BUILDING A HEALTHY BUSINESS
Under Mills, Medline Industries continues its 45-year run of sales growth
By Daniel P. Smith
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in August 2005, the first helicopter helping in the relief effort came from Medline Industries, a Mundelein, Ill.-based healthcare supply company.
Medline used a rented chopper to make nearly 300 deliveries of medical supplies to the region. It was a move typical of the family-owned company, which was founded by A.L. Mills in 1910.
"People here feel like family, and that creates a positive, optimistic environment all around," says Andy Mills '85, the great-grandson of A.L. Mills and current president of Medline. Andy, along with his cousin Charlie Mills and brother-in-law Jim Abrams, are the fourth generation of Mills family members to lead the company, which was named among the "100 Best Places to Work in Healthcare" by Becker's Hospital Review. "Kellogg has delivered some of [Medline's] current leaders and some future ones, too," adds Mills, whose family holds strong ties to Northwestern University. His grandfather, father and wife earned degrees from NU, and his sister Wendy Abrams '90 is a Kellogg graduate.
The nation's largest privately held and fastest-growing healthcare supply company, Medline manufactures and distributes 125,000-plus products to more than 450 hospitals and healthcare systems around the world. It holds top-tier market share in more than a dozen major medical product categories, such as exam gloves and textiles. And it has achieved a remarkable, 45-year string of annual sales growth.
Under the current leadership team, Medline has blossomed from a 2,000-employee domestic operation with $675 million in annual sales into an international business with nearly 9,000 employees and $5 billion in revenue.
"There's a culture here of feeling like the underdog and wanting to hustle," Mills says. "That motivates those results."
After spending time in brand management at Procter & Gamble, Mills joined Medline in 1986, starting in the company's operating room (O.R.) product division and managing the company's marketing department. He rose to his current role as president in 1997.
Sensing opportunity to build upon the company's foundation, Mills has expanded Medline's O.R. and wound-care presence in the industry and, in a twist, purchased new assets.
Over the last decade, strategic acquisitions — all funded internally without debt — have allowed Medline to expand its product line to include durable equipment, anesthesia and bandages.
The acquisitions have also allowed the company to gain a stronger foothold in physicians' offices and life science facilities. And they've enabled Medline to enter the retail space. Today, Medline's line of products can be found at outlets including Walmart and Walgreens.
With an entrepreneurial spirit at its core, Medline also owns and licenses hundreds of proprietary products, patents and trademarks.
Remaining a family-owned business in an industry of public heavyweights, Mills says, affords Medline the agility to make the competitive long-term decisions that drive its success.
"From our distribution facilities and new products to acquisitions, we're focused on innovation for the long term," Mills says.