty families that were affected by that.” The team believes that they have a duty to keep manufacturing in Australia in order to support their employees. “And as a company we take that commitment very seriously.”

Director Robert Webb explains that the company’s long term strategies allow for some minor financial loss today in order to create greater gains tomorrow, a plan which helps to keep the Brisbane plant running. “We have a company that is very understanding,” he says. Even though “the dollar is not kind to Australian manufacturing just at the moment,” Cook Medical is willing to keep their facilities here because “the company is in this business for the long haul. They take great pride in not putting people off and not offshoring manufacturing just because of a fluctuation of currency.”

The fact that Cook Medical is an import business as well as an export business has also helped. Mr Thomas says that even though the high Australian dollar has impacted the export side, the company’s import arm has been able to offset a significant proportion of losses.

Investing Wisely

Cook Medical is a privately owned company, which Mr Thomas believes enables the business to maintain its commitment to employees – and to domestic manufacturing. “We are a privately owned company, which give us a degree of flexibility that public companies unfortunately don’t have the privilege of having,” he explains. “We don’t have Wall Street or the shareholders scrutinising our expenditure on a day to day basis with a view of a dividend payout; our owners/shareholders have a much longer term view. [So] during the financial crisis we have been able to continue those investments which have been good for us.”

Investing wisely is a fundamental strategy for the company, and has led the team to turn its attention toward Asia. “Over the last four years, we have very much taken on this strategy of embracing Asia,” Mr Thomas explains. Cook Medical is taking full advantage of Australia’s close proximity to a number of rapidly growing economies, and the company has put tremendous effort into capitalising on emerging opportunities in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and India. The company is also preparing itself for future opportunities by establishing relationships in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Many team members are actively involved in expanding the company’s Asian presence. For example, Mr Webb lived in Korea for almost a year and a half in order to build the business there. Cook Medical’s Logistics Manager spent six months in Shanghai and four months in Japan establishing East Asian warehouses for the company. “You need to be involved,” Mr Thomas explains. “You need to embrace the culture. You need to understand the way that the local business is run, but also they need to understand your company culture and the way you do things.”

Not surprisingly, the company’s increasingly Asian orientation has impacted processes throughout the business. Recruiting and training are undertaken with these markets carefully in mind, and the team is actively working to guide the company toward greater diversity while still maintaining core principles and philosophies. The goal, Mr Thomas says, is to “make sure that the culture of our organisation is maintained and improved going forward.”

High End Manufacturing

While wise investments and new Asian relationships are important, Mr Thomas also admits that Australian manufacturing is only realistic if it offers consumers something that competitors cannot. “To continue to manufacture here, it has obviously got to be high end manufacturing,” he says. Cook Medical is able to remain viable in Australia because its facility produces extremely complex, one of a kind, products. “We are the only factory in the world that manufactures a custom made medical device,” Mr Thomas explains. “It is a unique manufacturing process. There is no other factory that can do this.”

For instance, if a patient in Sweden has an aneurism in need of repair, but the necessary device isn’t available off the shelf, Cook Medical will make one to order. The physician will take CTs and angiograms, then suggest a certain type of device with a particular configuration. The physician will send these guidelines to the designers and engineers in Brisbane who will develop a specific device and send their plans back to the physician within 24 hours. After the physician approves the proposed design, the device will be manufactured on site, sterilised, shipped back to Sweden and placed inside the patient within four weeks. The precision involved in the manufacturing process, along with the fact that no other company offers the same service, enables the team to keep the Brisbane plant operating.

What the Future Holds

Mr Webb believes that the future of healthcare will be governed by three inescapable factors: one, as the population ages and life expectancy increases, the number of patients will also increase; two, there will be less funding to cover these patients’ needs. “Governments cannot continue to up the percentage of GDP that they spend on healthcare and neither can the private sector,” he points out; and third, “there is a higher expectation on good health outcomes.” In short, Mr Webb explains, “there are more people, less money, and everyone wants a better deal.”

In response to these looming challenges, Cook Medical has created Health Care Business Solutions to examine the ways in which the company can work with the healthcare industry to reduce the cost of care. The team is trying to uncover solutions beyond simply lowering the price of medical devices. “That is a very self-limiting strategy,” Mr Webb explains. Instead, the company is promoting dialogue and encouraging creative solutions through a number of initiatives that go beyond specific products. “And it is something the company does without an expectation of return,” Mr Webb adds.

For example, the team recently sponsored an expert from the United States to lecture throughout Australia on the healthcare supply chain. The company also works closely with government bodies to promote Australian exports and invests heavily in research and development. In fact, the company employs 50 engineers who are “constantly looking” at ways to improve medical devices and patient outcomes. Cook Medical hopes that these combined efforts will raise the profile of Australian manufacturing internationally as well as make healthcare more affordable in the years to come.

Overall, the Cook Medical team is optimistic about the future of both the health care industry and of Australian manufacturing. “We see the glass as half full,” Mr Thomas reports. “We have a very positive attitude about it all.” In order to secure the positive future that it envisions, the company is actively working to encourage young people and provide a path for them within domestic healthcare manufacturing. Generation Y “is where the future lies,” Mr Thomas says. The future also lies within an Asian trajectory, he adds, and he hopes that the next generation will embrace that growing market. “The future in that region is just outstanding.”

Mr Thomas also admits that along with those Asian opportunities come challenges, particularly from foreign corruption and questionable governmental practices. He insists that the problems an Asian future presents are not insurmountable, however. “[The] challenges are going to require new ways of looking at how we do business,” he explains. “The companies that solve those problems, the companies that accept those challenges and get in there and work with them, are the ones that are going to be successful. The ones that try and fight it [and] don’t accept [an Asian future] are the ones that are going to fall by the wayside.”

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October 20, 2018, 10:48 AM AEDT

Today 10/20 100%
Mostly cloudy. Periods of rain this morning. High 16C. Winds SSW at 15 to 30 km/h. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near 6mm.


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