Mortara Instrument’s growing workforce innovates by keeping customer pulse

Over the past 18 months, Milwaukee-based cardiac equipment manufacturer Mortara Instrument Inc. has added 145 employees to its workforce – and it has plans to add 20 to 30 more over the next year.

The majority of the positions were added following Mortara’s April 2013 acquisition of the diagnostic cardiology line from Waukesha-based Cardiac Science. About 80 employees came to Mortara in the acquisition, and the other positions were added as a result of the expansion. The company now has 392 employees, 202 of whom are based in Milwaukee.

“We want to do the best job in recruiting talent that’s committed to our vision of inventing, making great medical products and getting excited about it, and doing it here,” said Justin Mortara, chief executive officer. “We’re very much committed to Milwaukee.”

An employee manufactures the ELI 280, Mortara’s premier touchscreen ECG.

Mortara’s 72,000-square-foot headquarters, located at 7865 N. 86th St., contains administration, sales, marketing, service, engineering and manufacturing. It also has another 50,000-square-foot building nearby, at 8220 W. Sleske Court, for additional manufacturing and shipping and receiving. Mortara also has locations in the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Australia, and a number of field personnel throughout the U.S.

A Mortara employee puts the finishing touches on the Surveyor S12 Patient Monitor.

Mortara designs and manufactures diagnostic electrocardiography devices including resting electrocardiographs, cardiac stress and rehabilitation systems, ambulatory monitoring and patient monitoring products. The products are primarily used in the health care market, though they are sometimes used in fitness applications.

The ELI 380 on a cart.

Justin’s father, David, founded Mortara in 1982 after he left Milwaukee-based Marquette Electronics (now part of GE Healthcare) and at more than $100 million in annual revenue, it is now the number two provider of ECG devices globally. GE Healthcare, which has its U.S. headquarters in Wauwatosa, is No. 1.

“He was able to start his own business debt free, got it going, and on the strength of his capabilities, other companies came to him and wanted to license his technology,” Justin said.

Mortara licensed technology to Cardiac Science, which sold it under the Burdick and Quinton brands. Through the acquisition, Mortara brought its technology back in-house and gained some big diagnostic cardiology brand names in the process. It has also opened up new markets, including primary care.

Mortara

“Although they didn’t have a strong technology base per se, they had great brands, great customer loyalty, great people working for them,” Justin said. “In order to be competitive not just in the U.S., but all over the world, it’s important to own our technology.”

David Mortara serves as president today and still actively researches new products. Justin, who holds a Ph.D. in physics and who joined Mortara’s Bologna, Italy location in 1998, took on the role of CEO in 2008. The succession was gradual and fluid, rather than his father suddenly handing over the reins, Justin said.

Justin has three children, the oldest of whom is 10. Someday, if it’s right, he would pass the family business to the third generation, he said.

“I think there’s something really amazing about family businesses,” Justin said. “They are more apt to be committed to the community because that’s where they live.”

Since the acquisition, the most significant change has been in the balance of the business’ sales. Previously, the majority of its customers were overseas, but today about 50 percent are in the U.S., Justin said. Mortara’s revenue grew by about 20 percent in 2013, and it aims for double digit growth each year.

“It opened up more opportunities for us to expand in this U.S. market,” he said. “We’re still a small company and we compete with giants, but we’re very innovative…in our space.”

For example, Mortara will soon introduce an ECG machine with a capacitive glass keyboard, which doesn’t have the nooks and crannies of a traditional keyboard and, as a result, can be wiped down to reduce the risk of infection.

Mortara also integrates its devices with electronic health record systems, an area other companies haven’t focused on, Justin said.

And the company is expanding its offerings into patient monitoring, including diagnostics like blood pressure and pulse oximetry.

“We already license technology to companies in the patient monitoring space,” Justin said. “We saw an opportunity to grow into that space with our capabilities.”

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