Prizing the Eye : Brent Saunders, CEO Bausch + Lomb

Feb 01, 2012

When Bausch + Lomb opened its new China headquarters in Shanghai a few months back, CEO Brent Saunders was emcee—he oversaw the ribbon cutting and the formal ceremony declaring the office open, which included a visit from the good luck Dragon and other fortuitous fanfare. The new facility, Saunders says, represents B+L's revised business model, which prizes collaboration across business units and personnel to move the company closer to the needs of its customers. "Immediately before you hit the reception desk at the [Shanghai] office, there's a state-of-the-art surgical room and a state-of-the-art vision care room for physicians," says Saunders. "We can actually bring customers into that surgical experience room in China and show them how to use our equipment, do surgery, and provide them with training and education." There is even a supply of pig eyes on hand for demonstrations.

Brent Saunders became CEO of Bausch + Lomb, one of the oldest American healthcare companies, in March 2010. B+L developed the first soft contact lens; won an Oscar in 1954 for its CinemaScope lens; and, in 1986, after Tom Cruise donned a pair of Ray-Ban Aviators in "Top Gun," sales for the 50-year old product line jumped by 40 percent. Things have changed since then (B+L sold off Ray-Ban to an Italian company, Luxottica Group, in 1999), and when Saunders joined, he found himself at the helm of "a very troubled company." After the global recall of its ReNu With MostureLoc lens cleaner in 2006, followed by questions about dubious accounting practices overseas, the company went private in 2007; Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm, paid roughly $65 a share for B+L, or $3.78 billion, and assumed an additional $800 million in debt. Perhaps more disconcerting than the recall—the B+L brand is "resilient" due to strong ties with physicians, says Mike Weinstein, managing director, U.S. equities, at JP Morgan—was the "holding company mentality" that had fogged B+L's direction. The three business units—vision care (contact lens and solutions), pharmaceuticals (ophthalmic drops), and surgical (medical devices)—were run in near isolation from each other, and they weren't focused on the customer. "We were really good at publishing patents and research papers, but we weren't driving innovations that made a difference in people's lives," says Saunders, who is 42. "We wanted to refocus that."

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