On March 1, the Irish American Business Chamber & Network will be hosting the 2019 Ambassador’s Awards Luncheon at Philadelphia’s Union League. Among the honorees is Teleflex, a global provider of medical technology products. recipient of the Ambassador Award. Accepting on behalf of Teleflex will be Liam J. Kelly, Teleflex president and CEO.
We recently spoke with Liam Kelly. Here’s what he had to say.
Irish Philly: Teleflex is a global provider of medical technology products and I’m wondering if you could give me some examples.
Liam Kelly: Teleflex has a number of divisions. We have a vascular division. There, our main product is a central venous catheter and a PICC catheter. And also a product called an EZ-IO. They all basically give vascular access to patient. If a patient has a heart attack, the one thing that they need is vascular access. We need to get fluid into the body and we provide a whole series of catheters that allow that to happen.
We also have an interventional access division. Our main products there focus on coronary disease states within the hospital. And that business is a business that has continued to save lives every day and we’re very proud of that fact.
We have an anesthesia division, which takes care of patients during general and regional anesthesia when they go in for a procedure. We have a surgical division and the main product categories there are cold ligation clips that will close off vessels to ensure that the patient does not suffer a severe bleed during a procedure.
And we have a respiratory division, an OEM (occupational and environmental medicine) division and we have an interventional urology division, our newest division. And that treats a condition called BPH, or benign prostate hyperplasia, which is a condition that men suffer as their prostate grows as they get older. In their sixties, 60 percent of men will suffer from BPH and the symptoms are a man gets up, six, 10 times a night to go to the bathroom. All that’s happening there is that the prostate is squeezing the urethra. This is a minimally invasive procedure that can be done in a doctor’s office that will move the prostate out of the way and address the condition. And that is as a result of an acquisition we did in 2017 from a company called NeoTract that we bought for just over a billion dollars.
And then overseas, Jeff, we run regionally. We have an EMEA group based out of Athlone in Ireland. EMEA stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa. And we also have an Asia Pacific regional group based out of Singapore that runs all our Asia Pacific offices.
Irish Philly: I imagine your products have to have quite an impact on patient lives. That has to be gratifying.
LK: It is absolutely the most special thing about working in medical devices, in my experience. We get this wonderful opportunity to make products, put them in the hands of expert clinicians. That allows them to save and make a serious impact in people’s lives. I get out of bed every day, and I can’t wait to get to work because I know that every day, 31,000 surgical procedures are going to occur in the United States because of the products we make. 6,000 patients every day will get treated in an intensive care unit with our products. 1,600 people will get vascular access from our products and 3,000 emergency responders will use our products every day throughout the world.
Irish Philly: What interests you about your field? What draws you to the mission?
LK: Well, our mission at Teleflex is to improve the health and quality of people’s lives. That’s a big mission that you have as an organization. What drives us is the fact that we’re making a real impact in the world because of the stats I just gave you. What drives me is that there are 14,000 people that work for us every day that get up every day to do good, to make excellent products, to put those excellent products in the hands of excellent clinical professionals. And every person within Teleflex will live the Teleflex core values every day. Our core values are a very simple mantra. It’s entrepreneurial spirit, building trust, make it fun, with people at the center of everything we do. And our people live and breathe those core values every day.
Irish Philly: Your European headquarters is in Athlone in central Ireland. Why Ireland? And does having a base in Ireland provide any particular advantages?
LK: It does. I’m a little bit biased because I’m from Galway originally myself. And I moved here five years ago, so I started my career in Teleflex working out of the Athlone office. When we opened our Athlone facility in 2006 we had seven people working there. Today we have well over 200 people working there. And in total, I think, in Ireland we have over 500 people working for us, because we have a facility in Limerick, Ireland, as well.
Why did we go to Athlone? First of all, we were able to get the talent that we needed. I think 17 out of the top 20 medical device companies in the world are based in Ireland. Therefore you have this eco-hub of trained individuals that understand medical devices. And when you work in medical devices it’s got a nuance to it outside of any other industry because it’s very highly regulated. You need very highly skilled R&D individuals that we were able to find readily available in Ireland because of that ecosystem. We were able to find regulatory skillsets within Ireland. We were able to find quality skillsets within Ireland. I would say languages, we were able to find. Our European call center is based out of there. Because also the other ecosystem you have in Ireland seems to be a very strong IT ecosystem. We have a very strong IT base within Ireland, we were able to find that skillset there.
Obviously, the people speak English, which is a significant advantage given that we’re a U.S. company and therefore you’re able to interface. And it’s obviously the gateway into Europe. And now, I guess, with Brexit happening, all the more important to be in Ireland in an English-speaking country with a gateway to Europe and enter into the European Union.
Irish Philly: I can understand how that would be a real advantage at this point in time.
LK: Even back then, it was a significant advantage because Ireland is a very easy place to open up an office, to get established and it is very business friendly. We have excellent relationships with the IDA, the Irish Development Authority, and we have continued to build on that relationship. They would come and visit us even here in Philadelphia, at least once a year to our offices, to understand what expansion plans we have. We just recently opened up a new office in Athlone and we invested $15 million in that office in Athlone, where we opened up a new R&D center, a new call center and rehoused our R&D operations regulatory quality functions. And then we also invested, in Limerick, another $2 million in an R&D center and a visitation center. And we do all that in conjunction with the IDA and have a very close tie with them.
Irish Philly: Let’s move on to the Business Chamber honor. Was it a surprise, learning you were going to be honored by the Chamber?
LK: It’s Teleflex that’s getting honored by the Chamber and I’m more than happy to accept it on behalf of Teleflex. It was genuinely a surprise. I wasn’t expecting it. I actually attended the event last year where they recognized a pharmaceutical company and I was, indeed, incredibly honored that they chose Teleflex. And I’m particularly humbled to accept it on behalf of the 14,000 Teleflex employees globally.
Irish Philly: And you’re being honored by an organization that really understands the importance of this relationship.
LK: Oh, absolutely. I’ve been impressed by their work. I’d only just moved to the United States and I was literally here, I think, six weeks when Bill McLaughlin came to an event and introduced me to the Chamber. He explained to me the work that they do. I was intrigued by it. I became a member almost immediately. I’ve attended many events and I continue to be immensely impressed by the work that they do every day. Their outreach to make that connection between Ireland and Philadelphia is very impressive and I continue to be impressed by it.
Jeff: Well, switching gears, we should talk about your association with the Delco Gaels. How did that come about? I imagine these are sports you grew up with.
LK: Well, I also have five children. And I have five children that moved here five years ago and wanted to continue to play the sports. And again, the Irish American Chamber were the ones that introduced me to the Delco Gaels and to John McDaid initially, and then got to know the rest of the crew within Delco Gaels. And I have three children that continue to play Gaelic football and two that play hurling.
But we’ve had a strong involvement with them and actually the last place we lived in Ireland was in Mayo, even though I’m originally from Galway. And when they had the All-Stars over there recently I brought my kids out to see them. And there were three Mayo guys on that squad and they were delighted to meet them. That was a nice piece of upside as well.
Irish Philly: What would you say gives you the most pride?
LK: Well, I’m proud of many aspects of my career. I think the two companies I’ve spent the most time with have been a company called Hill-Rom. I was 10 years with Hill-Rom, which is a global, multinational, American-based medical device company. And now I’m coming up on my 10 year anniversary with Teleflex.
And I have to say, the proudest part of my career is becoming CEO of Teleflex. I mean, as a young man born in the west of Ireland, born into a farming background, you never think you’re going to be sitting in an office in Philadelphia being the CEO of a public company.
And I’ve been lucky in my career because I have, and this doesn’t happen to everybody, but I have never, ever had a bad boss or a bad leader in either Hill-Rom or Teleflex. I have been mentored my entire career by great people who have helped me nurture my career. And I’ve taken risks with my career.
My poor, long-suffering wife and I, we have lived in five countries and three continents in building a career. We’ve taken risks and we’ve moved to Australia at one time, I’ve moved over and back to England multiple times. This is the second time I’ve lived in the United States. And also we lived in France for a short period of time. We’ve moved around building that career, and my wife and family have been incredibly supportive.
But I’ve also been lucky to be mentored by great leaders, and indeed in Teleflex a gentleman called Benson Smith, the outgoing CEO, was very instrumental in continuing to build my career in Teleflex. He was a veteran of the medical device world. We had a very close connection and we worked together to make Teleflex a very different company than it was when we both joined the company. Teleflex has really transformed from a diverse, industrial company to a pure-play medical device company—and really driven tremendous shareholder value and returns in that journey.