LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill.—It's been a busy time for Flexan L.L.C., but now that the medical device contract manufacturer has the foundation settled, it's ready to chase its high growth goals.
The firm has spent the better part of the last four years transitioning from a family owned business that operated as separate verticals to a more unified company. Integrating two major acquisitions during that time helped accelerate the process.
With that complete, CEO and President Jim Fitzgerald said the firm has set the highest growth goals since he came on to lead the company in 2015.
"We wanted to show that we were one company with multiple solutions as opposed to multiple companies," he said. "Rebranding the company last fall was a big step toward that. But rebranding isn't just something you do externally, it's something you do internally as well. We wanted to make sure the rebranding was an alignment of the organization."
The firm had a long to-do list that included bringing in Mike Huiras as vice president of sales and marketing in 2016 and Chief Operating Officer Tony Orsini in 2017 to build out the firm's marketing/direct selling and operational teams, respectively.
Flexan previously was split into two businesses: its namesake dedicated to the industrial space and FMI focused on medical. The firm also acquired Medron L.L.C. in November 2016 and IntroMed in May 2018, expanding its capabilities in the medical industry with additional compounds and services.
With the acquisitions, the firm needed to align its legacy business under one brand, Flexan, and develop a culture that reflected the kind of brand it wanted to showcase to its customers.
"Brand and culture go hand-in-hand," Fitzgerald said. "A brand is how people see you externally, a culture is how people see you internally. We had to focus on the culture first because we couldn't go out and sell something that we didn't believe."
Operationally, Fitzgerald said Orsini's focus was to develop a clear strategy that gave everyone in the organization accountability for a specific role.
"Accountability isn't a bad term," Fitzgerald said. "Accountability means I know somebody I'm depending on knows what I need them to do. I know I've given them the tools that they need to be successful, I know that they know how they're going to be measured and they know how they're going to be rewarded for doing a good job. A lot of people shy away from accountability because they think it means passing blame, but it's actually passing confidence to them."
Since private equity firm Linden Capital Partners L.L.C. acquired Flexan, the firm has been busy on the acquisition front. Its two notable moves brought Medron and IntroMed into the fold, both based in Salt Lake City.
Medron gave Flexan its first Utah location and a presence in thermoplastic extrusion, capabilities it did not have before. IntroMed L.L.C. was a manufacturer of patented sheath introducers used in catheter placements. It also performs in-house secondary operations like overmolding, tipping, bonding and printing.
Part of integrating the new operations was improving its footprint efficiency—both with its legacy and incoming sites. The firm relocated its three Chicago-area facilities into a larger, 70,000-sq.-ft. site in Lincolnshire, Ill, not far from its existing footprint. It quadrupled its Class 7 clean room space in the process to 20,000 square feet. Employment was unaffected.
Its legacy Flexan non-medical business still operates out of its own 65,000-sq.-ft. facility in Chicago focused on rubber molding for industrial applications.
The firm continues to operate two locations in China, but relocated its second plant to a building next door to the main site in Suzhou.
At Salt Lake City, the firm acquired additional space within its existing operations and is set to relocate all of the surrounding production under one roof by the end of 2019 as customer approvals roll in, Fitzgerald said.
He added that each facility still has an independent quality registration, which is important in medical to avoid dependency on a single site. All, however, are aligned under the same quality systems approach.
"Part of that discipline is getting everyone involved in lean principles," Huiras said. "That resonates throughout all of our business units. Each has distinct capabilities and uniqueness, but they're all operating under the same brand and culture. Every business unit is going to have its own unique challenges, but how we manage the challenges and put the team in the right position to win has been exciting."
That also included a stronger emphasis on safety, and it started at the top. Fitzgerald and the management team formed a steering committee, headed up by human resources. That committee meets every month and includes representatives from each site, which in turn has its own safety meeting that reports out at the monthly steering committee.
Every company meeting starts with a focus on safety, even if it's a staff or a finance meeting.
"Our theme is safety first, so to emphasize that we make safety first," Fitzgerald said.
The steering meeting is not rescheduled, as Fitzgerald said everything is expected to be scheduled around it and if an individual cannot attend they're expected to get a report out after.
Other improvements included an enhanced security system that improved cameras and ensured all sites require a badge access. Each site also has CPR and First Aid certified first responders, and kiosks have been installed throughout each building, allowing employees to report safety concerns anonymously or with a name attached to it. The expectation is that the site-specific safety committee will respond to each concern quickly.
The firm established a program called 'Call 'em all,' which will send out a text to all employees in the event of an incident. Fitzgerald said in one instance, there was an active shooter in the community and the company locked down the site. The system allowed them to alert all employees what was going on. Fitzgerald added that the company ultimately was not impacted by the active shooting.
Fitzgerald said any time there is a workplace injury there is a root cause countermeasure approach to determine what was the cause injury, what can the company do to fix it, who is accountable for fixing it and when do they report back to fix it.
"Any employer that doesn't understand their responsibility to do that first probably can't be an employer for very long," Fitzgerald said.
The acquisitions of Medron and IntroMed have helped Flexan further stand out within medical original equipment manufacturers' supply chain, especially as the trend of rationalizing those chains continues.
"As our customers look to consolidate suppliers, having this broad offering puts us in a much better situation to solve challenges," Huiras said. "It gives us an opportunity to broaden our portfolio."
Flexan's materials library expanded significantly with the addition of thermoplastics and some urethane capabilities. Its legacy medical business focused mainly on silicone. But the extrusion, sub-assembly and finished device packaging operations also were critical and Fitzgerald said some of those capabilities have been integrated into Flexan's new Lincolnshire facility. The firm is in the process of adding some in China.
Ultimately, the main focuses for Flexan will be to continue improving its operational efficiencies, innovating and adding capabilities.
"We're in a tough category," he said. "The pressure on our customers is tremendous. It starts with their pressure to be cost-competitive year over year. They need to partner with suppliers who can help them maintain a level of competitiveness in the industry or they'll lose share. We don't make anything that has our label on it, so our success is solely a function of whether or not our customers are successful."