In pursuit of growth, Kraig McEwen leads Aesynt back to its roots

In 2011, the McKesson Corp. hired CEO Kraig McEwen to jumpstart McKesson Automation’s growth. And just over a year into his tenure running the company, he and his team came up with a solution — sell the business.

The largest drug wholesaler in the U.S. had bought the technology automation company in 1996 to integrate the drug distribution process in hospitals. But McEwen and others came to believe the only way to grow more rapidly and achieve a vision of perfecting medication management was going back to basics as an independent company.

And so Aesynt Inc. was formed — or reformed.

“McKesson asked me to come in and work with the team to create a strategy, given the economic downturn, on how do we get the business back to growth,” McEwen says. “The business had grown dramatically for a period of 14 or so years, and over a three-year time period hit a tough economic spot that was driven by the overall economy, but also by health care reform.”

When you step back and look at getting medications to patients, it’s an assembly process, McEwen says. Medications are brought to a hospital pharmacy, bar coded, then picked and packed by a robot for patient orders, which saves money and reduces errors. Afterward, orders are shipped across the four walls of the hospital, or within a health system.

Like in the industrial automation world, where McEwen started his career, it takes physical hardware and software to complete that process. Unlike other industries, however, health care companies haven’t integrated electromechanical systems to work with all health care IT providers.

McKesson’s technology worked best with its hospital information system. As an independent company, Aesynt could develop new technology that would integrate with all providers, helping all their customers.

“We were independent for the first 10 years or so of our existence,” McEwen says. “We felt we could more dramatically innovate in this market as a private company again.”

Here’s how McEwen shepherded Aesynt through extensive change with a new name, owner and product portfolio to increase growth and customer and employee satisfaction.


Managing change with focus

The company went through an unbelievable amount of change from divesting the company in 2013 to new owner Francisco Partners, a private equity firm, to changing the product development strategy — all in a tough economic climate, McEwen says.

“When you’re going through that amount of change, it’s impossible to focus the organization enough,” he says. “So, getting down to the very basic few things the organization has to be aligned on is probably the most important thing.”

McEwen says they found a simple strategy was better than a complicated-sounding one, so they spent a lot of time determining what to focus on.

Aesynt’s management eventually outlined six priorities that needed to be accomplished over 12 to 24 months.

They had to make sure everyone in the 800-person employee base knew what the priorities were, while ensuring the right structures and systems were in place to deliver them. This was critical as the company redesigned its product portfolio and developed new technology to better meet customer needs.

It’s also important to remember that the leadership team is comprised of employees of the company, McEwen says. Change also has an effect on them.