Malcolm as the model

Medrad Inc. took five swings at winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award — and missed four of those times.

But even with four strikes, the company didn’t view itself as a loser. At Medrad, it’s all about the journey, and winning the Baldrige Award was one step, although an important one, in that trip.

The journey is continuous quality improvement at every level of the company, from sales to customer satisfaction to environmental responsibility. At Medrad, the quality process, which it has been applying in some form since the 1980s, is much more important than winning any accolade, even the prestigious Baldrige Award, which it landed in 2003.

Only 58 organizations have received the award since the first of them was handed out in 1988. The award is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The first four times out, Medrad gained valuable feedback from the Baldrige examiners that helped not only in leading it to winning the award but in improving its quality and processes.

For those organizations looking for a quick way to garner some positive publicity, don’t bother, says Marianne Purnell, manager of US sales administration for Medrad. For the 2003 event, the company submitted a 55-page application. Examiners conducted interviews with 300 employees and reviewed 5,000 pages of documents.

“If you’re just trying to win the award, it’s a huge drain,” says Purnell. “If you’re doing it to improve, it’s what you should be doing.”

Used in diagnostic imaging, Medrad’s products include a comprehensive line of vascular injection systems, magnetic resonance surface coils and accessory products, and equipment services. At $294 million in fiscal 2003 sales, Medrad is much smaller than competitors such as GE, Philips and Sony, yet it regularly places in the top five in an annual survey of radiologists by Medical Imaging magazine.

The real value in participating in the Baldrige process is in the way it makes a company look at itself and decide what goals are important to it and how it will set about achieving those goals.

“We had goals prior to using Baldrige criteria,” says Rose Martin, director of the Medrad performance excellence center. “Baldrige criteria help you really clarify and crisp up your goals and then align all of your employees behind them.”

Medrad’s approach to quality improvement revolves around five corporate scorecard goals: exceed financial performance; grow the company; improve quality and productivity; improve customer satisfaction; and improve employee growth and satisfaction. Each category uses concrete benchmarks that are measured regularly to monitor performance. For instance, the sales growth target is 15 percent a year, a goal it has reached consistently since 1988, while quality and productivity are targeted to grow 10 percent a year.

The rewards of an effective quality improvement process can be impressive. One of Medrad’s products involves injecting contrast media into blood vessels to improve the quality of radiological images. Medrad regularly surveys its customers to monitor its product quality and service.

In listening to its customers, Medrad found that they were looking for an injector that introduces less contrast media and provides clearer images. It found that by using more saline solution with the contrast media, the images could be improved while the amount of for contrast media, and as a result the costs, were reduced.

Winning the Baldrige award is anything but an excuse for Medrad to rest on its laurels, says Purnell. If anything, it raises the bar and demands an even higher level of performance of everyone.

Says Purnell: “There’s always a mountain to climb.”

How to reach: Medrad Inc.,; National Institute of Standards and Technology,