Teleflex changing with the times

Posted: September 09, 2013

Teleflex Inc. was founded in 1943 with a single product - a cable contraption that allowed World War II pilots in Spitfire fighter planes to adjust their radios, even though the radio was behind the cockpit and out of arm's reach. The flexible cable was extended and retracted telescopically, from which the company name was born.

Seventy years later, Teleflex is still based in Limerick, Montgomery County, (though a headquarters move to Wayne is planned for next year) and it still makes strands that help reach into hard-to-reach places. But that's about where the similarity ends, as demonstrated in a modern, global way Thursday.

The company broadcast a live webcast/webinar from the operating room of a hospital in the Netherlands. One of the company's newer catheters - the Rusch EZ-Blocker Endobronchial Blocker - was threaded into the lung of a patient during cardiothoracic surgery. On Friday the patient was recovering normally, the company said.

Teleflex no longer makes cables, tubing, and corresponding gizmos that go into aircraft or motorboat engines or Army field stoves. Its 11,500 worldwide employees - about 600 in Pennsylvania - make medical devices that go into the hearts, lungs, and blood vessels of people in more than 140 countries.

The changes were accelerated in the last three years as Teleflex acquired smaller medical-device firms and divested other businesses under the leadership of Benson Smith, chief executive officer and chairman of the board. A former president of the medical-device maker C.R. Bard Inc. in Delran, Smith was a Teleflex board member in January 2011 when then-CEO Jeffrey P. Black "resigned by mutual agreement" with the board.

Teleflex had $1.55 billion in revenue in 2012, an increase of 3.9 percent over 2011, according to its annual report. But with all the buying and selling, integration and restructuring, it had a net loss of $162.8 million for 2012.

Teleflex's revenue in the first six months of 2013 increased from $763.9 million to $831.9 million, compared with the same period in 2012. The company went from a $241.1 million loss in the first half of 2012 to a $69.5 million profit in the first half of 2013.

Many health-care companies make less profit than they think they deserve (and investors demand) because of recent pressure to keep prices low. Consumers now bear more of the cost of health care, but with little income growth, some have delayed elective surgery for non-life-threatening ailments, such as knee-joint replacements.

Teleflex's increased profit was helped by the reality that heart and lung problems are often more critical than sore knees.

"Utilization trends affect us less than some other device-makers," Smith said on a conference call with financial analysts after the first quarter. "There is only a certain amount of time you can postpone the procedure in which a lot of our products are used."


Contact David Sell at 215-854-4506, dsell@phillynews.com, or @phillypharma. Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/phillypharma.

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