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Issue Date: October 15, 2005, Posted On: 10/15/2005


Krishnan Suthanthiran

Variety spices up executive’s life
From medical devices to video to buying a town

 


By Naomi Grossman

 

Company: Best Medical International
Position: President
Education: Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
Age: 56

SPRINGFIELD, Va. — After nearly three decades of quietly amassing a small fortune, Krishnan Suthanthiran is starting to make some noise.

First, as president of Best Medical International, the medical devices company he founded in 1977, Suthanthiran has made a number of acquisitions over the past two years that have more than tripled the size of his company to 250 employees and given it an international presence.

Then Suthanthiran bought a video production company in Vancouver, Canada.

Most recently, in perhaps the most audacious of all his moves, Suthanthiran bought Kitsault, a small town in a remote corner of western Canada that has been long-abandoned since mining companies closed up their operations there.

"Life is a combination of idealism and realism," said Suthanthiran.

Suthanthiran's life certainly seems to have elements of both, with the first part of his 56 years heavily weighted towards the realistic part. He grew up in Tamil Nadu, the son of a grocer. According to the Indo-Asian News Service — in a story that has been picked up by numerous media outlets — Suthanthiran's family was too poor to send him to college even though he had been at the top of his class in high school. Eventually, the father of a friend gave Suthanthiran the money to attend college.

From there it was on to Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, in 1969 for a postgraduate scholarship to study mechanical engineering. Suthanthiran received his master's degree there and then stayed on in Canada to work in a hospital as a medical engineer. From there, he went to Washington, D.C., to make medical devices with an oncologist and then the "logical choice," said Suthanthiran, was to start his own company.

"The idea of doing something was always there," he said.

Best Medical's focus is on radiation therapy products, such as catheters and needles. 

The company sells exclusively to hospitals and Suthanthiran, who funded the company's formation himself, said that most of the products — many of which he designed — are unique and highly specialized.

Growth was steady and slow at Best Medical and, up until about two years ago, the company had 90 employees and no real international presence.

It was then that Suthanthiran said he realized that he either needed to sell the company or focus on its growth. First came a collaboration with the Arplay Group in France. The company develops products for radiation therapy and the deal involved an agreement between the companies to market each other's products globally.

A series of acquisitions followed, first of Nashville, Tenn.-based CNMC Company Inc., a medical devices company with a similar focus on radiation therapy, and more recently Thompson Nielsen Electronics Ltd. in Canada. Thompson manufactures and sells medical devices for the measurement of radiation in clinical environments.

"Setting up offices in Canada made sense," said Suthanthiran. "Our goal is to be a global company. In order to focus on regional issues we need a local presence."

Over the past year, 80 people have been hired throughout Europe to expand the company's sales reach to 12 countries. Suthanthiran said that the company is currently in the process of setting up offices in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

"The economy has become global," said Suthanthiran. "We need to be that."

With that in mind, Suthanthiran also acquired ATV Productions Ltd., which produces television series for broadcasters in Canada, United States, Israel and Europe. When Suthanthiran purchased the company this past July it was reported that he anticipated that the company would serve as a complement to Best Medical by being able to provide it with multimedia work.

There seems to be no such synergy between Suthanthiran's purchase of Kitsault and his day job. Even the way Suthanthiran bought the property — he came across an article about the town in a newspaper one morning when he was in Canada and called up to make an offer — gives the purchase a slightly idealistic and impulsive air.

"It's a beautiful town," said Suthanthiran.

Kistault is just about totally vacant, except for a caretaker, making it ripe for just about anything. At one time Kitsault was occupied by miners, working for Amax of Canada Ltd., and their families. The company built apartment buildings and single-family homes, but by the early 1980s the mining operation was closed.

Suthanthiran $5.7 million for the land and he has a host of real plans for it. Among his ideas are a corporate retreat, an artist's colony and a nursing colony, as well as a full-time residential community. Suthanthiran envisions the town being host to functions like "a think tank or a scientific conference. [I want to see it] used in a productive way," said Suthanthiran.

Suthanthiran estimates that he will be investing between $7 and $10 million of his own money to fix up Kistault. "The goal is to create unique activities," he said.

For a man whose workday starts at 10 a.m. every day and ends at midnight for the past 30 years it is possible to believe that he will make Kistault work again, "If you want to be realistic you start by being idealistic," he said.

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