Monday, January 14, 2008

At JP Morgan, Stryker's Big Smile

As he strode to the podium in during last week’s JP Morgan investor conference in San Francisco, Stryker Corp. CEO Steve MacMillan was all smiles. Of course, most CEOs try hard to put on their happiest face at conferences like JP Morgan. But MacMillan—and Stryker—had particular reason to smile.

According to Mike Weinstein’s medtech team at JP Morgan, over the past two years, Stryker has been the second-best performing medical device stock, up 70% over that time. And 2007 was a particularly good year for the company; after divesting its slow-growing—and not particularly core--physical therapy business, the company seems likely to have recorded its seventh straight year of double digit sales growth (final 2007 numbers had not yet been reported by the time of the conference). MacMillan noted that only 14 companies in the Fortune 500 have achieved six straight years of double digit growth, and half of those are retail companies. Stryker’s 2007 year-end sales should reach $6 billion, double what it was five years ago.

Plus, in what was clearly the orthopedic industry’s biggest story of 2007—the settlement of the DOJ investigations into surgeon contracts—all orthopedics companies fared well, but Stryker may have come out smelling best. (See our take here.) Of all of the Big Ortho companies, it was the only one not to have had to pay under the settlement terms, a reward some say for playing a key role in the original investigation.

What next for Stryker? Apparently more of the same. MacMillan cited two priorities going forward: finding opportunities from some recent investments in the company’s sales force and in its R&D, spending on which increased nearly 20% in the past three years over the previous three years, and what he called “a disciplined assessment of potential future platforms.” What does that mean? Not clear. But at last year’s French Orthopedics meeting in February, the hot rumor was a reported acquisition of Smith & Nephew by Stryker. Nothing ever came of those rumors (At least nothing yet, and who knows?) But at JP Morgan, MacMillan himself seemed to suggest that Stryker wasn’t likely to pull off any big deal soon. He said that while Stryker is “opportunistically” looking for new technologies and new deals, the company “doesn’t need to do any deals.” Particularly big deals. Indeed, MacMillan, referring to his relatively recent assumption of the CEO post at Stryker, noted that some CEOs try to make an impact on a company right away by doing a major deal, only to find they’ve done a bad deal. It’s a temptation, he says, he’s strongly resisted and for now at least Stryker doesn’t seem to need.

For more from MacMillan, check out this interview from IN VIVO the Magazine.

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