John McGuire was crucial in advancing the professionalism of distribution firms and their sales reps. He was educated as an architect at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. But when it came time to pursue a career, he chose medical sales, becoming the third sales rep hired by Foster McGaw at American Hospital Supply Corp.
In 1952, he left American to buy a faltering local Chicago supplier named Central Surgical. He promptly renamed it Colonial Hospital Supply, with the connotation of hard work and high ethics. (When he founded a subsidiary to focus on medical electronics equipment, he named it “Sentry,” calling to mind the Minutemen of Revolutionary War-era New England.)
McGuire emphasized professionalism at all times, and demanded that his people dress and act professionally. At the same time, he is recognized as encouraging his people and creating opportunities for them to succeed.
In 1981, Colonial purchased five Upper Midwest facilities of Will Ross, a national distributor of the time, doubling the number of employees and sales. Fourteen years later, in 1995, Colonial expanded into the non-hospital market. That same year, the company was sold to Bergen Brunswig.
As he encouraged his own people, so too did McGuire encourage his peers. Always wearing a bow tie, McGuire was a mainstay at the American Surgical Trade Association gatherings. He served as the association’s chairman in 1978 and played a role in its metamorphosis into the Health Industry Distributors Association. He also was a vocal advocate of the health industry number system.
Haworth Parks was a strong, decisive leader for his own company – Nashville, Tenn.-based Parks Inc. – and the industry at large. Born in 1926, Parks played basketball at Vanderbilt University. Upon graduating in 1949, he went to work for Nashville Surgical. Fifteen years later, he and some partners founded a hospital distribution company.
Parks quickly matured from successful (but financially unsophisticated) salesperson to savvy financial leader. He was an early advocate of computerization and electronic data interchange. His sales reps were among the first to take orders on handheld devices, then download them through the phone lines to the company’s computer.
After focusing on hospitals, Parks turned the company into a physician distributorship. At its height, Parks Inc. totaled between $4 million and $5 million in sales.
Generous with his time and ideas, Parks served as chairman of the Health Industry Distributors Association in 1988. It was a critical time for the organization, which had changed its name from the American Surgical Trade Association to HIDA six years earlier, and had only recently moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Parks felt that the association needed a full-time CEO, preferably someone with industry experience. He persuaded Jim Stover, who had recently sold his company, Alco Standard, to General Medical, to become HIDA’s CEO.
Later, Parks became chairman of ABCO Dealers, the distributor buying group. ABCO was facing some challenges of its own, not the least of which was consolidation in the industry. Parks concluded that Milwaukee-based ABCO needed to make some changes, including a move to Nashville. As he had at HIDA, Parks recruited Stover to head up the organization.
In 1997, at age 71 Parks sold his company to General Medical.