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D&AD Awards Special Section

Body parts business

Elite Surgical MD John O'Toole has been an entrepreneur for four decades in a field few would think possible in SA: the design and manufacture of orthopaedic and arthroplasty (joint replacement) devices. He became an entrepreneur almost by chance.

The kickstart came when O'Toole, a mechanical engineer specialising in scientific instrument design and manufacture, met orthopaedic surgeon Charl Grobbelaar "We had no business plan but wanted to manufacture hip implant devices in SA," says O'Toole. "No-one thought it was possible, but we went ahead and in 1973 established Elite Surgical"

Grobbelaar, who retired in 2008, and O'Toole proved it could be done. "We have scored a number of world firsts such as a full rotational knee joint," says O'Toole. "We are now doing groundbreaking work on spinal cages and have a product that will be a world beater for the next couple of years."

Elite Surgical has proved capable of taking on giants in its field. Competitors, says O'Toole, include Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Smith & Nephew and Stryker. Its products have full approval from the US Food & Drug Administration and EU authorities and Elite Surgical exports extensively, he adds.

But it has not always been plain sailing. In the late 1970s Elite Surgical became a unit of SA Druggists and following the latter's insolvency was bought by J&J. When J&J left SA in 1984, O'Toole and Grobbelaar again became Elite Surgical's sole owners.

Macmed came into the picture in 1997 when it acquired the company. "It was a sad involvement," says O'Toole. It ended with Macmed's liquidation in October 1999 and O'Toole's repurchase of Elite Surgical, of which he was still MD.

After almost 40 years at Elite Surgical's helm, O'Toole has no plans to change its course. "It is all about local manufacture," he says. "It has always been my mission."

Source: Financial Mail


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