The Bill Cook Story: Ready, Fire, Aim!

Views: 479
Ratings: (0)

Bill Cook epitomizes the American success story. His business ventures in medical devices, pharmaceuticals, genetics, real estate, retail management, and travel services have made him a billionaire. Yet, Cook continues to lead a modest life, involving himself in a variety of philanthropic activities that have included historic preservation and even a marching band. This riveting story is the first-ever biography of the entrepreneur who, working from the spare bedroom of his Bloomington, Indiana, apartment in 1963 with a $1,500 investment, began to construct the wire guides, needles, and catheters that would become the foundation of the global multi-billion-dollar Cook Group. Biographer Bob Hammel, with extraordinary access to Cook, his files, and his associates, has created a vivid portrait of this modern, multidimensional Horatio Alger-quirky humor, widely varied interests, and all. Informative and inspiring, this book celebrates an exceptional self-made individual.

List price: $9.99

Your Price: $7.99

You Save: 20%

 

24 Slices

Format Buy Remix

Kidnapping

ePub

KIDNAPPING

It was big news, exciting news in town that October morning in 1988. Little Bloomington had its own man in the Forbes Magazine list of the 400 richest people in America.

Bloomington, Indiana, is a town of 70,000 with a hefty conceit quotient. Winston Churchill said of election rival Clement Attlee that he was “a modest man with much to be modest about.” Bloomington people feel they have much to be cocky about.

In 1988 it was a Bloomington of eminence in basketball, surely. Just the year before, its Indiana University Hoosiers, under 1984 U.S. Olympic coach Bob Knight, had won the school’s fifth NCAA championship. The city even had a claim to its favorite sport’s greatest player extant. Knight had based that ’84 Olympic team in Bloomington, which that summer made a several-weeks resident of Michael Jordan, who loved the delicious “smoothies” at Peterson’s Deli, town lore bragged.

Bloomington boasted, too, about several features:

Music—from classical (the world-renowned artists of string, brass, and voice on the faculty of Indiana University’s nonpareil School of Music) to the rock of “Small Town” and “Pink Houses” John Mellencamp and the jazz of Jazz Hall of Famer David Baker, chairman and founder of the IU Jazz Studies Department, in this, the city where hometowner Hoagy Carmichael wrote and in the 1920s first plunked out “Stardust,” the mellow masterpiece voted seventy years later America’s song of the twentieth century. Consider that: No. 1, out of a blue million.

 

1. Playing in Peoria

ePub

1

Playing in Peoria

Billy Cook spent first grade in nine schools, in nine towns. He averaged entering a new town and a new school every month in and around his family’s uprootings and moves.

That explains it all, of course. No wonder the William Alfred Cook who survived that year is so …

Unbridled?

Self-reliant?

Eternally curious?

Stubborn? Temperamental, even?

Adaptable?

Is there room in there for …

Successful?

If that sputtering scholastic start really was what made Indiana businessman Bill Cook a billionaire, and the word got around, there’d be peripatetic parents botching up school enrollment patterns all over the country.

A Widow at Twenty-three

The Great Depression was tightening its chokehold on America when Cook was born in Mattoon, Illinois, on Tuesday, January 27, 1931, the first and only child of George and Cleo Cook. He arrived on what his mother remembered as an unusually warm day for January. She also remembered the sound of an Illinois Central Railroad train whistle blowing somewhere close at the very moment of her son’s birth, 6:10 PM. His dad couldn’t be there; he was in Wisconsin making rural sales calls on his $10-a-day Depression job.

 

2. The Canton High Years

ePub

2

The Canton High Years

It was fourth-and-goal, in the last minute of the last football game Bill Cook ever played. Canton trailed unbeaten Farmington, 7–6. The ball was inside the Farmington two-yard-line, but it had been there a while, and Farmington wasn’t yielding. “We were having a hell of a time—we ate up three downs and couldn’t get the ball across,” Cook remembers. He was the center, a good one, an experienced senior responsible for getting the football to quarterback Dick Fouts and helping to clear an opening for an on-charging back. It wasn’t happening.

Junior end Bob Heppenstall, whose recovery of a fumbled punt gave Canton its late chance to win, recalls, “We called a fourth-down play, and the next thing I knew Bill was lying in the end zone on top of the football. I didn’t have any idea what happened.”

Cook had spotted something. Farmington’s goal-line defense put linemen in the gaps on both sides of him, but no one head-on. “Usually they have somebody over the top of the center. They didn’t have anybody there. On the way to the line, I whispered to Fouts, ‘Look like you fumbled.’ We all lined up for the snap, he called the signals, the play started, I got the ball up to my crotch, then instead of snapping it back to Dick just heaved it forward over the goal line underhanded, and jumped on it like I was trying to recover a fumble. Dick made a good act. He dived down like he was going for the ball.” Officials, blocked out by bodies from seeing what really had happened, bought it as a fumble. When they found the football, with Cook on top of it, the referee’s arms shot up: “Touchdown!” And Canton won, 12–7.

 

3. A Wide Gold Band

ePub

3

A Wide Gold Band

Bill Cook came out of graduation ceremonies at Canton High School in 1949 sure that he was going to go to college but not at all sure where. Maybe Illinois, maybe Northwestern. Maybe he would go out for football, wherever it was, hoping to earn a scholarship. And maybe he wouldn’t. Probably, almost surely, he would major in some premed field, aiming for medical school and a career as a doctor. Of such are billion dollar business careers forged.

A Champaign Start

Bill’s college career had started early with those summer classes at the University of Illinois in Champaign. “I was planning to be a football player.” He took four hours of German and four of English, and worked with other University of Illinois football candidates in daily conditioning drills during summer heat. The football didn’t include much acquaintance with a football—“a lot of running, and working in rubber suits, that was about it.” He went into it with no more than a vague promise, what he called “the typical thing coaches do today: ‘Come to the University of Illinois and maybe you’ll be a football player.’” By the end of the summer, he had been told that if he practiced for a year with the freshmen (who were ineligible for varsity play in major colleges then), he would have a scholarship.

 

4. Road to Bloomington

ePub

4

Road to Bloomington

The experience of working for Lloyd Nelson, coming after other similarly unsatisfying jobs, was the final convincer for Bill Cook that “it was very difficult for me to work for somebody else.” He jokes about it: “At American Hospital Supply, I always knew more than my boss. The boss didn’t like it. He never quite terminated me, but sometimes he got really nasty. I decided very early that it would be best if I went out on my own.”

In his first venture like that—as a married man who had just left employment by his best man—Cook discovered that the entrepreneurial instinct within him was not fool-proof.

Cook and Brian Baldwin put their minds and names together and formed Balco, to manufacture and distribute shot glasses. “Unusual ones. But there was a problem with these shot glasses. It seems the filter we used to hold the film to the bottom of the glass didn’t hold too well, and the film began to curl. Pretty soon we found out there were 50,000 shot glasses out all over the United States with the film curled at the bottom. The glasses had a 35-millimeter art picture on the bottom, with a filter atop. In the middle of the glass a lens magnified the picture. They were called ‘art photos,’ but they were just nudes. We got the pictures from California—800 of them. Gayle and I and her cousin sat in her cousin’s living room going over all 800 pictures, evaluating them, to pick out four. It took us quite a long time one evening. We repeated several times to view them for their art. We had a good time.”1

 

5. Bedroom Beginning

ePub

5

Bedroom Beginning

For me to make my product, all I needed was a blowtorch, a soldering iron, and a few little tools and fixtures I could make myself.

—Bill Cook

Within Bloomington, Indiana, within the worldwide medical devices industry, within the no-pikers Forbes 400 “family,” the most familiar part of the billionaire Bill Cook story is how everything started with a $1,500 investment and a small apartment’s spare bedroom.

In any bible about Bill Cook, that always will be Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning …” It is legend without much myth. That really is the beginning for everything that Cook Inc. grew to include.

Bill closed his days at MPL and even arrived in Bloomington with not one but two thoughts about how he might get going with a new, solely owned Cook Company.

One would have put him at least temporarily in the disintegration business. He came in contact with a man in Minneapolis–St. Paul who had bought from the U.S. military about four hundred “disintegrator” machines. Originally built for use on ships, the machines “would grind up anything—metal, food,” Cook said. His plan was to buy the four hundred machines for $400 each, upgrade them, and sell them for $5,000 to hospitals, so they could readily handle a fast-developing number of disposable items—MPL’s needles, for example. That would turn $160,000 into $2 million, in loose terms. Very loose. “Each sale would have meant maintenance, and I wanted to stay out of the maintenance business if I possibly could. It also meant installation. I’d probably have had to transport them, one way or another. Each of them weighed about a ton.

 

6. Moving Up

ePub

6

Moving Up

I wore so many coats and ties and got so damn hot….

I swore to God if I ever got out of that apartment,

I’d just quit wearing those things.

It also saved some money.

—Bill Cook

Cook Inc.’s second “factory” was more a matter of relocation than expansion. The family residency stayed in the apartment, but in late 1964 Bill Cook and Tom Osborne’s work area moved a few blocks west—to half of what had been a dentist’s office. Cook split the space with a fellow tenant at Bart Villa, Jack Walters, who needed an office for a real estate investment business he had started.

Back at Bart Villa, Gayle still was playing all her wife, mother, and company roles. “Every day Bill would bring home everything I needed to do in a big box, like a banker’s box. Every piece of paper that had ever been generated to that point was in that box—so he brought the ‘office’ home every night. I did my work that evening. Plus whatever he wanted me to inspect. We reached a level where we could afford an office person. Then Bill didn’t have to carry everything home. I phased out the daily paperwork and inspection and did the advertising and copy work and our primitive catalog.”

 

7. Team Taking Shape

ePub

7

Team Taking Shape

Phyllis McCullough came here as a receptionist-secretary. Kem Hawkins was a band director. The vice president for regulatory affairs, April Lavender, came here as a receptionist. The current director of human resources, Connie Jackson, came as a receptionist. There are just many stories like that.

—Ross Jennings

For Cook Inc., the 1960s closed on an unimaginable surge. Year-to-year sales increases of 75.8 percent in 1967, 103.9 percent in 1968, and 94.9 percent in 1969 shot the annual sales figure from $132,000 to $922,000—a three-year jump of almost exactly 600 percent.

Take-off had been achieved.

Not just sales climbed. So had employment, most of it added conventionally, but not all. Legends float around among Cook Inc. people about the most bizarre ways Bill Cook found employees who wound up rising to high positions.

Michael Boo, who met Bill through Drum Corps International but also developed a familiarity with Cook operations by helping produce a book for Bill, has a personal favorite: Bob Lendman, who for several years headed one of Cook Inc.’s main plants, Sabin Corporation, which manufactures plastic parts and tubing for Cook’s medical companies. “Bob was a really good executive who loved to organize things,” Cook says. “He was the head of a small drum corps. I met him at one of our early shows in Bloomington.”

 

8. Foothold in Europe

ePub

8

Foothold in Europe

There was a lot of tension, almost like a mystery …

—Bill Cook

An unspectacular announcement appeared in the English-language Denmark trade publication Udenrigs Handel and Industri Information in 1969, under the headline HEART-LUNG EQUIPMENT AND EXPLANATION:

Polystan has entered into a companionship with the firm of Cook, Incorporated, USA, and has established the firm Cook Europe with headquarters at the Polystan works, Generatorvej 41, Copenhagen. This new firm is a joint partnership between Polystan and Cook Incorporated and will produce and market the Cook line of cardiovascular products for the radiologist, cardiologist, and surgeon. This partnership in effect means that a full line of tubing, catheters, wire guides, lymphangiographic sets, needles, tip deflecting devices, duodenal intubation sets, transluminal dilation equipment, fittings, injectors, gas syringes, and various accessories is available for the European market.

 

9. Doctors

ePub

9

Doctors

One hundred percent of doctors, when Gruentzig started doing coronary angioplasty in Zurich in 1977, said it won’t work. The FDA [had it had its present teeth in the early days of intervention] would have said, “Our panel says it won’t work. Our panel says it’s dangerous. Our panel says the heart will go into fibrillation and the patient will die.” All of those things contribute to people not making major medical breakthroughs today. There may be an idea or a concept that is out there today and will never see the light of day.

—Bill Cook

Not all the key finds by Bill Cook were employees.

The same mysterious combination of hunch, insight, and luck that so improbably landed many who became major Cook Inc. leaders linked him, too, with some doctors who—in separate experiments and discoveries that frequently meshed through him—unlocked some medical mysteries within the field that Cook chose, intervention.

Cook’s doctors group—Dr. Charles Dotter, Dr. Cesare Gianturco, Dr. Andreas Gruentzig, and some more—started to form for him when he was 32. Ten years earlier, Swedish radiologist Dr. Sven-Ivar Seldinger—at 32—had invented their playing field. The Seldinger technique “gave ready access to all the vessels throughout the body, easily—without cutting down on the vessel, or cutting down in different places in the body, just to put a catheter in,” college biology major Bill Cook grasped quickly.

 

10. Stents and Suits

ePub

10

Stents and Suits

From 1988 to 1997 was just hell with lawsuits—and the damage done to us internally and monetarily by all the legal fees we were paying.

—Phyllis McCullough

Lawsuits were part of the forced introduction of Bill Cook, a believer in handshake agreements, to a more crass and complicated world.

Cook and Brian Baldwin, his Northwestern fraternity brother, had founded MPL, Inc., a sterile hypodermic needle manufacturing company, before Cook went out on his own. In 1974, the two teamed again to launch a business in Denmark, where Cook Inc. was already established.

Baldwin had sold MPL and started a new company, Baxa Corporation, packaging sterile water in prefilled syringes. The 1974 idea he presented to Cook was for joint operation of a European company to manufacture and sell to doctors disposable needles and syringes prefilled with both sterile water and medicine. Cook liked the plan. “They had this needle-grinding machine built and were getting ready to ship it to Europe,” Steve Ferguson says. “At that point, they got sued.”

 

11. Health

ePub

11

Health

I don’t fear death. I have no control over it other than what I’m doing now, to try to keep myself happy, content, working, not overdoing, not be too worried, do my exercises religiously, eat a reasonable diet—all these things I’ve tried to do because I don’t particularly want to give it all up. Now, if I get killed, I’ll sure as hell be mad.

—Bill Cook

On January 27, 2008, Bill Cook turned 77. That’s not a milestone in most lives, but it had significance for him. It meant he had spent more than half his years knowing he had a bad heart. “I’ve reconciled life and death pretty well,” he said. “The thought of dying has been with me since I first began having heart problems at 38. My heart is pretty well loused up. I don’t know exactly what can be done about that—I don’t think anything less than a transplant.”

That’s a possibility he obviously has considered, and decided no. “I could tolerate the surgery. And I probably could get a heart if I said I wanted one. If you have money, it’s amazing how fast a heart shows up. But I’ve made up my mind that I’d just as soon other people have it.

 

Color illustrations

ePub

11

Health

I don’t fear death. I have no control over it other than what I’m doing now, to try to keep myself happy, content, working, not overdoing, not be too worried, do my exercises religiously, eat a reasonable diet—all these things I’ve tried to do because I don’t particularly want to give it all up. Now, if I get killed, I’ll sure as hell be mad.

—Bill Cook

On January 27, 2008, Bill Cook turned 77. That’s not a milestone in most lives, but it had significance for him. It meant he had spent more than half his years knowing he had a bad heart. “I’ve reconciled life and death pretty well,” he said. “The thought of dying has been with me since I first began having heart problems at 38. My heart is pretty well loused up. I don’t know exactly what can be done about that—I don’t think anything less than a transplant.”

That’s a possibility he obviously has considered, and decided no. “I could tolerate the surgery. And I probably could get a heart if I said I wanted one. If you have money, it’s amazing how fast a heart shows up. But I’ve made up my mind that I’d just as soon other people have it.

 

12. The Guidant Fiasco

ePub

12

The Guidant Fiasco

Billionaire is a made-up term because the asset is in the corporation. The only way I would ever gain that number, that resource, is to sell the company. And after the Guidant fiasco, I have no reason to sell out.

—Bill Cook

There was a poof! effect in the headline that Bloomington woke up to on the morning of July 31, 2002:

COOK SOLD FOR $3 BILLION

The magic balloon ride of nearly forty years was over. Bill Cook was climbing out, and who could blame him—especially anyone who knew that the man who had turned billfold money into billions was in his seventies now with major health problems. If there was a public consensus, it probably was “What a ride, Bill Cook! Congratulations. Enjoy yourself.”

The sale wasn’t just big news in Bloomington. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, and the less-elite dailies led by USA Today all gave prominence to a $3 billion business deal. Wall Street noticed, too. Stock prices for the purchaser in the deal, Guidant Corporation, jumped—10 percent in the market’s opening hours, still an impressive 5 percent at the close. Three times Cook’s size in annual sales, hitherto competitor Guidant’s top officials were publicly salivating over what the deal promised to do for them: take the snarl out of a patent knot that had tied up three rivals in their pursuit of primary position in medicine’s lucrative Great Cardiac Stent Race.

 

13. Philosophy

ePub

13

Philosophy

If I could only get IU to believe: you learn business; it’s not taught in a classroom environment.

—Bill Cook

Carl Cook, who one day will run the family business, sees the most unusual of his father’s strengths with the clarity of an intended emulator. One of those strengths, hence one of Cook Inc.’s, is “thinking a little bit outside the box,” Carl says. “We like to hit ’em where they ain’t. The crazier an idea is, if it works it’s going to be that much more successful. Nobody else will have it, because everybody else will say, ‘That’s a crazy idea. Get out of here.’ So No. 1 is ability to spot when a crazy idea might actually work. A corollary to that is being able to see talent in people that other people aren’t seeing.

“That’s a huge criticism I have of résumé-based hiring. In a lot of companies you cannot be in an executive managerial position without an MBA. Have to have an MBA. Won’t even talk to you unless you have one. And yet an MBA doesn’t mean you can lead. I’ve seen a lot of guys with MBAs who are absolutely worthless in management jobs because they have no leadership, no insight. They are ‘by the book.’ They don’t know what to do. You can get a guy with only a high school education, who has worked several jobs, maybe was in the army—put him in that same role, and he’ll do a much better job.”

 

14. Religion

ePub

14

Religion

I’ve had a great time and enjoyed every minute of my life. If that’s heaven, I’ve had enough of it. And if there is an afterlife, that’s great.

—Bill Cook

For most people, one of the most private of personal matters is religion. Sometimes it’s not left that way, even among the best of friends.

Bill Carper and Bill Cook grew up together in Canton, Illinois. The closeness they have maintained has put Carper in an awkward spot a few times in recent years. “At our church, or even in other things around town,” Carper said, “when we’re raising money to pay for special projects, people know we’re good friends, so they look at me and say, ‘Bill Cook has all kinds of money. Why don’t you see if you can get something from him?’ I always say, ‘No way. He’s a friend. I’m not going to do that.’

“But a few years ago, our church had a major building campaign. This is the church he went to when he was a kid, and he was very active in it. You never know. I thought there was at least a chance he would want to do something. So I let myself be talked into saying I would see. And the next time I talked to him I said, ‘Here’s the deal …’ and told him the details of what we were doing. Bill listened, laughed a little bit, and said very nicely, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what: you do churches, and I’ll do schools.’ And that was fine. I hated like the dickens to impose.”

 

15. Politics

ePub

15

Politics

He does not fit in government.

—Charlotte Zietlow, 1982

His extreme success as a businessman leaves no room for second-guessing about career paths. But there was a time when Bill Cook was looking around for a career direction, so the question came: Did you ever think about entering politics? “Only to the extent that I never wanted to be a politician,” he said.

Not that he hasn’t kept track of politics, and politicians, and formed strong views—conservative views, definitely right-of-center views, not necessarily Republican, but Republican far more often than not.

“I’ve never really had time for politics. I do donate. I’m a switch-hitter. I voted for Kennedy the first time, and I voted for Nixon the second time. That’s kind of my politics. I donate to people not by party but by the type of person I think they are. I’ve been an admirer of Evan Bayh [Indiana’s junior senator, a Democrat in his second term, and a two-term governor before that] ever since he has been a politician. I’ve talked with Evan a lot. Evan is conservative, part-Republican at heart. That’s why he wins so big in this state.

 

16. Cook Clinic

ePub

16

Cook Clinic

When I started this clinic in 1993, everybody in town thought I was nuttier than a fruitcake. We would go broke. It would cost us too much money. And the doctors and the hospital got mad at us for doing it. Those doctors love us now because we pay cash. If we refer one of our patients to them for specialty treatment, they see the patient, we get the bill, and we send the doctor a check. And we get a discount for quick payment. It works.

—Bill Cook

It looks like an ordinary doctor’s waiting room, except:

•  It’s a little bigger, with nineteen chairs.

•  It has a sign saying, “We Welcome Our Walk-In Patients.”

•  It’s open Monday through Friday from 8 AM until 8 PM—not until 3, not until 4 or 5, until 8 PM. And from 8 until noon on Saturday.

Cook Clinic is more than one company’s attempt to combat and control rising health costs. It’s Bill Cook’s microcosmic offering as Exhibit A that the health problem—which neither government nor private medical practice nor any of the profits-through-the-roof insurance companies has begun to dent—is not insurmountable at all.

 

Load more


Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
2370006593270
Isbn
9780253018533
File size
6 KB
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata