This interview was conducted in November 2023 and published in the Bonebridge Newsletter (issue Q4 2023).
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE FROM?
I was born and grew up in Flumental, a small farming village in Switzerland. The farmhouses and surrounding forest, creek and river were our free-of-charge adventure park. There was even a small hill for sledging and skiing in the winter; but of course, there was no ski lift and we had to earn every short downhill race with a long walk up that hill. Growing up in that environment also meant being part of an extended family of sorts: The farmers’ older sons taught me things like driving a tractor or milking a cow at a very young age. Through them, I understood the meaning of hard work. When I was 12, I started to earn my own money in the local cheese factory, and in the summers, I volunteered for a farmer’s family in the Swiss Alps. Later, my striving for independence and my hunger to see the world made me complete a commercial apprenticeship.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE MEDICAL DEVICE INDUSTRY, AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO AUSTRALIA?
After I had worked in bookkeeping for a few years, a friend of mine pointed out a sales and marketing job at a Swiss medical distributor. On my first day on the job, the owner told me: “The first thing you sell is yourself. Always be inquisitive, honest, and enjoy what you do.” It’s something that has stuck with me over the years. The learning curve with that job was quite steep – suddenly I was talking to surgeons about the importance of bracing after ACL reconstruction or rotator cuff repair. It was a wonderful time – I was barely twenty-two, had an expense account and was driving through Switzerland in a brand-new Peugeot 307 station wagon. I subsequently took over the wound care product management at Smith & Nephew. Working more internationally for the next three years ignited my desire to widen my horizon further. I then became an international junior product manager for the knee portfolio at Mathys. I was thrilled to go into the OR at the Zieglerspital and observe my first total knee replacements with Ulrich Wehrli. At that time, Mathys started to investigate shoulder replacements. I was tasked to review an initial business plan and was honored to become responsible for the new portfolio. At the same time, Mathys acquired Keramed and I got a “shoulder buddy” in Frank Dallmann, who’s an amazing engineer and friend. From 2002–2012, we built the Affinis portfolio together, which became leading products in many countries and a very important part of Mathys’s success. In 2005, I traveled to Australia to support the team with the launch of the shoulder products. After many subsequent discussions, I was asked to move to Australia with my family for a couple of years to help the team grow the business. With Hugo Mathys taking back the CEO position and some early wins, we quickly agreed that more could be achieved, and I was honored with the task to manage the Asia Pacific business from October 2014 onwards. Putting a lot of emphasis on training and education, the Australian surgeons and team did a fantastic job in improving the registry results and helping us triple the turnover in a few years to become the fourth largest Mathys subsidiary.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST HEAR ABOUT BONEBRIDGE AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE COMPANY?
The first sign of life I got was through a few posts on LinkedIn popping up in my feed that were liked by Drs. Jonathan Spycher and Matthias Zumstein. I have known both for many years and was intrigued to have a closer look at the Bonebridge portfolio and activities. Once I had spoken to a few surgeons in Europe and Australia, I got in touch with Christof Gerber to see if there was any interest to start a business in Australia and New Zealand. Being part of a passionate team that is building a business and portfolio has always been my driving force. With Bonebridge, I felt that passion from the very beginning in my interactions with the management and board. Obviously, the Bonebridge network of highly skilled surgeons was also an important factor: I have always enjoyed Professor Christian Gerber’s presentations at the many international conferences I attended over the years, and it’s fantastic to be on the same team now. With regards to the portfolio, I was especially attracted to the Tamina TF. To me, the plate shows how the simplest ideas are often the best – anatomic repositioning is key in fracture healing. And, finally, I was drawn to the way the business and product promotion looks. It’s a great idea to anchor products in customers brains through associations. Synapses love building bridges!
HOW DOES THE ORTHOPAEDIC TRAUMA MARKET IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND DIFFER FROM THAT IN EUROPE OR THE US?
The main difference to Europe is that most customers expect us to be in the OR to assist with the logistics part of the surgery as well as offer tips and tricks. In contrast to some parts of Europe, there has also never been a split between “Trauma and Orthopaedics”, as far as I know, and the training is set up in a similar way to the UK. Like in the US, fellowships play a more important part here than in Central Europe. Another important difference from the point of view of logistics is that many surgeons operate in three to five hospitals across public and private clinics.
WHY SHOULD BONEBRIDGE BE EXPLORING THIS MARKET RIGHT NOW?
Some of the positive indicators I see are that surgeons can still mostly make their own decisions. Also, the increasing population linked with reduced training hours for surgeons will increasingly favor solutions that reduce complexity and thus improve economies of scale in the OR and adjunct services like cleaning, sterilization, or logistics. Cost and time pressure are increasing in all markets – hence I think the Bonebridge concept comes at just the right moment. The Bonebridge network is another major asset: Being able to exchange knowledge, conduct high-quality education, and thus build bridges between Australia/New Zealand, the US and Switzerland is key in terms of helping surgeons perform the best surgery possible.
WHERE DO YOU SEE POTENTIAL CHALLENGES?
The main challenge will be to bring our implants and instruments on the shelves in hospitals to get them used consistently. Bonebridge is a late market entrant, so we will have to work hard to convince the right surgeons to start using our implants to have a good flow on effect to win customers through teaching and other activities. Also, the regulatory requirements are ever increasing, which is why a good setup with regards to quality management, compliance, and vigilance at our headquarters in Switzerland is of utmost importance. I must say that I’m very impressed by what the Bonebridge team has achieved already!
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE SPECIFIC SETUP OF OUR OPERATIONS IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND?
To begin with, we are setting up a hybrid model in Australia with direct employees in the three main states New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. Also, since Australia is 188 times larger than Switzerland, we will be supplementing our activities with agents throughout the country. In New Zealand, coverage is also very important – the country is seven times larger than Switzerland, with a very widespread community. Therefore, we’re working on engaging a distributor with staff throughout the country. The plan for both countries is to have a strong logistics partner who will also look after our stock management – “reducing complexity” is also a guiding factor in this setup.
WHERE DO WE STAND RIGHT NOW, AND WHAT ARE OUR MAJOR GOALS FOR 2024?
We have already founded Bonebridge Australia Pty. Ltd and will soon do the same in New Zealand. We should receive the TGA listing certification for Australia in the first quarter of 2024 and are applying for private hospital price listing in January. Once we have TGA registration, surgeons can use the implants in public hospitals; the private hospital price listing should be achieved in July of next year. Registration in New Zealand is much less complicated and can be done within a short period of time. By the time this newsletter is printed, we have hopefully already had the first surgeries in New Zealand and are close to completing TGA registration in Australia – I’d say those are our first milestones. Our aim then is to establish reference centers in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and establish a good level of training for starting surgeons. In terms of trade shows, we plan on participating in the national shoulder and elbow meeting SESA in October to present papers and participate in journal clubs, trainings, and other activities. Hopefully Professor Christian Gerber and CEO Christof Gerber will be able to join the meeting to personally introduce Bonebridge on site.
YOU HAVE WORKED AND LIVED IN AUSTRALIA WITH YOUR FAMILY FOR OVER TEN YEARS – WHAT DOES YOUR LIFE LOOK LIKE OUTSIDE OF WORK?
Australians are a very welcoming bunch of people and we felt “at home” here very quickly. We have always lived around the Northern Beaches in Sydney, in proximity to both the beach and the city. As the kids have grown older, we have moved closer and closer to the beach and are now living in Manly. Sporting activities have always been very high on the priority list in my family. Lia, our daughter, got really into athletics, and our son Manuel into soccer. “Mum and Dad Taxi” isn’t just a word here – we used to drive long hours on the weekends to different sporting events. With the kids more independent and our daughter studying in Switzerland, I now spend my free time walking our Australian Shepherd with my wife, catching up with friends over a coffee, reading books, eating out, catching a wave with my longboard whilst trying not getting smashed too hard – or smashing someone else in the process – and regular tennis matches with friends, which usually include a lot of banter.