Grapevine: Cook Medical’s focus on patients underpins high staff retention

MEDICAL device manufacturer Cook Medical puts its high staff retention rates down to its strong culture of teamwork and the satisfaction its 850 employees get from contributing to saving lives.

Grapevine: Cook Medical’s focus on patients underpins high staff retention

MEDICAL device manufacturer Cook Medical puts its high staff retention rates down to its strong culture of teamwork and the satisfaction its 850 employees get from contributing to saving lives.

Based in the National Technology Park in Limerick since 1996, Cook Medical develops products for use in health services throughout the world. The business was founded in 1963 by Bill Cook (RIP, 2011) and Gayle Cook in Bloomington, Indiana, USA.

It remains a family-owned business, rare for a company of its size. Cook provides products to 135 countries and employ over 12,000 people in Cook companies globally.

Its two main divisions are Vascular and MedSurg. Its website lists hundreds of innovative products, ranging from cardiovascular surgery through to urology and vascular surgery.

The first line in the site’s ‘Careers’ section is ‘Make a difference for patients’. All of the messaging is about teamwork and community.

The fact that Pat Burke has been appointed as vice-president and general manager of its Ireland manufacturing facility tells its own story.

He joined Cook Medical in 2002 as its manufacturing manager and quickly moved to the role of operations manager. In 2009, he became the director of operations.

“It’s not uncommon for people to grow into senior roles within the company. When we talk about Cook Medical being a team, it’s not just jargon,” said Pat Burke. “We have a very high rate of staff retention, and I think part of that is because everyone knows that the sole purpose of our business is to help patients.

“We have developed very innovative products that improve and save the lives of patients. From time to time, we have also developed some productions for humanitarian use, without charge.

“The company has grown organically over the years. Over the years since I joined, we have grown from around 100 or so staff up to 850. We always take a long term strategic view of the business.”

Cook Medical’s Limerick operation is largely focused on manufacturing.

It also hosts a significant research and development group and is the European Customer Support Centre.

Pat Burke is enthusiastic about his new leadership in Limerick. He will continue to work closely with the plant’s previous executive director Bill Doherty, executive vice president EMEA and MD of Cook Medical Europe, who will continue to lead and to coordinate Cook Medical’s business in EMEA.

Bill Doherty stated: “Pat has been at the forefront of our continuous improvement journey. This new role focuses on our manufacturing systems and processes in Ireland. Pat will also play an important part in Cook Medical’s global manufacturing operations.”

The Limerick operation manufactures about a tenth of Cook Medical’s total global output. While it plays a significant role in new product development, a lot of energy in the last few years has also gone into preparing for the European Union’s new Medical Device Regulation (MDR), in May 2020.

Of course, the same is true for all med device companies selling into the EU. The regulations will see the introduction of a Unique Device Identification (UDI) system to enhance traceability; it will institute new product classifications.

The far-reaching new regulations will also control new non-medical areas such as non-prescription contact lenses; also facial, dermal, or mucous membrane filling substances or articles; liposuction and laser equipment for skin treatment, etc.

“We are seeing a lot of changes in the regulatory environment, which is becoming more strict,” said Pat Burke. “We have had to do a lot of remediation work, ensuring that we are compliant ahead of the EU’s new MDR in 2020.

“A lot of staff time has been devoted to that in the past few years. That said, we have also got some interesting new projects in the pipeline, though most of those are at too early a stage to talk about them.”

Cook Medical is operating in a sector which is thought to be worth more than €12bn to the Irish economy. The steady growth of med devices and med tech in Ireland has seen the country grow into arguably the strongest EU cluster for the sector.

Does that create pressure for the company in terms of finding and retaining talent?

“Of course, you’ll always find one or two areas harder that are a bit harder to recruit for, but in general we have always done quite well here in Limerick in terms of retaining our staff,” said Pat Burke. “We have a lot of people from different nationalities working here.

“We have a very strong management team in Limerick, people who are very creative, willing and capable. The team leaders would all say that they’ve enjoyed a very positive experience here, and that is because people are hugely engaged with what we are doing.

“That is about the quality of the people here. It’s also about the company’s vision, which has three main parts: our patients, our employees and our communities. Our employees are all always working to improve what we do, working more efficiently using Lean principles.

“We are doing a lot of positive work around corporate social responsibility with our communities,” he said. “This work is good for local communities, it is also great for employee engagement. And, of course, our main focus is always on serving our patients.”

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