BROWARD EDITION OF THE MIAMI HERALD
Catheter Company Puts its Heart into Developing Business Abroad
By SHARI HENNESSY FERRER
By his own estimate, Howard Leonhardt has helped treat more than 60,000 patients with heart disease - but he's not a doctor. He is president and founder of World Medical Manufacturing, a maker and wholesaler in Sunrise of catheters for diagnosing, monitoring and treating cardiovascular diseases.
Since it opened in 1988, World Medical has sold more than 60,000 balloon catheters to 200 distributors in 65 countries. Last year, that translated into a record $1.15 million in revenues. However, the $334,000 gross profit for the year melted into a $26,000 loss after taxes and research and development were factored in.
Leonhardt, however, remains positive. With 95 percent of his business coming from outside the United States, he expects business to expand, especially in developing countries.
"It's important for medical niche devices. On any given day, there may only be 10 patients in all of Miami who need our product," Leonhardt said. "The developing countries in health care are very important. As the quality of life increases, one of the first things they're demanding is... quality health care."
Foreign business is keeping World Medical's 30 employees busy. Leonhardt said the company has 6,000 heart catheters on order. With production capabilities at 2,000 units a month, that should keep workers busy through June.
Leonhardt, 33, started his own business after working for another medical equipment exporter for several years. In 1986, he formed World Medical Corp., which exported catheters manufactured by other companies.
In 1988, while still operating World Medical Corp., he and two other investors, Richard Spencer, 58, and Ken Durbin, 59, pooled $80,000 to form World Medical Manufacturing, which developed and sold only its own products.
Spencer, who acts as a senior adviser to World Medical Manufacturing, gives Leonhardt all the credit for making the new venture successful.
"He's been the driving force. He's put his heart into it," he said. "Without Howard, there wouldn't even be a shadow of this company."
The business graduated from animal testing to marketing within two years. In January 1990, a Japanese distributor, Nippon Zeon, demonstrated its confidence by buying a 10 percent interest in the company for $300,000. ~The deal also gave Nippon Zeon 10-year exclusive distribution rights in Japan.
That's when Leonhardt decided to close-World Medical Corp. and concentrate on his own products.
"'The entire development of the company has been quite a struggle," said Leonhardt, who has lowered the rejection rate to 1 percent. "It was quite modest in the beginning."
His next goal is to quadruple its U.S. business to 20 percent this year. To that end, the company has reclaimed its domestic marketing efforts, which were formerly handled by a New York firm, and hired more domestic distributors, such as Jim Knaggs, owner of Knaggs Medical Specialties in Gainesville.
Working with Leonhardt for about a month, Knaggs has already visited two dozen hospitals in Florida, Alabama 'and southern Georgia. Three have signed on for World Medical Manufacturing's products;
"It's a major, major, major business. It's in the millions in the state of Florida alone," he said.
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