Source: Healio Interviews
Disclosures: Bosshard reports he has a financial interest as co-owner of Oertli Instrumente AG.
September 22, 2020
3 min read

Q&A: Andreas Bosshard reflects on long career at Oertli

Bosshard recently stepped down as chairman of the company's board of directors.

Source: Healio Interviews
Disclosures: Bosshard reports he has a financial interest as co-owner of Oertli Instrumente AG.
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Andreas Bosshard spent his first career as an electrical engineer working with satellite communications and early fiber optic telecommunications.

He embarked on his second career when he joined the small Swiss ophthalmic manufacturing company Oertli Instrumente AG in 1988. It was the first time he had heard the word “ophthalmology.” He was 45 years old.

Andreas Bosshard
Andreas Bosshard

In 1992, Bosshard took over ownership of the company, serving first as managing director and then 10 years as chairman of the board of directors. After a reorganization of the family-run business in January, Bosshard handed over the chairmanship to Andreas Schmidheini.

Ocular Surgery News spoke with Bosshard about his insights from his years of experience at Oertli and what he learned entering the ophthalmic industry as an outsider.

Q: What key takeaway lesson from your career can you share?

A: You always need a clear strategy, where you want to go and how to achieve it. You must implement it at all levels of the company as a long-term strategy. You cannot change strategy from one day to the next. The big advantage of a family company is that you do not have an investor who says, “We now have to increase the value of the company, we’re going to sell it in 2 years, or we need more profitability.”

Q: What achievement are you most proud of?

A: With my background in radiofrequency and microwave engineering, I contributed considerably to the early phases of bringing small, high-tech entities to international success. I am most proud of the small, portable high-performance phaco machine CataRhex, which I designed and which was brought to market in 1997. It is now in a third generation and contributes to bringing surgery to remote areas, making this kind of surgery affordable to many people in the world and to many young surgeons in the world.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you have had to face?

A: After the acquisition from Heinz Oertli in the early ’90s, the company was doing about 4 million Swiss francs of turnover with a mortgage of 8.5 million Swiss francs on a new building. The early ’90s were a disastrous time because interest rates in Switzerland went up to 8.5%. Looking back, that was probably the most difficult situation to master, but I did not realize it so much because I was just moving ahead and growing the market. Today’s group turnover is about 60 million Swiss francs but with no bank debt. In 2006, we got rid of the bank and are fully self-financed.

Q: How has the industry changed?

A: First, there has been an erosion of prices. Cataract surgery, vitreous surgery, retinal surgery and even now glaucoma surgery have become commodities. When I started this company, it was high tech, and lots of money was available for these things. This has changed entirely.

One remarkable thing is that, in the early phases of cataract surgery using ultrasound, the big business was the implants, the IOLs. That was the driving force and the money maker. Surgeons who wanted to apply this technique needed a phaco machine, and they got it, paid for by the implants. But implant prices have eroded, and this is no longer the model of business.

Even so, ultrasound phaco is the method of choice and will remain the method of choice. We have seen so many inventions and evolutions in phaco, and ultrasound phaco energy has proven itself as reliable and fast, with excellent outcomes.

Q: What advice would you give to your successor?

A: Keep it real and simple, uncomplex. This is an important message because we are getting paid only for the benefit we provide to patients and surgeons, not for the effort that goes into it. Less complexity means better profitability, and only with this profitability can you grow and invent new things. You should always look for simple solutions. That makes you strong in the market.

Q: What would you say to someone starting out in the medical device business?

A: When someone has a product idea, I ask three questions: First, does it bring benefit to the patient? Does it bring a benefit to the health care system? And does it bring a benefit to the business or industry? When you can answer these three questions with “yes,” then you have a chance of being successful.

Q: What impact has COVID-19 had?

A: The big challenge is staying in contact with your customers and with the market when traveling is limited. In the future, we will use more digital channels for communication with customers and develop new methods of training, teaching and so on. In hard times like this, you learn a lot, and you know that normal is not normal.