A Small Fish Swimming in a Pool of Sharks

Photo_Sam_HeadShot-KumarSam Kumar is the President and CEO of MYCO Medical, a company that supplies high-quality medical tools for the healthcare industry.

Kumar’s training is in electrical engineering. He graduated from N.C. State in 1986 and worked several years for various IT companies. After experiencing multiple layoffs however, Kumar says he’d had his fill of being at the whim of a corporation.

“I really wanted to have more control over my own destiny, rather than somebody else taking my hard work and basically saying, ‘Well, okay I’m ready to sell the company now,’ he explains. Around that same time, my dad, who is a civil engineer, was laid off.  So it really got me thinking that the idea of having a long-term career at one corporation is long gone.”

In India, Kumar’s home country, his great uncle and grandfather started the medical device manufacturing company HMD Healthcare,or Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices. Kumar realized there were many good medical device manufacturers around the world with products that were not reaching the U.S. market.

“My family at that time had only one distributor,” he says. “They own a medical device manufacturer, so they had one customer in the U.S. only.  I contacted my uncle and said, ‘I’d like to become one of your distributors.’  And of course he said welcome and the terms are cash only, which is more cultural in India. So I borrowed five thousand dollars out of my 401K to get going.”

Kumar started MYCO Medical part-time and incorporated it in 1993, a month after he was laid off.  He says he got a call from his former manager asking him to come back as a contractor, which he agreed to, while continuing to grow his company on the side.  For the next three years, Kumar balanced working different IT roles with his own pursuits.

“I’d work at MYCO in the morning, and I’d do IT in the evening,” says Kumar.“Back then I was single and it was fun.  How else am I going to spend my time? And it was challenging.  Every little success meant a lot so it was very rewarding.  In 1996 I finally just resigned because I was seeing MYCO revenues were increasing but not at the rate I would’ve liked  them to and just doing the two was too distracting.  I figured, ‘Okay, you do one and make a go of it. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to engineering.’

The decision paid off. This year MYCO Medical was ranked No. 3,034 in Inc. Magazine’s annual ranking of the 5000 fastest-growing private companies in the country. In addition, MYCO Medical ranked 269 in the health category and sixth out of the nine North Carolina health companies to make the list.

Kumar explains that he chose to make his company separate from its family ties.

“I didn’t want to go from working for an IT company to working for my uncle.  It seemed to be trading one for the other. So there are no strings attached at this point financially.  I think it took me six years to convince my uncle to make me the exclusive agent for their business, and he saw me doing very well and putting in a lot of time and effort.  Within six years I think we had doubled the amount of value he was doing in the U.S, so, it was a good thing for him.”

MYCO Medical focuses on supplying higher end single-use disposable medical products and has close to 300 distributors in its territories of Canada, U.S. and Puerto Rico.  The company sources from factories in India, China, Japan, Australia and South Africa.

“The products we’ve chosen are usually high level products that require a high level of technology.  That’s where we’re able to compete very well against the Chinese because you can’t manufacture the products we sell by using a lot of labor.  It has to be done using a high degree of automation.”

Kumar explains that MYCO Medical is unique in that it has the entire supply chain covered.  The company handles the relationships with the factories, distribution in the U.S., marketing, as well as all of the FDA regulatory aspects of the products.

“It’s very important in this changing healthcare environment that there’s going to be a lot of pressure on reducing cost at every level.  Unfortunately, that’s also going to lead to some mistakes being made in terms of sacrificing quality.  Do you want your relative to be operated on something that’s substandard?  No, you don’t.  So, that’s where we’re looking at more of a value proposition.  We never want to be the low cost leader on anything, because then are we really satisfying the true need from the perspective of clinical and patient outcome?  We don’t want to have substandard healthcare.  We want to cut out the fat.”

MYCO Medical has twenty-two employees now, including their newest addition, Kumar’s father, who recently moved here from Charlotte, NC. Kumar is grateful for the success he’s had and, in addition to his dedicated work, recognizes that he’s been lucky when it comes to opportunity.

“My great-uncle had to work a whole lifetime.  He started the company in India with his brother, my grandfather, and it’s taken him a lifetime to really start seeing the results of his hard work.  Definitely I’m born with a silver spoon in my mouth.  You are very fortunate, because in the U.S. you can realize that in your own lifetime.  You can see the benefits and effects, all the rewards of your hard work.”

Giving back to others in need has always been a large part of Kumar’s life.  For the last fifteen years, he’s delivered Meals on Wheels weekly and recently has shifted his volunteer focus to the Haiti earthquake relief efforts, donating close to $100,000 in medical and surgical equipment to hospitals and clinics in Haiti.

“We worked with the Haiti Connection, which is a local non-profit organization,” says Kumar. “They are able to work with the companies to get product into disaster relief areas very, very fast.  And the director is very impressive there.  We get so many solicitations for helping this effort or that effort, but you could really see that they’re very genuine, and she offered to take me there with her and to go see some of the effects and some of the results of what we’ve done and help out, so it made sense to me.”

Kumar jokes that MYCO Medical is like “a small clown fish swimming in a pool of sharks,” when it comes to its billion dollar competitors. He observes that these large publicly traded companies grow and lose sight of the customer, while MYCO Medical is able to concentrate on strong customer service.

It’s clear that Kumar feels that the backbone of the U.S. economy is small business, and he takes pride in his role toward that effort.

“If we’re to get out of this recession we’re in right now, it has to come from the small businesses.  They’re the ones that are innovative and the ones that are going to keep us two steps ahead of all of the other economies in the world.  That’s what we can’t lose sight of.  The mom-and-pop family businesses, those are the ones that are being slowly but surely gobbled up by these big multi-nationals.  At the end of the day, do you want the economy to go to the way of Wall Street?  No, I don’t think so.”

We’re a small clown fish swimming in a pool of sharks, and I think it would be surprising to everybody, every one of our competitors is probably a billion plus in revenue who doesn’t know us very well, how small we are; concerning how well we do things, and what kind of market-share we have in the U.S. market.  It’s good too, because, again, we’re under the radar.  You know, that’s a good thing.  The less they know about us the better.

You would think that that would mean huge amount of business for us, but we’re always… You’re competing against such large companies and brands that have been out there.  You know,.  So, they have a lot of resources, but on the others side; they’re also publicly traded companies.

The larger they grow, usually; the trend is that they’ll lose sight of the customer, so that’s our biggest opportunity.  More consolidation is better for us because we’ll always do things better than they will do.  While they’re cutting back customer service, we’re adding.

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