Sunrise transforms exec team

Monday, December 31, 2001

LONGMONT, Colo. - The retirement of Tom O'Donnell as president of Sunrise Medical, announced and effective Nov. 5, completes the remarkable transformation of the Sunrise Medical executive team. Two years ago, with Dick Chandler at the helm, the Sunrise executive team was manned by a crew of old home healthcare hands.

Today, that same tier of management is full of former executives from the auto industry who are making new noise in the HME market with auto industry parlance and plans to apply statistical processes to reap new efficiencies.

Following in O'Donnell's footsteps is John Kitts, a 37-year-old a former executive at Tenneco Automotive who Sunrise had hired to replace Terry Mulkey as vice president of sales (See HME News, Sept. 15, 2001). The quick boost to the top spot as head of the company's North American operation is not a serendipitous opportunity for Kitts.

"When Tom (O'Donnell, who was in charge of the executive search) and I were looking for a vice president of sales and marketing, we decided to find someone tall enough to become president of North America within a relatively short time period," said Sunrise CEO Mike Hammes. "Tom went out and looked for people like that."

At Tenneco, Kitts handled full P&L and operational responsibilities for Tenneco's $1 billion global emission control business. Those revenues are about double Sunrise's North American revenues.

Nearly two years after Chandler exited the HME industry, and with most of the management team in place, Sunrise has begun to establish new performance standards for everything from the way it makes wheelchair parts to the way it interfaces with customers.

In the weeks leading up to and following Medtrade, separate groups of the new Sunrise executive team hit the road on a whistlestop tour of 235 customer locations where individual executives delivered presentations about the new commitment to quality at Sunrise and actually "adopted" individual customers as primary points of contact.

The goal of this CSI (Customer Service Initiative) tour? To reduce in parts per million, as they say in the auto industry, the number of soft spots in the company's interaction with its customer base, whether the matter in question is a faulty product or a weak customer service link.

Case in point was the Sunrise Medical response to a recall involving controllers and armrest receivers on the Quickie P-222 power wheelchairs. Though they'd clocked the repair time at about six minutes to fix each problem, Sunrise reimbursed rehab providers $100 per fix.

Raising the bar on warranty work that typically pays half that has impressed customers.

"They're paying at a level that is a significantly higher than their competitors," said Bob Guoy, who recently bought back his St. Louis rehab company, United Seating and Mobility, from American HomePatient.

"One hundred dollars to do what we did was pretty great," said Jim Fiss, a co-owner of Rehab Medical in St. Louis. "It's refreshing."

If this kind of reimbursement is a new standard, that suits Fiss. He says he's been urging manufacturers to put together a rate book, and pay for labor when rehab providers do warranty work.

"Warranties are how car companies distinguish their products," he said. He believes HME manufacturers can do the same.

O'Donnell will stay on full-time in an advisory capacity at Sunrise until March. HME