Tell us about Lifelines Neurodiagnostic Systems, Inc
Lifelines is a US-headquartered manufacturer and distributor of medical devices used for measuring and recording electroencephalography. Husband and wife team Simon and Mary Anne Griffin runs the company. Barlow Robbins has recently worked with Lifelines on two strategic acquisitions. Here we talk with Simon about Lifelines, its achievements and its plans for the future.
Lifelines has been in existence since 2000 in the United Kingdom and since 2001 in the United States. Our speciality is the recording of electroencephalography, otherwise known as brainwaves or EEG waves. These devices are used primarily for diagnosing patients who have epilepsy, or other areas of potential brain injury, but by far the most common use is in epilepsy.
We specialise in trying to record EEG in difficult environments to provide insight to physicians and clinicians so that they can help and treat patients rapidly.
For example, our devices can be used to record EEG in the patient’s home so that a patient can be monitored in their home environment. They can also be used in the emergency department, as someone who has a seizure for the first time invariably ends up in the emergency department.
Our devices are also used in intensive care. We have a particular interest in neonatal intensive care where a newborn baby might be having seizures. These are sometimes quite difficult to recognise just by observing the infant. EEG is used to record their brain activity to help classify what kind of brain issues they might be having.
What is your background?
I was born in Britain and went to the University of Kent at Canterbury where I completed a degree in medical electronics. I quickly entered the field of neurodiagnostics in 1983 and I have been in the field ever since.
I have been actively involved in helping to develop products and bring them to market all over the world. In the late 1980s, I moved to the US and turned my focus to the US market. I have now spent the last 30 years in the US actively working to build product lines and markets for devices specifically for patients with epilepsy and other conditions.
What is the biggest difference between the market in the US and the UK?
The biggest difference is the healthcare systems. In the United Kingdom, it is a national health system. Whereas, in the United States, there is a tremendous amount of private healthcare. In the United Kingdom, specific hospitals are designated for epilepsy treatment. In the United States, you can find multiple hospitals in the same city that are competing with each other for the best equipment. So the US market for healthcare devices is much bigger and there is much more activity.
What are Lifelines' core values?
We have a set of core values that have the acronym HEIGHTS — Honesty, Elevation, Initiative, Giving, Honor, Teamwork, and Service. In summary, we are looking for people with integrity and honesty. I want people who are willing to go out and try things. I would much rather people tried stuff and failed, and were open and honest about it. I believe looking at our failures, rather than hiding them, allows us to learn and perform better in the next situation.
One of the values I stress is Elevate. If every transaction with a customer or a co-worker is designed so that both parties strive to elevate the other, it has transformative power. We are creating an environment where all employees are working together as a team to support each other and our customers.
"I would much rather people tried stuff and failed, and were open and honest about it. I believe looking at our failures, rather than hiding them, allows us to learn and perform better in the next situation"
What do you look for in your employees?
The most important thing for us is the character of the individual. I firmly believe you can teach people skills, but you can’t teach them character. During recruitment, we spend a lot more time really understanding the person and making sure they understand the vision and values of our organisation. We really do focus on the alignment of the character with our business philosophy.
What do you look for in advisers and business partners?
In a similar way, when we are working with advisers, we seek companies that are well respected and are well known for the work they do. In Barlow Robbins’ case, you came to us through a personal recommendation from my father who had had many years of experience working with your firm. That was important, a personal recommendation from someone who has experience and who you respect was very important to us.
What is it like being a husband and wife team in business?
It is remarkable actually. We were recently described as the office of the CEO, one of us being left brain, and one of us being right brain. Over the years, we have come up with a very good way of working together. I am very analytical and data driven. I need to see numbers to support a decision. Mary Anne is much more intuition driven, and I think those things together work very well. We seem to have absolutely clicked as a team. Our skills are so different and complementary that it seems to work. The hard part is to walk away from work occasionally. It is very easy to lapse into talk about work. That is probably the hardest part, being able to break away periodically and just be husband and wife.
Can you tell us about Lifelines’ charitable initiatives?
We get actively involved in quite a few things. Earlier this week, we were at Disneyland in California attending an event called Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland. This has been going on for six years and we are one of the founding sponsors. It is an event designed for parents, caregivers and individuals who have epilepsy. It brings them together in Disneyland to give them an opportunity to learn about new technologies, new therapies, new drugs and new drugs trials.
It is really quite a moving experience because there are some terribly debilitating genetic conditions that are characterised by terrible, frequent seizures. We have the opportunity to spend two or three days with children and adults who are suffering from these conditions and really get to see what we are doing and why we are doing it. It is a tremendous reminder of why the business is in existence, to help these folks get the correct diagnosis and then get the correct treatment.
Our other major effort is in education. We think it is vitally important that people understand career options in neurodiagnostics. There aren’t many kids who come out of high school saying they want to be a neurodiagnostic technologist. Therefore, we put a lot of effort in to creating materials and presentations that are used in high schools to promote the field because it is a wonderful career.
What are your plans?
Our plans are, through various acquisitions and partnerships, to expand the use of our types of products into other areas. We are particularly focussed on neonatal intensive care units which is why we recently acquired an Irish company called Incereb. We plan to develop technical solutions to go along with the consumable product from the Irish company to address this important need. Newborn infants desperately need early diagnosis if they are having seizures. The newborn brain can be terribly impacted if seizures are going on and they are not controlled.
We are also interested in areas like concussion and mild traumatic brain injury. We are looking at developing devices that can go at the fieldside in American football, rugby and other sports. These mild concussions can, and do, in some cases, result in terribly debilitating cognitive decline.
We see ourselves growing quickly over the coming years and becoming a global player in these specialised markets.
There are no acquisitions on the radar right now. I think our future is very much keeping our eyes and ears open if things present themselves. If they make sense for the strategy of the business, we are ready and able to respond to those opportunities. We are small and nimble enough to take advantage if things appear.
What is your proudest moment?
I think our proudest moment was last year when Lifelines was awarded the ASET Trustees Award. ASET is the American Society of Electroencephalographic Technicians. It is the largest US professional association for individuals involved in the study and recording of electrical activity in the brain and nervous system. The award has only been presented five or six times. They don’t award it every year and we are the first EEG equipment manufacture to receive it. Therefore, that was just tremendous being recognised by the national association for what we have done.
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