Thursday, June 18, 2015

Working at J.A.Hippen Company

After I left the U.S.Air Force in 1971, we returned to Salt Lake City, Utah, and I went to work at my father's company. His was a medical equipment sales and service company. His specialties were Bird Respirators and Radiometer Copenhagen blood gas machines. The respirators were developed to help people with breathing problems. The blood gas machines measured the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. A good doctor could treat people with breathing problems with a respirator, and measure its effectiveness with a blood gas machine.

We also sold and delivered oxygen to people who needed it in their homes. I had helped with that when I was in college.

My first assignment was to attend a training program at the Bird Corporation headquarters in Palm Springs, California. I stayed with my father's uncle, Alfred Rusch in nearby Desert Hot Springs, California while I went to school for several hours every day, learning about the proper use of "Birds". There was a lot of technical information. The course was designed for doctors. I did learn all of it. It was all so fascinating. My pre-med education was a good foundation for the course.

A few years later I went back to Bird Headquarters to learn about a new infant ventilator. That was the first use of CPAP, which turned out to be the only effective method of helping preemies breath.

I also attended another course in the Los Angeles area with the Bournes Corporation. They manufactured a volumetric infant ventilator. Infant ventilation was not well understood at the time, and this was not an effective means of treating infants with lung problems. Once they started using it, it was very difficult to wean them off the ventilator. They'd quickly become dependent on it and often die while trying to wean them off.

I also visited an office of the Radiometer Corporation. I quickly became adept at servicing the blood gas machines.

Georgia flew down from Salt Lake to meet me in Las Vegas while I was returning home from Southern California. We attended a couple of shows while there. Patti Page was one, and I think Wayne Newton was the other.

In retrospect, the only problem with this start, was that there was no sales training. I was very good at servicing all of the equipment, but I had no idea about making sales presentations. Dad did send me to a sales training course with the local adult education program, but what I learned there did not seem to apply to what I was doing at J.A.Hippen Co.,Inc. Anyway, I did not know how to apply it.

My idea was that after I told a doctor that I represented Bird, he or she should always remember that and send their patients who had breathing problems. I didn't understand that they needed frequent reminders to send those customers to us.

I also had a difficult time charging customers for our services. And I didn't understand profit margins and the need to make a significant profit on any sales. My understanding of business financing was non-existent, and I'm afraid I was not a good representative of the company.

I did give excellent customer service. It just wasn't enough to overcome my lack of understanding about charging for those services.

We later picked up Lifepak defibrillators and Spacelabs cardiac monitors. I did make some effective presentations on those products, and for awhile the company did very well in the sales department.

 Spacelabs was way ahead of their time with wireless monitoring equipment. They were a spin-off from the United States space program, using technology developed for the moon landing program.

I also tried to promote implantable pacemakers made by CPI, Cardiac Pacemakers, Inc. Theirs was the first pacemaker to use lithium ion batteries. The new technology was not readily adopted by doctors who were implanting the devices. They were gun-shy because of other new technology in the pacemaker industry that had not been successful.

I went to a training session with CPI in the Bahamas. The weather while I was there was lousy. When we flew out of Miami to go to Nassau in the Bahamas, it was snowing. It was the first time in history that snow had been seen in the Bahamas. It did not snow where I was, on Nassau Island. But there was snow on Freeport Island, a few miles to the north.

It was while on that trip that I went beach combing, because other activities had been cancelled. I saw a large snail shell in a water filled hole in the coral. As I reached in the water to grab the shell, something grabbed my hand. I quickly jerked away. I found a stick and reached the stick in to the shell, and saw an octopus' tentacle come out to defend his snail shell. I then used the stick to try to pull out the small octopus. He retreated back into a hole under the coral, and I was able to reach in and take the shell. Thus the story that I wrestled an octopus for that shell. My kids had a good time at school with the story as they displayed the shell for show-and-tell.

A couple of years later, I split off from J.A.Hippen Company and formed Mountain West Medical as a respiratory home care business.

No comments: