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Q&A: Bryant’s ‘Two, Three Things’ Drives QuidelOrtho Success

DIAGNOSTICS: CEO Puts Focus on Speed and Growth Opportunities

Douglas Bryant has led QuidelOrtho as CEO through a remarkable period of growth. He led the company through the acquisition of Abbott Laboratories’ Triage business in 2017, which doubled revenue. And in response to the COVID pandemic, Quidel was the first to receive FDA Emergency Use Authorization for its rapid antigen SARS-CoV-2 test, leading to a six-fold increase in revenue from 2019 to 2022 – from $535.5 million to $3 billion.

Douglas Bryant
CEO
QuidelOrtho

Bryant credits much of his leadership success to lessons learned from his mother who instilled in him a passion for music, which taught him “the discipline to stay at things and to concentrate on the constant cadence of things done well,” and a father who instilled an interest in sports, which taught him “the value of teamwork,” he said.

After graduating from UC Davis, Bryant served four years in the U.S. Army, an experience he described as “another set of lessons – mostly good.”

After his service, Bryant found a job with Abbott Laboratories.

“I didn’t even know what they did, but I liked them,” he said, adding that he learned early in his career the value of being happy in the work you do and that as head of QuidelOrtho he puts “a premium” on happiness in the company’s workforce. “I know people are significantly more productive if they’re happy.”

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The San Diego Business Journal recently sat down with Bryant to discuss his leadership style, QuidelOrtho’s past successes and its future growth plans.

How would you describe your management philosophy?

Companies that do extremely well, execute things well, it is a function of understanding what things done well looks like and then getting those things done at speed.

In order to have speed at an organization this size, you have to focus on the two or three things that are going to matter. And most importantly, the employees have to feel like they have permission to not do the things that don’t matter as much at that time. Otherwise, what happens is that everybody gets a mile wide and an inch deep.

I think being self-motivated is also a way to enable yourself to be happy and fulfilled and I like to come into the office, pick up a cup of coffee on Monday morning, sit there with a blank sheet of paper and try to figure out the things I need to do this week to make an impact. I try my best not to get too distracted by the things that are not those two or three things. If the entire organization can do that, then I think you’re off to success.

We’re still working on teaching people how to be accountable along the way and keep things moving. Speed really does matter. We’re in a business where introducing the next thing is super important.”

I think people who are self-motivated, those people tend to be happier naturally because they’re picking their own destiny, they’re picking those two or three things.

What motivates you?

My career is not a series of job titles. It’s not ‘I did this and then I did that.’ My career is things that I’ve done well or that my team have done well. So, to be motivated and have a successful career, I think you have to be focused that way.

What does QuidelOrtho do?

We’re in the invitro diagnostics industry, which means we do lab tests. We do them across the entire continuum from the very large reference lab all the way down to over-the-counter products.

Now there’s certain areas where we do extremely well. We do well in the segment that is the medium to large hospital lab. We also do extremely well with physicians because we have products that we call at the point of care. We do extremely well with urgent care because a lot of our products provide laboratory quality answers at speed.

We have three principal businesses. We’ve got the transfusion medicine business and the Ortho name blood-typing – super well known globally. So a very strong presence, reasonably profitable, steady business – a nice core business.

We also have two major drivers of growth. One is in the respiratory segment where we do extremely well. It’s the most profitable business for us as well.

Then we also have what we call the labs business, which is larger instruments to do chemistry tests and amino assay tests in that medium to large hospital segment.

What do you consider the major milestones for QuidelOrtho?

Early on, we did an acquisition of Diagnostic Hybrids in 2010 and we did it for a number of reasons. One, it gave us a little bit more scale. Equally important, it gave us the technical expertise around a category called molecular diagnostics and we also thought that we could automate some of the things they were doing and that would be useful.

At the same time, we were developing internally our own set of products and the first one of significance was called Sofia, a small analyzer. It’s actually been featured on TV during COVID. Our feeling was by taking things that are done manually and making them automated, physicians would prefer that. And we were right, and we did extremely well there.

If you want to think about really big things, when Alere was acquired by Abbot Laboratories, it needed to divest three major businesses. We ended up with two of those. Some people have called it the deal of the century. It was extremely transformational for us, gave us far greater scale. Also, we showed we could integrate globally across 130 countries. We got all that done successfully and did well financially as a result.

That probably put us in a position where we got the call on March 4 from the White House. [Vice President] Mike Pence was having a meeting in his office with a bunch of reference labs and two diagnostic players – one, Abbot Laboratories, my former company, and I. We were asked to develop all three modes of technology to rise to the challenge that the country was going to face with this unprecedented virus. Immediate we got to work. By March 18 we already had a PCR assay, EUA cleared. We got cleared ahead of larger companies.

By May 2020 we had the Sofia product and by the end of COVID we had around eight products, different ways of doing this.

How did this lead to the Ortho merger?

We generated a lot of cash during COVID, and what are you going to do? Buy back shares? Pay down debt? Well, we didn’t have any debt. We were presented with the opportunity to merge with another company that was actually larger, but we were more profitable, so we went down the path of looking at that closely. When it got to the time where we needed to put the two companies together, the valuations didn’t sync up, so we ended up being the acquirer of Ortho Clinical Diagnostics.

How is the integration of the two companies going?

It’s going well. We’ve broken it down to three major tasks. One was harmonization, putting the two together, eliminating some duplicative positions, but more importantly putting the right people in the right jobs globally and doing it in a fair and equitable manner. I think we’ve done a nice job in harmonization, retaining our most talented people – which sounds like an easy thing, but it’s not. It takes will to make sure the new employees feel like they’re part of the company. There were more of them than there were of us.

When you say integration to The Street, they bucket that into two parts. One is how much cost are you getting out – cost synergies – and then revenue synergies. If you put two commercial teams together, are you going to sell more than you did before? We’re launching a platform at the end of this year in the U.S. that is probably the number one revenue synergy that we have globally. We’re doing welly well on the cost side. In 2023, we’ll be $50 million less in expenses and again in 2024 we’ll be another $50 million. We will have already exceeded what we told The Street, that we’d do $90 million in cost synergies over three years.

The third phase that we’re entering now is called transformation. Normally companies that go through a transformation are companies that are in trouble. We’re not looking at that way, we’re looking at it more ‘this is a good company now that we’ve put it together, but there are ways we can do continuous improvement a little bit faster.’ Now we’re at a phase where I think the next 18-24 months will be how to do these things equally well and at speed.

How do you build a winning culture?

It starts with the people and teaching people how to hire good people. I always say we want determined, optimistic team players. Those three things are a must.

Another success factor is if you have an opening go get it filled. Go find some high-quality people. Fundamentally we’re just trying to recruit the most talented people that we can and the more success we have the easier it is to recruit those people. It’s kind of like University of Alabama’s football program. Alabama gets to look at just about anybody apparently. Notre Dame is that way. People go to Notre Dame because it’s Notre Dame. So having the right talented people who have the outstanding culture, it makes it easy to retain talent and to hire talent.

What do you see as future areas of growth for QuidelOrtho?

If we want to be more sustainable in the foreseeable future, we’ve got to continue to grow. We want to grow because we want to create opportunities for people to build careers and we promise them that. We also want them to build financial stability. I always say my job is to make sure you can put your kids through school. It’s far easier to keep your promise to employees if you’re growing.

There are certain areas of our space that our type of company should be in. We’re looking at what those opportunities are and how to get into those adjacent markets. We’re in chemistry and amino assay and molecular, but we’re not in flow cytometry, not in hematology, not in microbiology. I’m not suggesting that any of those is a target, but we should be looking at each of those things to see what else fits what we do well and what would be the right bundle such that we can take care of the customer better.

Five years from now I would expect to have more than two major growth drivers, I’d like to have three or four.

How does QuidelOrtho give back to San Diego?

One of the things we’ve done through our corporate sponsorship is we have made the decision to sponsor things that make brand image for us but more importantly with organizations that give back to the community. That’s why we sponsor the Padres. We did a deal with San Diego State and their Innovation Center.

We got the Heart Walk. We make cardiovascular products, so we’re connected with that community, the American Heart Association.

Our HR organization manages dozens of philanthropic initiatives. Employees have the ability to recommend them, and we do almost everything that’s recommended. I think we do a pretty good job as a company. It’s not my thing, it’s the employees’ thing. They see something, they think we can help, it gives them a great sense of being in a company that does good. It’s a good morale booster.

QuidelOrtho

Founded: 1979
CEO: Douglas Bryant
Headquarters: San Diego
Business: Diagnostic tests and equipment
Revenue: $3.27 billion (FY2022)
Employees: 7,000+
Website: quidelortho.com
Notable: QuidelOrtho’s  Sofia 2 SARS Antigen+ FIA test was the first to receive marketing authorization from the FDA.

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