Cook Medical boss Bill Doherty, pictured outside the firm’s Irish operation at the National Technology Park, Plassey
AS medical technology company Cook Ireland marks its 20th anniversary in Plassey, its chief executive Bill Doherty revealed this week that he expects further growth for the Limerick company.
In its two decades here – and its 30 years previously at its other locations – he says the company has “had continual growth and profit”.
Set up in Limerick in 1996 with only a handful of employees, Cook Medical’s Irish base has become a vital cog in the firm’s global machine, employing 880 staff and manufacturing 200 different products tackling common and not-so-common conditions.
Primarily, the firm manufactures devices to provide minimally invasive procedures, a need which has become more important than ever, with Irish hospitals at breaking point with high waiting lists, and the public’s busy daily lives.
“We are continuing to add jobs. We have done that very slowly, very methodically over the years. We have 880 here at the minute. We think that will grow. But there are a lot of constraints in the economy, so we have to be careful. But we’d be hopeful,” Mr Doherty said.
One project which will lead to an increase in staff at Cook Medical is the building of an office on green space opposite its main headquarters.
As a result of this, Cook Medical staff in rented accommodation at Hamilton House will move into the new building, while some administration and finance staff currently in the main building will move across. And it will leave Cook Medical’s main building as a hub for high-tech manufacturing.
Cook Medical was founded more than 50 years ago in Bloomington, Indiana by William A Cook, and his wife Gayle.
Born in Rosbrien, Mr Doherty – who was headhunted in 1993 to set up Cook Ireland, and describes himself as the “leader of the orchestra” here – said: “It was a real ‘mom and pop’ firm developing interventional radiology products.
“We are an understated company sometimes. Our corporate headquarters is not in Chicago, it is in Bloomington, a small town around the same size of Limerick. We didn't see any need to be in London or Dublin,” he said.
Cook Ireland’s growth was initially slow, with an early projected staff of just 144 people.
“Three things projected our growth upwards. In 2004, Cook completely restructured its business in Europe. Out of that emerged our shared services centre, which employs 200 people here. So we act as the business driver and a business enabler for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea). The second thing was the decision to manufacture a drug eluding stent [Zilver]. Finally, the decision in 2013 to open an innovation centre here which looks at the future of Cook,” Mr Doherty explains.
Many of the products Cook manufactures here will help in everyday conditions.
One of the firm’s earliest developments here is the ‘Bakri Balloon’, which can treat the haemorrhaging of blood following childbirth, and can prevent women having to go through a hysterectomy.
“It is a very simple balloon, inserted into the cervix and the womb, and it takes the shape of the womb internally, and it presses against the wall. In most cases it has been very effective. I'm sure there are ladies walking around Limerick thanks to it.”
Cook supplies this device to the third world, one of many supports it has given to people in need.
Mr Doherty says: “There are products we make that are not going to make us a lot of money, or any money at all. The fact is when you are a family company, and are thinking of society in general, you have a responsibility to do things like this.”
While Mr Doherty admits the need for strong regulation of such a sensitive sector is important, he is concerned about the “barriers getting too high”, especially with regard to developing devices for rarer conditions, and helping the third world.
”We need regulation, but on the other hand, if you make the barriers too high, doing something like this becomes a real problem.”
With Cook Medical in growth mode, Mr Doherty says it is natural to assume the firm will require graduates in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and this remains the case.
“No college in the country is producing product management graduates. We are always looking for accounting and HR graduates. With the scope of our activities, we are looking for graduates across the board”.As for the future of medical technology, Bill believes in 50 years time, devices will be “unrecognisable” to how they are today.
“Treatments are going to become individualised. A classic example is cancer. We are looking at pinpoint accuracy. We want to get a drug to a specific tumour or part of the body, or stimilate the cells themselves to grow. The future is very exciting.”