The Science of Bringing the NHS to Its Knees (. . . and Hips and Other Artificial Joints . . .); INNOVATOR WITH A MISSION TO IMPROVE LIVES SEES HIS PHILOSOPHY YIELD RESULTS FOR PATIENTS AND INVESTORS

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 23, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Science of Bringing the NHS to Its Knees (. . . and Hips and Other Artificial Joints . . .); INNOVATOR WITH A MISSION TO IMPROVE LIVES SEES HIS PHILOSOPHY YIELD RESULTS FOR PATIENTS AND INVESTORS


Byline: LISA BUCKINGHAM

When the smoke that engulfed the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, finally cleared, the first plane given emergency clearance to land in New York was loaded with vital products from a British company.

The jumbo jet was packed with highly specialised burns bandages made by Smith & Nephew, the global medical technology business.

It was a graphic illustration of chief executive Sir Christopher O'Donnell's belief. 'The whole company is passionate about innovating to help people regain their lives,' he says.

It sounds very Goody Two-Shoes, but his conviction defies scepticism.

Not that O'Donnell, 58, is cavalier about the requirements of investors - he came under considerable City pressure last year when shareholders thought the market was slowing, wrongly as it turned out.

And not that he doesn't have a predatory executive appetite for takeovers.

It is just that O'Donnell's first love was engineering, and in Smith & Nephew, a FTSE 100 company, he has hit on a place where he can combine that with a desire to do good.

To the uninitiated, engineering and cutting-edge medicine do not seem an obvious combination. But in addition to its wound management operations, S&N makes false knees, hips and bones, and designs advanced equipment for minimally invasive surgery.

'I go to hospitals and talk to the staff and patients to see how we can improve our products and processes,' he says.

'When I first went into theatre and saw an S&N knee replacement, the process took two hours. That has been reduced to 50 minutes and we hope to get it down to 45 minutes.' As a man who hates to keep people waiting, O'Donnell, chief executive since 1997, clearly carries this virtue into his business philosophy.

'Time reductions like that double the numbers of patients surgeons can treat,' he says.

O'Donnell's hefty research budget of about [pounds sterling]70 million a year has also helped make dramatic reductions in the size of incision needed to implant a hip or a knee. 'The cut for a knee

used to be seven or eight inches whereas today it is only three or four. A smaller incision also means cutting less muscle and tendon so patients have less pain and recover faster. …

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