Moving on up

Joseph B. Richey II was already established in the medical world before he and Malachi Mixon bought Invacare in 1979. Richey had engineered the first tomographic CAT scan machine, which scans slices of the entire body, and also developed the technology behind MRI machines.

At Invacare, Richey focused his innovative thinking on helping the disabled. As a result of his innovations, the disabled can be more self-sufficient and their lives have become a little easier.

“When I got to Invacare, all we had was a chrome-plated wheelchair,” says Richey. “There was not much else to sell. It was pretty obvious that we needed more products.”

Richey adapted microprocessor technology to apply to controls in power wheelchairs. This new technology revolutionized wheelchairs. People no longer had to use a screwdriver to adjust the speed and direction of their chair. With this new invention, all they had to do was touch a button. But Richey didn’t stop there. He continued to enhance power wheelchairs by creating the first gearless-brushless motor. This motor is quieter, lasts longer and is 45 percent more efficient than the typical motor.

In addition, TrueTrack driving technology allowed users to navigate a wheelchair on uneven terrain, as well as slopes. Previously, most wheelchairs could not handle these conditions.

“I started to see that this is a fertile business for innovation, because no one has really innovated,” Richey says. “They [competitors] threw some stuff out there for these disadvantaged people to use, and they really didn’t think very hard about how these things could be made.”

Richey realized that one of the problems with wheelchairs is that they are difficult to maneuver and often get stuck in corners or between pieces of furniture. Consequently, he developed the Invacare HMV Highly Maneuverable Vehicle, which allows users to make a 360-degree circle in a small space such as a hallway or elevator.

When Richey joined Invacare, its competitors owned 90 percent of the domestic wheelchair market. His unique ideas are a large part of the reason Invacare has grown to become a $1.4 billion company.

“I just like to look at better ways to do things and do it,” Richey says. “And along the way, it has made the company very successful.”

How to reach: Invacare,