Magazine article Management Today

Huntleigh's Painless Route to Stardom

Magazine article Management Today

Huntleigh's Painless Route to Stardom

Article excerpt

Rolf Schild's long career as combined inventor, engineer and industrialist has reached its zenith at a time when most businessmen, are settled in to retirement. Now aged 70, the executive chairman of Huntleigh Technology is still as dedicated to improving his company as ever. And it shows: the stock-market performance of this healthcare equipment group outstripped all others among the top 1,000 UK companies last year.

By concentrating on three niche areas of expertise in the medical equipment field, Huntleigh has grown at high speed. In the process, Schild, a strong-willed German Jew who escaped to Britain just before the war when he was a boy, has become a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Huntleigh's success is a tribute both to Schild's inventive genius and to his remarkably resilient character. In August 1979 he, his wife and daughter were kidnapped by bandits from their holiday home in Sardinia. Schild was released first, then his wife and finally his daughter. The nightmare lasted seven months. But the story did not end there, as Schild then pursued a number of newspaper magnates through the courts for what he thought was irresponsible coverage of the story. Lesser men might have retreated into their shells after these ordeals. But Schild saw no alternative but to continue his work. Within five years he had launched his family business on the stock market. He was then 62.

Since 1987, Huntleigh's profits have increased from 107,000 [pounds] to 5.5 [pounds] million and sales have risen from 10 million [pounds] to just under 30 million [pounds]. Better still, Schild is confidently laying down plans to double the company's production capacity at its main Luton plant by the end of this year.

Kleinwort Benson's Anthony Dew has followed Huntleigh's fortunes and predicts that its profits will reach 7 million [pounds] this year and 8.8 million [pounds] in 1994. He believes that the company'is doing everything that a UK manufacturer which is developing products for world markets should do. It gets the product right and then markets it correctly. It is known throughout the world for its healthcare products. That is a remarkable achievement for such a small company.'

Three-quarter of Huntleigh sales are exported. The mainstay of the business is a range of mattresses designed for patients at risk from bedsores. This accounts for half the company's total turnover. There is nothing like belief in your own products to boost sales. A few years ago when Schild underwent a quadruple bypass heart operation he took his own designed Nimbus mattress into hospital with him. The medical staff were so impressed they ordered a couple and threw out the competition,' he says.

Bedsores, or pressure sores, as the medical profession prefers to call them, are a major problem in hospitals. This was not openly acknowledged until the 50 mid-'80s because they were seen as a sign of nursing staff neglect. They can start within half an hour of a patient entering hospital and can break the skin to form ulcers within an hour and a half. |The patient is very quickly at risk,' Schild says. Today the cost of treating the problem and the savings which can be made by preventing pressure sores are discussed openly. |For a long time the extent of the condition was not appreciated. But treatment, just for one patient, can cost up to 20,000 [pounds],' says Schild. |So the problem is obviously worth preventing from a financial point of view, quite apart from the fact that the designs help to alleviate pain and discomfort.'

Bedsores are mainly associated with geriatrics, but Schild says that even children can develop them in hospital. |I have even been asked to design a bed for horses,' Schild says. |A valuable racehorse could certainly develop this type of ulcer if left to lie for five or six hours. In the US, where we make half our sales of these products, it is a $1-billion-a-year market. But the Americans are used to spending big bucks. …

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