Bill McLaughlin, Sr.: Champion of the independents
A ‘passionate, mother bear’ for the independent distributor
A herder of cats, a dog with a bone, a visionary, a deep thinker, a man of compassion. All are terms that those who know him call Bill McLaughlin, CEO of IMCO, the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based co-op for medical supply distributors serving hospitals, nursing homes and home care. McLaughlin was recently inducted into the Medical Distribution Hall of Fame by Repertoire magazine, sister magazine to the Journal of Healthcare Contracting.
“I don’t think there’s anybody anywhere in the industry who feels more strongly about the independent distributor than Bill McLaughlin,” says Al Borchardt, Midland Medical, Lincoln, Neb., a long-time IMCO member.
“Bill has been the passionate, ‘mother bear’ for the independent distributor ever since I‘ve known him,” says Mike Marks, co-founder, Indian River Consulting Group. “If anyone criticizes independents, he gets his back up.”
McLaughlin himself is clear on what he considers his marching orders, and that of IMCO, to be: “Our mission is to be a vital part in helping our regional member distributors achieve success and be competitive with those that are on a national level, through solid relationships and programs with our vendor and distributor partners,” he says.
McLaughlin spent his early growing-up years in California. The family moved to Crystal Lake, Ill., northwest of Chicago, when he was in high school. In 1968, upon his graduation from Northern Illinois University, he went to work for Parke Davis (now Pfizer), an old-line pharmaceutical company, which also had a line of med/surg products, including gauze, dressings, instruments, gloves, drapes, even EKG machines.
While selling pharmaceuticals, McLaughlin found he enjoyed speaking with doctors and getting to know the market, and picking up selling skills. When the company (which was acquired by Warner-Lambert in 1970) split its sales force into med/surg and pharmaceuticals, he joined the med/surg side as a sales trainer, calling on hospitals, clinics and nursing homes in the Chicago area.
In 1975, he joined Zuck and Eaton, a regional med/surg distributor in Rockford, Ill., as vice president of sales and marketing. Following that, he became a regional manager for Medix, a Madison, Wis.-based full line distributor. (Medix was later purchased by Owens & Minor.) He was responsible for the Rochester, Minn., location, which included the Mayo Clinic.
Later, McLaughlin joined General Medical (now McKesson Medical-Surgical) as a regional manager in La Crosse, Wis. Later, he was given the opportunity to develop a Minneapolis branch. He met with success, and as a result was asked to work in the company’s corporate office in Richmond, Va., as director of physician marketing. Later, he became director of hospital and long-term-care marketing, and then assistant vice president, which primarily involved vendor relationships and acting as a liaison with distribution locations nationally.
It was at General Medical that McLaughlin got his first exposure to international business. He began to work with overseas companies – primarily Asian firms – to build on the distributor’s domestic private-label program. His experience in international negotiations caught the attention of Tsefong, a Taiwanese company whose factories were later relocated onto the Chinese mainland, which produced products on an OEM basis as well as under its own brand name – Ultimed. After eight years with General Medical, he joined Ultimed.
In 1989, he had an opportunity to join IMCO, which at the time had a staff of three, about 50 distributors, 90 vendors and combined sales of about $120 million. (Today, IMCO employs 21 people, has about 170 distributor locations, 212 vendors, and combined member sales of about $4 billion.)
“It was a great opportunity for me, because I could utilize my knowledge and relationships to support independent businesses across the United States and Canada, which I so strongly believe in,” he says.
Since assuming control of IMCO, McLaughlin has worked hard to grow the business while maintaining the original philosophy of the organization.
“IMCO has always been very selective in where we add members to minimize overlap substantially by trade class,” he says. “This allows us to operate more as a team. Consequently national promotions of our design, in addition to ongoing vendor programs…allow participating members and vendors to promote on a national level during select periods of time. With roughly 1,000 full-time member salespeople, we can make a substantial impact for participating manufacturers during the promotional periods. This allows IMCO members to participate as a national company, but with many locations offering local and regional service to the targeted providers.”
McLaughlin continues to pursue growth wherever he and his members perceive opportunity.
For example, in August 2013, IMCO named PSS veteran Bob McCart as its vice president of national accounts. “Bob’s addition, together with support from Suzanne Lord [vice president, sales and marketing, Med/Surgical Information Services International] and our state-of-the-art software, mean IMCO is well-positioned to take advantage of national account opportunities,” he says. “This includes old-style national accounts using various member locations across the country to service regional and national providers of various trade classes with common pricing and terms.”
He is also excited about IMCO Home Care, a recent initiative intended to offer independent home care providers competitive pricing, products and services, such as education, compliance, financing and marketing. IMCO Home Care includes HME/DME providers as well as hospice and VNA operations.
The future is bright for IMCO and for independent distributors, says McLaughlin, noting that independents maintain about 45 percent of the physician market business and more than 50 percent of the long-term-care market. Yet they face challenges as well.
“The challenges include adapting to [the Affordable Care Act], changes in technology, and getting out of silos and operating as a team. The more we all pull together, the more strength we have in negotiations and in promotional activity, the more benefits we can provide our customers, and the greater the profits for our membership and our supportive vendors. The greatest challenge – and our greatest opportunities – include continued penetration into the lab and equipment markets, expanded redistribution opportunities, and greater national account support.”
Tough – but fair – negotiator
“One of McLaughlin’s greatest strengths is his tenacity as a negotiator, says Al Wicks, CEO, C&S Medical Supply Inc., West Reading, Pa., and an IMCO board member since 1984. He listens to his distributor members and lets them set the agenda.
“Over the years, the board members and I have known that Bill is very loyal to people,” continues Wicks. “It’s not always about getting the best price. It’s about loyalty. Over the years, he has done everything he can for certain manufacturers who’ve had troubles.”
McLaughlin’s passion comes out in everything he does, including negotiations, says Ken Mosher, Omni International Corp. Mosher first met McLaughlin in the mid-1970s, when Mosher was selling exam gloves for Tillotson, and McLaughlin was at Zuck and Eaton.
“I never walked out of a meeting feeling Bill got the upper hand. I don’t think he looks for that. Instead, he looks for that balance between negotiating the best possible price and helping [the manufacturer] promote products.” McLaughlin brought that same passion and fairness to the table when he was on the manufacturing side, adds Mosher.
“Bill is very, very strong at negotiating,” says Al Borchardt, Midland Medical. “He has a sharp mind on the whole thing; he knows how to get through it; he can take a look, identify the problem and come up with a solution. The vendor leaves [the table] knowing that it is a two-way street. It has to be; everybody has to benefit, or else it’s not a good deal.”
Ask Bill McLaughlin about mentors, and he names several:
- Roy Childrey, to whom McLaughlin reported for a time when he was senior vice president of sales at General Medical.
- Glen Radabauch, McLaughlin’s first manager at Parke Davis.
- George Crispin, his med/surg manager at Parke Davis in Chicago.
- Jack Richards, owner, Medix.
- Author and sales trainer Og Mandino.
Of Childrey he says, “Roy taught me the value of history and reinforced the value of the independent dealer, all at a time when GM operations and sales were being centralized.”
Glen Radabauch “was a believer in developing selling skills,” he says. “Thanks to his tutelage, I was able to grow within the sales ranks and become a sales trainer for the company.” He exposed McLaughlin to the five rules of selling: attention, interest, desire, conviction and close.
George Crispin “was a little less by-the-book than Glen,” he says. “But he was really good on planning, how to work with accounts, understanding the power shifts [within accounts]. Anything but pricing; pricing was the last thing we did.”
Jack Richards “was very smart, a strategist,” says McLaughlin. It was Richards who gave McLaughlin a chance to develop the company’s branch in Rochester, Minn. The Medix owner was demanding. “If you were in a military operation, you couldn’t find a better guy [to be with] than Jack. He knew the rules and knew how to win – but it was all above-board, ethical, honest. He was a very, very good negotiator. I took very careful notes. I felt I was a neophyte in martial arts dealing with a master.”
McLaughlin also owes a debt to late writer and speaker Og Mandino, author of The Greatest Salesman in the World. “The ten sacred scrolls in the book say it better than any book I’ve ever read on the subject.” JHC