Retiring Stryker Chairman John W. Brown reflects on the company’s phenomenal growth and the likelihood of returning to 20 percent a year

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PORTAGE — For three decades, one number has been synonymous with Stryker Corp.: 20 percent.

But the Kalamazoo medical technology company’s chairman, John W. Brown, said last week that it’s unlikely Stryker will return to 20 percent annual earnings growth any time soon.

“I’m not sure it’s appropriate today,” Brown said of his longtime standard for the company’s performance. “In today’s (economic) climate, it’s very difficult.”

Brown, who was Stryker’s chief executive officer from 1977 through 2004, announced Oct. 30 that he would step down as chairman of the company’s board of directors at the end of this year.

John W. Brown, glassesMark Bugnaski | Kalamazoo GazetteJohn W. Brown’s glasses lie on his desk. Brown was Stryker Corp. CEO from 1977 to 2004 announced last week that he will retire from the company at the end of this year.The 75-year-old Brown, who’s held the chairmanship since 1981, sat down with a Kalamazoo Gazette reporter last week in his Portage office to reflect on his 32 years with the company.

Brown joined Stryker after the death of L. Lee Stryker, company president and son of founder Dr. Homer Stryker. At the time, the company had sales of about $17 million a year and employed about 400 people.

Today, Stryker has annual sales of $6.7 billion and employs more than 17,000 around the world.
“The biggest accomplishment is we had the longest sustained profit growth of any medical technology company,” Brown said.

“I would want to be remembered as an individual that was involved in building Stryker from a little company … to really a giant in the medical technology field.”

Stryker has rarely failed to live up to Brown’s lofty standard. Between 1979 and 2007, the company increased annual per-share earnings by at least 20 percent every year but two. In 1998 and 1999, earnings growth was diminished by the $1.65 billion acquisition of Pfizer Inc.’s Howmedica division.

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