A Soldier in the War on Germs

Cantel Medical CEO Andrew Krakauer talks about his company’s healthy growth.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
BY JOAN VERDON
The Record
STAFF WRITER

Andrew Krakauer hasn’t been sick a day since joining Cantel Medical Corp. in Little Falls five years ago. And he’s helped the company achieve some pretty healthy growth, selling products that keep people well.

Cantel Medical is the parent company of separate divisions selling infection prevention products, surgical face masks, hand sanitizers, water purification equipment, and endoscope and dialysis equipment sterilization. The company had record sales of $260 million in fiscal 2009, and its net income jumped 79 percent, in part because of increased demand for products to prevent the spread of swine flu. Cantel is one of the largest U.S. makers of face masks.

Krakauer, 54, became president and chief executive officer in 2008, after he was hired as chief operating officer in 2004. He lives in Westfield with his wife and two children. (Interview condensed for space.)

Q. It sounds like your company, all the divisions, share one mission — the war on germs.

I’m so glad you said that. Our motto is: “Dedicated to infection prevention and control.” We are an infection prevention and control company. We’re one of the few, what I call, pure-play companies in the infection prevention and control market.

Q. Pure-play?

Meaning that’s all we do. Even what appear to be diverse businesses are all highly interrelated. For example, disinfectant chemistries tie our products together. The same product we call Renalin that’s disinfecting a dialyzer is called MinnCare and it’s cleaning a reverse osmosis membrane in our water business. It’s being fogged by some unique fog equipment and cleaning a clean room in a pharmaceutical plant, or being made in a ready-to-use version and being used as a surface disinfectant. So we have chemistry products that can go across all of our businesses.

Q. Would you say germs are good for business at Cantel?

I prefer to say that there’s a growing awareness of the need to protect yourself from infection and germs. The infection prevention and control market is a multibillion-dollar market worldwide. We don’t drive the market. We are a player in some segments and we see that growing indefinitely. I’m happy we have products that can prevent infections and help people stay safe. Our goal is to continue to look for solutions. We’ve just launched a mask with an antimicrobial coating called Biosafe, so when you touch the mask or you throw the mask away you’re not spreading germs. It also kills H1N1. We’ve launched that in more than 20 companies outside the U.S. We’re still waiting for the FDA to publish the guidelines for the term “antimicrobial” on a face mask.

Q. Do you think we’re going to reach the point in this country where everyone on the subway is wearing a face mask?

Let me say that I hope so, and I don’t just mean for business purposes. In the case of an H1N1 outbreak – or maybe even a more deadly flu – if you take a surgical mask like we make, and if every person wore a mask on an airplane, and every person wore a mask on the subway, it would dramatically prevent the spread. And if everybody wore it, then no one would feel uncomfortable wearing it.

Q. What do you do when you travel?

I travel with masks. I don’t want to put on a mask, but if there’s a person next to me who’s coughing or sneezing, I’ll put on a mask to protect myself. I really would rather that they wear the mask, because it’s more important that they wear it than I wear it. People wear masks all the time in Asia and it’s no big deal. If everybody when they got on an airplane was given a mask, nobody would have a problem.

Q. I guess we have to start that trend.

It’s going to take the government to do it. And right now the government is not ready to make that recommendation, partially because there aren’t anywhere near enough masks in the stockpile.

Are we at risk of running out of masks?

Demand far exceeds supply today. There was a strategic stockpile held by the government and it is almost completely depleted. They have not placed new orders because all the manufacturers of masks are basically selling to distributors who already have customers who want masks. They don’t want to make a bigger shortage in order to stockpile.

Q. With the swine flu scare, one topic that’s been in the media has been hand sanitizer abuse and overuse. Is that on your radar screen?

If you use certain hand sanitizers too much, it makes them [hands] dry. That’s why things like barrier creams, which is not a big product yet, might be the answer. You put on a cream, it protects the skin, it gives you some antimicrobial coating, and then you can put hand sanitizer over it a couple of times and it still protects. There is a question about some of these antimicrobials, their mechanism of kill could lead to superbugs. With our antimicrobial – Biosafe – the mechanism of kill is to destroy the cell, so there’s no chance of superbugs.

Q. You look like a pretty healthy, high-energy guy. Did you get a flu shot?

I get a flu shot every year. I had the flu once about seven or eight years ago, for the first time. I’m generally not a sick person. I’ve never missed a day since I’ve been here, over five years. But there was a weekend when I had the flu, about seven years ago, and I never felt so terrible in my life. From then on, I take the flu shot. I will take the H1N1 shot. It’s not been available in New Jersey.

Exec Access appears every Sunday. E-mail: verdon@northjersey.com

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