Q&A with Brandon Medical

NFU Mutual sponsored the small business category of the British Chambers of Commerce's 2015 Chamber Awards.

One of the regional winners was Brandon Medical, a Leeds-based medical technology company. Here Brandon Medical's Joint Managing Director Graeme Hall answers a few questions about the award-winning business.

Graeme Hall, managing director of Brandon Medical

Q. Who are Brandon Medical?

Brandon Medical is a med-tech business focused on designing and manufacturing medical equipment for operating theatres and critical care. Our products include operating theatre lights, examination lights, medical services pendants, special medical power supplies, control systems for operating theatres and medical video systems.

Q. How did it all begin?

The original business incorporated in 1946 as an electrical business but started to specialise in doing work for medical companies, making components then eventually complete products for them. In the early '60s Brandon Medical started to make its own products including operating theatre lights.

The business got into financial difficulties in 1993, which is when we bought the trading business from the receivers. After stabilising the business we started to design new products and extend the product range so that we could supply complete packages of equipment for operating theatres and intensive care suites.

Q. What has been your biggest success to date?

We won a €1million European Commission research grant into high colour rendition LED lighting.  We were the lead partner in a consortium of three research bodies, three companies and an NHS trust. The project successfully developed our patented HD-LED lighting technology which is now installed in our Quasar eLite surgical lights.

It’s unusual for an SME to be able to invest such a large amount of cash and substantial technical expertise into a product and it’s enabled us to produce a world class product that we’re now selling over the globe.

Q. What's the best advice you have received?

“A customer is only a customer if he pays his bill”

The reality of this is that you have to take care to ensure the business gets paid in a timely manor and to manage your cash flow. 

Q. What is the biggest risk that you face?

The biggest risk is competition, particularly cheap products from China. We continually innovate to ensure we have better products and to build our reputation for excellent customer service, which in healthcare is incredibly important.

Q. How challenging would it be for the business if you were to lose key members of staff?

Losing key staff is always challenging for any business, even big ones. When it happens, you have to just get on with things. We’ve invariably filled such vacuums with people who are better than the person who left so although it is painful at the time, we’ve ended up with a stronger team.

Q. How do you rate the region where you are based in terms of business opportunities?

Leeds is a good place for a healthcare business. There are over 200 medical companies in the area who are well networked through Medilink, our regional trade organisation. The city is very supportive and sees healthcare as a strategic asset that it wants do develop.

The only limitation is the poor transport infrastructure which is increasingly inadequate, particularly the M62 and the trans-Pennine trains.

Q. How do you remain at the forefront of innovation?

Innovation is important to us and has always been a key focus, probably because we’re all engineers and it’s what we are interested in. We have good systems for monitoring our competitors, scoping new technologies and we’re good at thinking up new solutions.

We’ve got a written strategy and procedures for innovation but, to be frank, we’re an innovative company because it’s embedded in our culture, not because of what’s written down.

Q. What industry trends will play a role in shaping your future business?

There’s been a significant stream of merger and acquisition activity with large US med-tech companies buying up competitors. This has been good for us as there are always high quality distributors of medical equipment being displaced who need new suppliers. We signed up 16 new partners from one mega merger alone which has substantially strengthened our distribution across the whole of Asia.

Our exports are growing strongly and not just in Asia, with about half of our production being exported. Increasing our exports is a core strand of our growth strategy where we see steady growth in healthcare demand.

Q. Your business has won numerous awards over the years, what do you think these successes demonstrate?

Winning awards for us is a way of demonstrating that we are a successful medical technology business. The majority of our awards are for innovation and technology and these have reinforced our brand equity in the UK and also overseas.

Winning an award is great for staff morale and for publicity but there’s a much bigger value to the business in winning lots of awards over a long period of time. It helps reinforce our innovation culture, makes us look for new ideas and inventions and want to keep doing it over and over again. When I talk to customers, they are invariably impressed by the number and range of awards and it’s clear to them that a lot of different people think we are very good at what we do.  I can’t think of a better way to build our brand.