New Altimate Medical CEO: “This Industry Is Unique”

Paul Hickey’s official introduction to the Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) industry came on March 2. That was the day that Altimate Medical announced Hickey as its new President/CEO.

Paul Hickey

Paul Hickey

March 2 was also the start of the 2020 International Seating Symposium in Vancouver, B.C. Hickey’s introduction to the industry included greeting the clinicians and assistive technology suppliers who visited Altimate Medical’s booths at the Westin Bayshore.

It was quite the fast start, even for a medical industry veteran like Hickey.

CRT As a Unique Industry

Hickey succeeded Todd Tholkes, who retired after 32 years with Altimate Medical, going back to the manufacturer’s 1987 founding.

Hickey has more than 25 years’ experience in medical device industries, including roles in marketing, R&D, clinical and health economics/reimbursement, according to the news announcement of his hiring. Most recently, Hickey served as President/CEO of Vertebral Technologies, Inc., manufacturer of devices used in spinal surgeries.

But Hickey still has found some uniqueness upon joining Altimate Medical and the CRT industry. And he observed those differences right away, starting at the ISS.

“A few impressions that I was struck with right off the bat,” Hickey told Mobility Management, “is that this industry is unique in terms of the clinicians who serve the end user. The companies that compete in this market have a common mission. On top of that, it’s really sort of friendly competition [within CRT]. It’s striking how many people have been in this industry for decades, and everybody knows everybody, and it’s a professional, friendly, collegial environment. It’s rare to find, and it was a surprise to me and a blessing from that standpoint.”

Hickey said he spent the ISS absorbing as much as he could from attendees and enjoying their conversations in Altimate Medical’s booths.

“They came up in gangs, three or four of them,” Hickey recalled of booth visitors. “And they said, ‘We’ve been trying out products; can we try out yours?’ One of the clinicians would get in [an Altimate standing frame] and they’d take notes and talk and go to another booth and try another one. So it was a meeting where they weren’t just listening to the papers being presented. They also wanted to make informed decisions about what products they were going to use to help their patients.”

While Hickey is a tradeshow veteran, he’s seen plenty of conference attendees who, upon venturing into the exhibit hall, mostly stay in the aisles. At the ISS, he saw attendees who behaved very differently.

“The broader takeaway was just that this is an everyone-is-energetic-and-willing-to-engage industry,” he said. “Our booth was very active with clinicians trying our equipment, and that makes it fun. I would talk to clinicians about everything that I could and learn as much as possible. For that week, I was also trying to determine where Altimate really sat in the minds of, ultimately, the care providers. It was very engaging and upbeat in terms of the clinicians that are really trying to help the end user. On top of the friendly, family feeling within the industry at this show, the other thing that struck me is that the clinicians that came by were super engaged, super happy, thankful for the product and how it’s really impacted their jobs and ultimately the patients that they take care of.”

A History of Industry Experts

Altimate Medical Holdings Inc. (AMHI) currently comprises not just Altimate Medical and its flagship standing frames, but also ActiveAid, which manufactures bath/hygiene accessibility equipment, and Medical Positioning Inc., which manufactures positioning tables for diagnostic imaging procedures.

Hickey describes AMHI companies as “success stories that you don’t find very often.”

New CEOs are often brought in to right a company’s wrongs, but Hickey took the reins of AHMI while knowing this is already a successful group of companies with strong reputations.

He described Altimate Medical as a “gem,” explaining, “You can come on board and you don’t have to worry about the leadership team. I don’t have to worry about the products being good, I don’t have to worry about the customers and the clinicians being unhappy — that’s typically what I run into. And this is the opposite — we have an experienced team, best-in-class products, and strong clinician advocates.”

Creating New Priorities & Possibilities

Altimate Medical’s ongoing success was a factor in his decision to become AMHI’s new CEO, Hickey said: “I look for a couple of things with roles, and a major one is the team. I’m just part of the team and trying to stay out of their way and lead them in ways that I feel would be best for the employees, the business, and the people our products serve.”

Altimate Medical has long been a passionate advocate for standing technology and its many benefits, from preserving and improving range of motion and respiration, to aiding digestion and scoliosis management, to providing pressure relief. And for years, the manufacturer has educated the many stakeholders in CRT, from clinicians and suppliers to consumers, caregivers, referral sources, and funding sources.

So where does Altimate Medical go from here? And what are Hickey’s first priorities?

“It’s really about turning it up a notch and getting into a high-performance mode from an R&D and design and development standpoint,” he said. “That’s been one of my wheelhouses in the past: commercialization and how to get a commercialization mindset with everyone in the company, from the engineering team to the marketing team to the quality team and making sure everyone knows their roles. Moving that as fast as you can go, but going slow enough that when you launch a product, you’re on target.

“We will be spending a lot of time getting our strategic plan in place, which is really going to outline the most critical priorities we have in terms of internal product development and commercialization, as well as we’re going to look aggressively for strategic partnerships and products to acquire, because we think we’re a good framework to build upon what we have currently.”

But Hickey is also mindful of the corporate culture that has been the foundation of Altimate’s success thus far.

“I’ve been at billion-dollar companies,” Hickey said. “A part of my mission, and I’ve told this to the group, is not to mess up this company’s culture. I want to have big-company know-how, but small-company feel. The feel part of it is teamwork and responsiveness: It’s a sense of urgency, it’s as if you’re at a different cadence and more teamwork than at a large company. There are some cultural components that are hugely important if not more important than the strategies that we’re putting together for the next several years.”

A Good Match

When he took over as CEO, Hickey said he told Tholkes, “Over 70 percent of the startups that try to do something that he and his brother originally did, fail. They’ve done such a great job to get to where they are. It’s a great team, and they really learned through the school of hard knocks while being out there [in the standing segment] alone. They’ve found their way through all those obstacles to be successful.

“It’s a blessing for me to take the job, to take this role. To walk into a role like this and have a team and have products, to have an engine that really seems to be working really well, is sort of unheard of.”

Hickey added that Altimate’s involvement in CRT advocacy and lobbying for access to standing equipment will remain a high priority.

“I want to be involved as much as I can in my position and with company resources that are appropriate to help carry that forward and amplify our advocacy,” he said.

And to any CRT stakeholders who wonder how the new CEO will change Altimate or its brands, Hickey said, “First and foremost, I’m thrilled and ecstatic to be part of this industry. I hope any apprehension that they may have toward me or what I could potentially do in terms of setting Altimate back any in the progress they’ve made will be resolved very quickly as they continue to use our product and reach out to us if they have any ideas, concerns, or just want to understand what’s going on. I will ensure we continue to commercialize the products that they’ve become accustomed to receiving from us and making sure that they’re the highest quality and that they make their jobs of improving lives easier.

“I would say to the OTs, the PTs and ATPs to expect Altimate to continue to provide the highest quality of products, to expect nothing less, and to continue to partner with us to help make this happen.”

Hickey said he looks forward to helping Altimate Medical get to the next level “without necessarily knowing what that is yet. That’s the fun part for me. I’m having fun 24/7.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.