In business, it’s not always best to take the acquisition of a new piece of equipment personally.
It is, after all, a vocation. But when your business is distributing and servicing medical technology, the kind that can change people’s lives, sometimes it’s hard to keep your personal feelings out of it, especially when the medical device can help restore eyesight to your mom.
Jay Herman is president of Salient Medical Solutions, a Toronto-area company that distributes some of the most innovative and up-to-date medical devices anywhere on the planet. One device distributed by the firm is designed to help people suffering from macular degeneration, a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field due to damage to the retina.
The disease is debilitating no matter the background of the person afflicted. But for his mother, Zina Perleroizen Herman, it presents a particularly cruel blow. Perleroizen Herman, 92, is an artist of some renown who still lives on her own in Chomedey, a Montreal neighbourhood. Her eyesight began to deteriorate 20 years ago.
With his mother’s condition in mind, Herman had been making the rounds at trade shows and medical conferences, searching for something that could be of help. About seven years ago, he heard about a device that could one day do the trick. It took years for it to be developed, built and receive governmental approval.
Today, the Visioncare CentraSight treatment program uses a tiny telescope developed in Israel by Isaac Lipshitz, an ophthalmologist with 30 years experience, that is implanted inside the eye. It works by magnifying light on a healthy part of the retina.
It’s something, Herman believes, that could benefit his mother as well as thousands of other Canadian patients.
The solutions Salient provides come in the form of surgical laser and diagnostic equipment, with applications in ophthalmology, dermatology, otolaryngology, gynecology, phlebology and urology.
Innovations are constantly being introduced to the marketplace. Salient has positioned itself to acquire the best of the lot, whether or not its product name is familiar to medical practitioners.
“What we wanted to do is get people back to real medicine and properly evaluate the products [so that] doctors aren’t swayed by a product name, but by what it does,” Herman said.
“The biggest hurdle to sales is that [clinics and hospitals] have bought so much equipment over the years that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.”
With laser equipment selling in the $250,000 range and even more, it’s important for Salient’s clients to trust they’re getting the best tool for the job.
Salient does the research, acquires the best equipment, provides training and maintenance. “We look for the best of brand product. We are your global research centre,” Herman said.
Generally, the best new technology is sourced in Germany, California and Israel.
Israelis develop their products quickly, perhaps as a result of the “sense of urgency” in the country, he said.
They just need a little help marketing it, he added.
When performing his due diligence, scouting out new products, Herman likes to visit manufacturers’ workplaces, looking for seemingly minor clues as to the corporate culture.
“I’ll walk through the halls of a company and try to judge the personalities of the people,” whether they’re energetic or angry. “All that matters,” he said.
Servicing the equipment accounts for a big chunk of Salient’s income. Herman projects that half of the company’s revenues will come from that aspect of the business. “We call it an annuity, recurring revenues,” he said.
Salient is a continuation of Sigmacon Medical (Canada), which Herman joined nearly 14 years ago after a chance meeting with the former owner of the company at a martial arts club.
Herman had a background in the sciences and was working for a company in emerging health technologies. After some persuasion, Herman joined Sigmacon as vice-president of business development.
The company’s business at the time included a lucrative aesthetic component – wrinkle removal, hair restoration and the like – but Herman was eager to advance its surgical side.
He attended medical conferences and devoured medical literature: “You’re always up to 2 a.m. reading medical studies,” he said.
He became an expert in medical technologies, even authoring a white paper distributed to eye doctors giving them the ammunition to dispel media-generated reports that greatly exaggerated the pitfalls of laser eye surgery.
The extent of his knowledge gives him credibility both with purchasers and manufacturers. He knows when he’s being given a sales pitch: “I tell them, don’t exaggerate. Stick to what it does well,” he said. Medical practitioners can be confident he understands that the solution he’s offering deals with the problem they’re addressing.
Earlier this year, Herman joined with two partners to take over Sigmacon and rename it.
“We decided on a management buyout. We wanted to create a certain type of company, and we put together a group of investors and took over from the prior owners,” he said. “It was the three amigos saying, ‘One day we should do it’ and we finally did it.”
Herman was joined by Howard Miller, Salient’s COO, who specializes in sales and marketing, along with a silent third partner.
Salient’s financials are private, but Herman is happy to discuss the non-monetary aspect of the business – the helping side. He recounts a story in which a device supplied by the company was used to burn away a patient’s tumor, while leaving healthy tissue unaffected.
“You just bought the guy five years,” he was told by a doctor.
It’s that kind of feedback that gives Herman lots of satisfaction. It’s not something you can readily get in other lines of work.
“Medicine is a good field,” he said. “You get those feel-good moments.”