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Supply Chain Management of Invensys PLC
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Netra Shetty
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Supply Chain Management of Invensys PLC - January 11th, 2011

Invacare Corporation is a world leading maker and distributor of non-acute healthcare products for people requiring home healthcare, for those needing rehabilitative care, and for persons with temporary or permanent disabilities. Among the company's products are power wheelchairs, manual wheelchairs, motorized scooters, seating and positioning products, crutches, canes, walkers, manual and electric home care beds, respiratory products for the home, and safety equipment, such as shower chairs and grab bars. Acquisitions and innovative products have fueled Invacare's success. It was the first firm to produce a motorized wheelchair with computerized controls.

1885 to the 1970s: From Fay Manufacturing Company to Invacare Corporation

The roots of Invacare can be traced back to 1885, when Fay Manufacturing Company was founded in the Cleveland suburb of Elyria by Winslow Lamartine Fay and began making tricycles. Competition from the newly introduced two-wheeled "safety" bicycle reduced demand for tricycles, leading Fay to transform his tricycle design into a line of mobility devices for persons with disabilities. The new products featured hand levers and treadles for steering and pedaling. The products proved successful, in part because they filled an existing need--the Civil War had left thousands of veterans with amputated limbs who needed help getting around. Following on this success, Fay developed specialized carts that were precursors to the modern wheelchair.

Looking to pursue other business opportunities, Fay sold his company to Arthur L. Garford in 1891. Soon after, Garford hired George Cushing Worthington to manage the firm's plant operations. Worthington became a key employee at the company, designing a line of bicycle-wheeled rolling chairs. His influence was great enough that when Garford elected to rename the company in 1899, he chose the moniker the Worthington Manufacturing Company. Worthington was named president in 1902, and five years later the firm was renamed the Worthington Company.

In 1917, Fred W. Colson, a Worthington vice-president, engineered the merger of Worthington with the Machine Parts Company to form the Colson Company, majority owned by Colson, who also served as company president. The Colson Company continued to make wheelchairs and tricycles--as well as the automotive parts that had been made by Machine Parts Company--but it soon expanded its product line to include stretchers, service carts, and bicycles and scooters for children.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Colson fell upon hard times. The firm went into receivership in 1933 and was reorganized as the Colson Corporation, with new management and with Neely Powers serving as president. The company once again specialized in tricycles, wheelchairs, and automotive parts until World War II, when Colson produced "Mighty Mouse" rockets for the U.S. Navy.

In the postwar era, the firm struggled shifting back to civilian production, and in 1953 a weakened Colson was purchased by the Pritzker family of Chicago. The manufacture of bicycles and tricycles was halted and the company was moved out of Elyria. The wheelchair division of Colson, however, was purchased in 1957 by three veteran employees: W.C. "Court" Shea, Charles "Chuck" Hazelton, and W.J. Pivacek. The three men renamed the division Mobilaid Inc. and concentrated primarily on the manufacture of wheelchairs. Much smaller than Colson, Mobilaid had annual revenues of about $150,000 in the late 1950s. A key development in this period was the procurement of a large government contract to supply wheelchairs to the Veterans Administration.

In 1967, Mobilaid formed a subsidiary called the Rolls Equipment Company, which was charged with selling the company's products under the Rolls brand directly to hospitals and surgical equipment companies. By 1970, Mobilaid had grown substantially and was producing nearly 40,000 wheelchairs per year. The following year, Boston Capital Corporation (BCC) purchased both Mobilaid and Invalex Company, a maker of walkers, safety side rails, and other home healthcare products that had operations in Long Beach, California, and Lodi, Ohio. BCC merged these companies later in 1971 to form Invacare Corporation.

Transitioning from investment firm to healthcare company, BCC changed its name first to BCC Industries Inc. and then to Technicare Corporation; it also moved its headquarters to Cleveland. In addition to Invacare, Technicare also owned Ohio-Nuclear Inc., which achieved tremendous success with a new line of CT scanners in the mid-1970s. By 1977, Ohio-Nuclear accounted for $125 million of Technicare's overall sales of $164.4 million, while Invacare contributed only $17 million. With Invacare's slow sales, muddled management, and lack of new product development becoming a financial drain, Technicare decided to sell the company. But in 1978, Johnson & Johnson purchased Technicare for $87 million in stock. The following year, Johnson & Johnson, which had purchased Technicare mainly to gain the CT scanner business of Ohio-Nuclear, announced that it intended to sell Invacare. Two groups of investors stepped forward with offers to buy Invacare but both deals fell through. Then A. Malachi Mixon appeared on the scene.

1980s: A Company Turnaround Under Mixon's Leadership

Mixon, a 39-year-old head of marketing at Ohio-Nuclear's CT scanner division, former Marine Corps artillery officer who served in Vietnam, and Harvard Business School graduate, immediately decided to buy Invacare when he heard it was for sale. But with only $10,000 of his own money to invest, financing the acquisition of a company that cost $7.8 million seemed almost impossible. Undeterred, Mixon arranged for two real estate brokers to purchase Invacare's facility on Taylor Street, and then lease it back to the company. Then, Mixon arranged for a $4.3 million loan from First Chicago Bank. The remainder of the needed money came from his own resources, loans from friends, and issuing shares of stock to various local investors. While structuring the financing of Invacare, Mixon included a 15 percent interest in the company for himself.

When Mixon and his group officially assumed control of Invacare on December 28, 1979, the company had a low standing within the healthcare products industry. Sales were stagnant at approximately $20 million, far lower than the $124 million sales figure of its chief competitor, Everest & Jennings. Furthermore, Mixon's leveraged buyout resulted in a $6.5 million debt, and the high interest rate of nearly 25 percent was devouring Invacare's modest $1.2 million in profits.

During the first year as chief executive officer at Invacare, Mixon devoted a significant amount of time to studying the company's product line. After eliminating the manufacture of those items that were either obsolete or unprofitable, he pushed Invacare's engineering department to develop highly innovative products. Mixon believed that Everest & Jennings, which had over an 80 percent share of the world's wheelchair market, not only was growing complacent with its position within the industry but also was losing touch with its customers.

In 1982, Mixon's emphasis on new product development paid off when Invacare was the first in the industry to introduce a motorized wheelchair with computerized controls. Invacare's computer controls could be easily adapted to suit the individual needs and requirements of the severely disabled. The wheelchair quickly became an industry standard, and Invacare suddenly found itself in an intense competition with Everest & Jennings for the larger share of the wheelchair market.

Everest & Jennings responded to Invacare by reducing its prices, but cost-effective production methods enabled Invacare to match its competitor's prices. At the same time, Mixon had worked hard to improve Invacare's distribution network: inexpensive financing, volume discounts, 48-hour delivery, funds for cooperative advertising, and prepaid freight convinced more than 6,000 home healthcare dealers in the United States that Invacare was the better of the two companies. In a short time, Invacare had equaled and then surpassed Everest & Jennings' share of the wheelchair market. Invacare's ever expanding product line, which now included items such as cardiovascular exercise equipment and oxygen concentrators, and its policy of stocking parts for the products of its competitors, soon placed the company in a league of its own.

In the beginning of 1984, it appeared that Invacare's rapid growth and enviable financial success would continue unabated. During that year, Mixon decided to enter the European market for home healthcare products, and acquired a British firm that manufactured wheelchair and patient aids and a West German producer of wheelchairs. Mixon also determined that it was an

Later in 1984, however, Invacare was hurt by a series of unexpected events. When the company discovered it had less inventory than was reported in its books, it was forced to take a charge against earnings that resulted in a financial loss for fiscal 1984. In addition, because of manufacturing defects in the company's oxygen concentrator, Invacare was forced to recall the product and suffered a loss of approximately $1.5 million in sales. To compound company problems, in 1985 the U.S. government changed its formulas for Medicare reimbursement. The new requirement led wheelchair dealers to sell more chairs than they leased, which resulted in a disincentive for dealers to purchase better built, but more expensive, reusable wheelchairs. Invacare's sales dropped precipitously, and its profitability was threatened. Not surprisingly, the company's initial stock, offered at $11 per share just one year earlier, plummeted to less than $4 by mid-1985.

Mixon was convinced that a significant part of Invacare's problems could be attributed to a lack of manufacturing efficiency and quality control problems. He was determined never to allow another Invacare product to suffer the embarrassment of a recall by the federal government. Mixon called on Joseph B. Richey to rectify the manufacturing problems at Invacare. Richey was a former associate of Mixon's at Ohio-Nuclear and was head of that company's research and development department and was also one of the initial investors in the 1979 buyout of Invacare and a member of the Invacare board since 1980. He joined Invacare in an executive capacity in 1994 as senior vice-president of product development. Richey first concentrated on finding Invacare's quality control problems. The company's sales force was required to submit monthly reports detailing customer complaints about its products. With these reports, Richey then began to correct the problems that occurred during production.

Simultaneously, Richey implemented a program in statistical process control methods for company employees. Another quality control measure involved sending Invacare's own certified representatives to check the plants of its suppliers; this policy led to a reduction in the number of suppliers but a higher and more consistent quality of product parts. Richey's strategy paid off handsomely as Invacare reduced the rejection rate of its supplier's parts to less than 2 percent. But Richey had said numerous times that Invacare's goal should be to measure rejection rates as Japanese companies do--in parts per million. One of the most important aspects of Invacare's determination to improve the quality control of its products involved a switch from purchasing to manufacturing the electronic control systems on its motorized wheelchairs. Richey went directly to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration's (NASA) Lewis Space Center and purchased much of the equipment NASA used to test its controls on the space shuttles. The result of employing such sophisticated quality control equipment led to the perception that Invacare's power wheelchairs were the most reliable in the industry.

With all its improvements in quality control, Invacare was well-prepared to meet an unexpected challenge in 1986. Wheelchair manufacturers in Taiwan started to sell their products in the United States that year at nearly 20 percent below the normal price structure. Invacare's response was to construct a new manufacturing plant in Reynosa, Mexico, in addition to its facilities in Elyria, Ohio. Although Mixon denied that there was a plan to shut down the Elyria plant or relocate jobs to Mexico, the consequence was that Elyria employees became more productive and efficient in light of the prospect of losing their jobs. Invacare's new plant in Mexico produced wheelchairs at a much lower cost and almost eliminated the Taiwanese manufacturers from the U.S. domestic market. With its quality control problems solved and no other company to challenge its dominance of the wheelchair market, Invacare grew quickly. In 1986 the company reported profits of $3.4 million on revenues of $111 million.

By 1989, Invacare's revenues jumped to over $186 million. An important aspect of its success was the decentralized management structure emphasized by Mixon. Each of the key officers in the company was given complete authority to make the changes necessary for the respective divisions they supervised to meet their sales goals. This organizational setup encouraged a fast-paced, high-pressure work environment, but management was given full authority to meet the dual responsibilities of efficiency and productivity. In addition, Invacare not only hired disabled people to help design and test its products, but the company also provided a stock sharing plan for its employees that helped create a sense of ownership, empowerment, and accountability.

1990s: Growing Toward $1 Billion in Sales Through Acquisitions

The next two years, 1990 and 1991, were watershed years for Invacare. In 1990, the company introduced a total of 53 new products, including significant innovations in wheelchair design with the introduction of microprocessors for power wheelchairs and the first wheelchair designed for use on airliners. Invacare also created its Action Technology division in which highly flexible wheelchairs made of light composite materials were designed for active users. By 1991, Invacare stock had climbed to $25 per share. That year, the company launched an advertising campaign to sell its products directly to consumers. Although still relying heavily on dealers to market its products, Mixon successfully anticipated that a large segment of the disabled population was looking for products allowing them to lead a more active life. Invacare reported revenues of more than $263 million for fiscal 1991. Invacare's successes made it one of the top 50 firms to invest in during the decade of the 1990s, according to U.S. News and World Report.

In 1992, Invacare was known by industry analysts as the leader in manufacturing wheelchairs and home care medical equipment. The company was manufacturing a comprehensive line of wheelchairs, including pediatric and sports models, quad canes, scooters, and walkers in the most up-to-date ultralight materials. With its oxygen concentrators, medical beds, nebulizers, cushions, and positioning systems, Invacare produced the broadest line of items in the home healthcare industry. The company had expanded to include 19 manufacturing facilities in the United States and over 10,000 dealers distributing its products throughout the world, including Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe. In 1992 international sales accounted for approximately 23 percent of Invacare's total revenues.

Invacare experienced another banner year in 1993. Sales increased to $365 million while earnings were reported at over $22 million. From 1979 through 1993, the company had achieved an annual growth rate of over 23 percent and was listed in Forbes as one of the 200 best small companies in America and in Business Week's "250 Companies on the Move." From October 1991 to the end of 1993, Invacare made seven major acquisitions, including Canadian Posture and Seating Centre, Inc. (Kitchener, Ontario); Hovis Medical Limited (Mississauga, Ontario); Perry Oxygen Systems, Inc. (Port St. Lucie, Florida); Poirier S.A. (Tours, France); Top End (Pinellas Park, Florida); Dynamics Controls Ltd. (Christchurch, New Zealand); and Geomarine Systems, Inc. (Carmel, New York). Although Dynamic Controls, a manufacturer of power controls for wheelchairs, and Geomarine Systems, a manufacturer of low air loss therapy mattress replacement systems, were important in expanding the company's product line and increasing the cost effectiveness of its manufacturing operations, it was the purchases of Top End Wheelchair Sports and Poirier that were most significant.

Top End products included road racing and tennis wheelchairs, and a water ski for disabled people. Top End Action wheelchairs were used in over 200 sports events during 1993, including the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, NBA-sponsored wheelchair basketball games, Easter Seals wheelchair tennis camps, and numerous other competitive and recreational sports events. The acquisition of Top End gave Invacare valuable exposure to the growing active user wheelchair market.

Purchased for $57.3 million in October 1992, Poirier was the leading maker of wheelchairs in France and the leading maker of lightweight wheelchairs in Europe. The addition of Poirier doubled Invacare's European sales, and the company's headquarters were made the new base for Invacare's European operations. These acquisitions helped increase sales to $411.1 million by 1994, a year in which Gerald B. Blouch was named chief operating officer, with Mixon remaining chairman, president, and CEO.

Throughout the 1990s, the company pursued acquisitions that tended to: grow market share in or extend existing product lines (called tactical); expand the firm into new, complementary product segments (strategic); and/or open up new foreign markets for selling the company's products (geographic). During 1995 and 1996 Invacare completed more than a dozen acquisitions. One area of expansion was specialty seating systems and cushions, and the 1995 acquisitions of PinDot Products, Inc. (Northbrook, Illinois), Bencraft Limited (Birmingham, England), and Special Health Systems (Ontario, Canada) all contributed to that expansion. In early 1996, Invacare acquired Frohock-Stewart, Inc. (Northboro, Massachusetts), a manufacturer of Aurora brand bath safety products that were sold to mass retail outlets, such as Home Depot and Eagle Hardware. This marked Invacare's entry into the retail market, although home medical equipment dealers remained the core market. The Aurora line of products was soon expanded to include such Invacare mainstays as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs, while the retail channels broadened to include Wal-Mart, Sears, and other major retailers. Also purchased in 1996 was Healthtech Products, Inc. (St. Louis), a maker of beds and patient room furniture for nursing homes and other institutions.

A number of acquisitions outside North America extended Invacare's geographic presence during this period. European purchases included Beram AB (Gothenburg, Sweden), a distributor of wheelchairs and other rehabilitative products, and Paratec AG (Basel, Switzerland), maker of the Kuschall brand of active wheelchairs, both bought in 1995; and Fabriorto, Lda. (Oporto, Portugal), a producer of wheelchairs, beds, and walking aids purchased in early 1996. Invacare's presence in the Australasian region was significantly bolstered as well, in a follow-up to the purchase of Dynamic Controls in 1993. Invacare bought Thompson Rehab (Auckland, New Zealand) in July 1995, gaining a manufacturer and distributor of power and manual wheelchairs. The following month the company acquired another Auckland firm, Group Pharmaceutical Limited, which distributed Invacare products in New Zealand. In July 1996, Invacare purchased the leading maker of power wheelchairs in Australia, Roller Chair Pty. Ltd. (Adelaide). The person responsible for integrating all of these foreign acquisitions was Blouch, who was placed in charge of international operations in December 1993 and was promoted from COO to president in November 1996.

In January 1997, Invacare made an offer to acquire Healthdyne Technologies Inc., a maker of products for adult sleep disorders and sleep apnea monitors for infants, for $12.50 a share, or $163 million, in what would have been the company's largest acquisition to date. Healthdyne's board rejected the offer as too low, turning the bid into a hostile one. Invacare subsequently raised its bid three times, eventually offering $15 a share, or $190 million, in June. Two months later, after this final offer was rejected, Invacare called off its takeover attempt. (Healthdyne was later purchased by Respironics Inc. for about $370 million.)

In addition to this disappointment, 1997 was also noteworthy for the difficult environment in which Invacare had to operate, resulting in below average sales growth for the company of about 5.5 percent. Increasing competition, a strong dollar that dampened sales in Europe, and uncertainty created by a Medicare budget debate combined to wreak havoc. Invacare responded with a major restructuring involving plant closures, the elimination of unprofitable product lines, asset writedowns, and increased bad debt reserves. In connection with the restructuring, the firm took a pretax charge of $61 million, resulting in net income of just $1.6 million for the year, compared to $38.9 million for 1996. In September 1997, Invacare moved into a new $5 million headquarters building in Elyria.

As healthier growth returned in the last two years of the 1990s, Invacare rounded out its acquisitive decade with its two biggest deals ever. In January 1998, the company acquired Suburban Ostomy Supply Company, Inc. (Holliston, Massachusetts) for about $132 million in cash. Suburban Ostomy was a leading wholesaler of disposable medical products for the home healthcare market, primarily in the areas of ostomy, incontinence, and diabetes and wound care. This move into "soft goods" was part of the company's effort to provide its customers with one-stop shopping for home healthcare products. During 2000, Suburban was renamed Invacare Supply Group. In July 1999, Invacare spent approximately $142 million in cash to buy Scandinavian Mobility International A/S (SMI), which was based in Copenhagen, Denmark. SMI was one of the largest European makers of bed systems and mobility aids for the home care and institutional markets. Also during 1999, Invacare began retooling its product line toward the eventual goal of selling all products under the Invacare name. The aim was to make the Invacare name synonymous with home healthcare products. In conjunction with this effort, the company logo was redesigned and the tag line "Yes, you can" was adopted to emphasize the firm's "can-do" spirit.

New Goal and New Spokesperson for the New Millennium

By 2000, Invacare was the clear leader of the home healthcare product market. Under the continued leadership of Mixon, Invacare had acquired 35 companies since the Mixon-led group bought the company in 1979. These acquisitions, along with innovative new product development, helped the company surpass the $1 billion revenue mark for the first time in 2000, a remarkable achievement for a company that had had revenue of only $19 million two decades earlier. Earnings for 2000 were a record $59.9 million. In June 2000, Invacare moved its stock listing from the NASDAQ to the prestigious New York Stock Exchange. Mixon, meantime, set a goal of achieving $2 billion in sales by 2005.

A key to reaching this target would be to achieve success in the effort to make Invacare a household name. Toward that end, in late 2001 the company signed up legendary golfer Arnold Palmer to be the company spokesperson in a $5 million marketing campaign. Although 72-year-old Palmer did not need to use the company's products, he was chosen for his image as an older American maintaining an active lifestyle. Sales for 2001, however, were discouraging, increasing by only 4 percent as the weakening economic climate, particularly after the events of September 11, led customers to cut back on purchases. Despite this setback, the longer term forecast for Invacare remained bright. Demographic trends were in the company's favor, in terms of the continuing aging of the U.S. and European populations, as were the increasing efforts to have the elderly live at home rather than in nursing homes.

Principal Subsidiaries: Invacare Ltd. (U.K.); Invacare Canada Inc.; Invacare Deutschland GmbH (Germany); Invacare International Corporation; Invacare Trading Company, Inc. (U.S. Virgin Islands); Invamex, S.A. de R.L.C.V. (Mexico); Invacare Credit Corporation; Invatection Insurance company; Lam Craft Industries; Invacare Poirier S.A. (France); Dynamic Controls Ltd. (New Zealand); Quantrix Consultants Ltd. (New Zealand); Dynamic Europe Ltd. (U.K.); Sci Des Hautes Roches (France); Sci Des Roches (France); Mobilite Building Corporation; Genus Medical Products USA, Inc.; Invacare Florida; Infusion Systems, Inc.; Invacare New Zealand Ltd.; Invacare AG (Switzerland); Healthtech, Inc.; Invacare Portugual Lda. (Portugal); Production Research Corporation; Suburban Ostomy Supply Company, Inc.; Roller Chair Pty. Ltd. (Australia); Silcraft Corporation; Invacare Supply Group; The Aftermarket Group, Inc.; Invacare Holdings Denmark ApS; Scandinavian Mobility International ApS (Denmark); Invacare EC-Hong A/S (Denmark); Invacare A/S (Denmark); Invacare AB (Sweden); Invacare NV (Belgium); Scandinavian Mobility Niltek A/S (Denmark); Scandinavian Mobility Radius A/S (Denmark); EC-Invest A/S (Denmark); Invacare Holdings AS (Norway); Groas A/S (Norway); Invacare Rea AB (Sweden); France Reval SA; Matia SA (France); R2P S.a.r.L. (France); Scandinavian Mobility GmbH (Germany); France Reval GmbH (Germany); Invacare B.V. (Netherlands); Samarite B.V. (Netherlands); Revato B.V. (Netherlands); Scandinavian Mobility Medical Services B.V. (Netherlands); Invacare Australia Pty, Ltd.; Adaptive Switch Laboratories, Inc.; Adaptive Research Laboratories, Inc.; Garden City Medical; Hatfield Mobility Limited (New Zealand); Pro Med Equipment Pty, Ltd. (Australia); Pro Med Australia Pty, Ltd.; Invacare, S.A. (Spain); Invacare Holdings Two AB (Sweden); Invacare Holdings AB (Sweden); Invacare Holdings CV (Netherlands); Invacare Holdings BV (Netherlands); Invacare Verwaltungs GmbH (Germany); Invacare GmbH and Co. KG (Germany); Invacare Holdings Two BV (Netherlands); Invacare Holdings (New Zealand).

Principal Competitors: Sunrise Medical Inc.; Hillenbrand Industries, Inc.; Kinetic Concepts, Inc.; Graham-Field Health Products, Inc.

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