Europeans first discovered the Americas some five hundred years ago—but for Heraeus Medical, the story begins in the year 2018. Before then, Heraeus Medical distributed its flagship Palacos products in the US through a reseller. With a direct model, the company has now taken matters into its own hands.

Inventor Source: Jacob Kepler Photography, Las Vegas, NV, USA

Americans are known worldwide for their optimism and their hands-on approach. Nothing is impossible. Problems are simply viewed as challenges— and challenges are welcomed, even embraced. Devin Childers, Robert Kolbe and William Baxter Webb certainly subscribe to this philosophy. Working together, they built the team of Heraeus Medical sales representatives in the USA within a few months. From zero to 70 in one year, and the headcount is steadily growing. The annual Sales Meeting in Dallas, Texas, in the spring of 2019 brought together more than 120 employees and partners.

But the story begins two years earlier, with an unexpected challenge: Palacos bone cement was positioned successfully in the USA with a market share of 28 percent. However, almost nobody there was familiar with its inventor and manufacturer, Heraeus Medical. Why not? Because the products were marketed in the United States through a reseller. In 2015, this partner acquired one of Heraeus Medical’s largest international competitors. A long-term relationship based on trust and collaboration was destroyed. This was a significant blow to Heraeus Medical, ultimately leading to the company’s decision to take matters into its own hands.

“We realized that it was a great opportunity,” says Devin Childers, President and “employee number one” for Heraeus Medical US. In 2017, it was his mission to develop a team for the US business in the shortest possible time. He recruited Robert Kolbe to join the team as VP Sales. William Baxter Webb was named VP to lead the Marketing & Education units. When they began their work for Heraeus, they had little to go on—except the ambitious vision of making headway against strong competition in the highly complex American market.

Startup and market leader


In principle, this was nothing new for Childers, Webb and Kolbe. All three have experience with young companies, either from founding their own or from working with startups at an early stage. “Basically, here too, what we did was to grow a startup,” says Webb. Kolbe chimes in: “But our startup’s product was already the market leader, generating millions of dollars in sales. That in itself is a unique starting position.” And for both of them, it was also the greatest attraction.

From setting up the SAP system to developing a quality management system to creating advertisement and trade fair media: building a country subsidiary involves many work packages, and all of them have to be tackled at once. It’s a massive task that calls for energy and passion, individual responsibility and team spirit.

The support provided by the Heraeus Shared Services Center in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the central office of Heraeus Medical in Wehrheim was huge, says Childers. “Right from the start, we felt that we were an important part of Heraeus.” This willingness to help, as the expression of a strong corporate culture, was critical in the early months—and at the same time, it became a strategic priority. “Culture is the key to success,” says Childers. “We looked for employees who wanted to join us in creating something special.”

But finding the right people was no easy matter. The economy is booming, especially in the USA. There are more open positions than applicants; good people are in demand everywhere. Nevertheless, despite the time pressure, they made no compromises. The plan took off. The first batch of Palacos with Heraeus Medical packaging for the US market was produced in the fourth quarter of 2017 and sold in 2018. A partner company remains responsible for logistics. The team built by Childers, Kolbe and Webb does everything else. And Childers is proud of what his team has accomplished in the past few months. “Our strong team spirit is the best foundation for the future of Heraeus Medical US.”

The message is loud and clear


And this holds true even though the company remains a virtual entity, with no headquarters. Employees work on a decentralized basis and communicate primarily via videoconferences. All the more welcome, then, are the times they meet in person, whether in the annual Sales Meetings or at the numerous trade shows. These are must-attend events for the team, because their most important objective is to make the Heraeus Medical brand more familiar to customers. Here, the team focuses on one clear message: We are the original inventor of Palacos, its exclusive manufacturer—and now also its sole supplier.

And the message is loud and clear. In its first fiscal year, Heraeus Medical US still had to invest heavily in the new project. But there are already signs of success. The focus is now on further expanding the customer base. “The past year was an investment in the long-term future of the company in the USA,” says Childers. He and his team are confident that they will close fiscal year 2019 in the black— and that, little by little, as a strong company, they will bring the American market (back) into the fold.

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Source: Herbert Naujoks, Stuttgart

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