Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., companies across the country have stepped up to help support affected individuals, from frontline workers to patients. One such company is ZOLL Medical, a Massachusetts-based medical device manufacturer. While ZOLL’s core business centers around defibrillators, the company shifted its focus to a smaller segment once the crisis hit – its ventilator division, through which it has drastically scaled up production. We recently spoke with Jon Rennert, the company’s CEO, about how ZOLL was able to quickly ramp up ventilator production to help fight COVID-19, what the future of the office may look like and leadership through crisis.
Brown Brothers Harriman: Tell us about your personal and professional background. What road led you to ZOLL?
Jon Rennert: I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering and started my career in aerospace engineering, working for General Electric and United Technologies. Eventually, I shifted into the laboratory and life science arena, which brought me closer to medical technology. I was recruited to join ZOLL Medical in 2008 as the head of what is now our resuscitation business, which produces defibrillators and is what we are best known for. I became CEO in 2016.
BBH: Talk about the history of ZOLL and how it has evolved to today.
JR: ZOLL has been around for almost 40 years. We were founded by Dr. Paul Zoll, a physician who in the 1950s was the first to externally pace and defibrillate the human heart. This invention, the external pacemaker, was the company’s first product. We’ve built off of that, and today we are the largest manufacturer of external defibrillators in the world.
Much of our advancements have been driven by critical innovation and the desire to help patients with better therapies. Sudden cardiac death is a big health problem. Every year, it costs hundreds of thousands of people their lives in the U.S. and millions around the world. But in many cases, it’s treatable if people can get rapid early defibrillation, high-quality CPR and good post-resuscitation care. There are a lot of lives to be saved, and ZOLL’s mission is to develop innovative technologies that help the clinicians, doctors and first responders who treat these patients improve the chances of survival.
BBH: How has your business been affected by and adapted to the current health crisis?
JR: As I mentioned, our company’s roots are in this narrow category of sudden cardiac death. As we’ve grown and invested in adjacent technologies over the years, we’ve broadened our focus to other acute critical diseases – those that are time-sensitive, meaning minutes or hours may matter, and critical, meaning they are life-threatening. Beyond sudden cardiac arrest, we’re now focused on other conditions such as acute heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and sepsis. That’s where COVID-19 comes in. It’s a life-threatening, rapid-onset disease that has huge numbers of affected patients, so some of the same technologies that are useful in cardiac arrest or heart attack – such as mechanical ventilation – are appropriate here as well. As a result, our technologies have received a lot of interest from hospitals seeking more equipment to treat large numbers of patients. It’s great for us to be able to help. Our people want to make a difference.
We’re primarily thought of as a defibrillator company, but we also make products for induced hypothermia, which is used for fever control. We also acquired a small ventilator company a few years ago. That had been a relatively small part of our business, but when we read the media reports in mid-March about this looming ventilator shortage crisis, we leapt into action and started exploring how to dramatically increase our production of these devices. We’re now focused on trying to scale up our ventilator output by a factor of 25 within a few months.