Q&A with one of Utah’s most decorated entrepreneurs: Fred ‘I Am Merit’ Lampropoulos
Jul 22, 2019 05:07PM
By Jennifer J Johnson
Fred Lampropoulos says “A cast of thousands” from Merit deserved to be included on the “Giant in Our City” award received in May from the Salt Lake Chamber. (Salt Lake Chamber)
By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]
Right after the South
Jordan Journal finished a
story about SoJo businessman Fred Lampropoulos’s having been named
the “Giant in Our City” by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the
publication received an opportunity to interview Lampropoulos, one of Salt
Lake’s most-admired and decorated entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists.
Here is our interview with this SoJo rock star (Lampropoulos is also somewhat of a rock star in the general sense, recently delighting 1,000-plus guests attending his “Giant” honor with his guitar skills at downtown’s Grand America ballroom.)
You have received so many awards and honors in your lifetime. What are your most prized honors?
Clearly, this is a very nice award. There are some outstanding people who have received it in the past. I am honored to be a part of it. I also really enjoyed getting the medal for Science and Technology from the Governor. And about a month or so ago, I received the Lifetime Achievement for Science and Technology. Anything you get from the Governor? It’s a pretty nice deal.
It really takes a cast of thousands, if you look at our business, and the success we have had. At the end of the day, I am just the person who is getting acknowledged for it, but, really, that award is for a lot of people.
I heard a podcast about your having developed a 100-year plan for Merit Medical. Tell us about that.
About 32 years ago, I honestly have to say, I was the sole architect of the original idea. Of course, that’s like saying “I want to make a movie”—and then the real work begins. You have to figure out what the story is, decide who the actors are, what the costumes are, where the locations will be, and that sort of stuff. The original concept and the idea of being in it—for the long run—was, really, my sole idea. What I have had to do, over the years, is, of course, continually sell that to a lot of people, so that they are thinking long term--to make sure we’re here 100 years from now. I’ll be gone, but there will be others who will live on.
Where did you get the concept for the 100-year plan? Was it from your military experience? [Lampropoulos was a military and combat officer in the United States Army.]
The U.S. conflict in Vietnam.
America was never going to win that war, because they could not make the commitment. The Vietnamese? They could—and did—make the commitment. They just wore the U.S. down and won the victory—at a great cost. Why was the treasure—the lives of all of these American boys—spent without consideration of the consequences? I am only speaking of that metaphorically, not a criticism of American policy, one way or the other.
If you’re going to run a business—I don’t want to say it is a “war”—but it is an economic challenge, to see if you can stand the test of time.
In business, there’s this glamorization of “serial entrepreneurs.” [Entrepreneur.com describes “Serial entrepreneurs” as those who “continuously come up with new ideas and start new businesses.]
As attractive as that sounds, to me? Serial entrepreneurs are making a pie, but all they are doing is putting the crust in. You still have to put all the other ingredients in it, and have to cook it. The same thing is true with a business—it needs time, to help it mature and establish long-term value. And that is a harder challenge, [more] than just coming up with an idea.
And speaking of coming up with ideas. I noticed the Giant awards talk about Merit’s 800 patents, and a few months ago, MountainWest Venture Group and Utah Policy credited the company with 200 patents. Tell us more.
Two-hundred and forty or so are my personal patents—those are for products I have invented. The 800-plus are Merit’s own and through acquisition.
Amazing. I am told, from one of your staff, that you “have such great plans for South Jordan.” Do tell.
As we speak, we have 135,000 square feet under construction. We put together an economic-development plan that is a capital investment of close to $450 million over the next 10 years, and, essentially, doubling the workforce here in South Jordan. That’s about as exciting a plan as you can ever have. We want to do our part in this community, to make it a better community for all of the citizens, not just the ones who work here. All of our officers are required to serve on a community board. It’s not just giving money—we’re actually engaged in helping these organizations in our community.
This year Merit will do
$1 billion or more in revenue. You can talk about a 100-year plan, but,
ultimately, if you are going to be successful, the real question is: What are
you going to do to enhance the lives of the people who work for you?
Fill us in on what Merit is doing to enhance employees’ lives. When I read about your onsite, free dental clinic alone, I thought everyone should want to work there.
People talk about growth and facilities and capital, but the most important aspect of our business is our people—They have to do well, for us to do well.
Our dental clinic, our medical clinic, our employee community garden, the development center for employees’ children, the on-campus university, an ESL [English as a Second Language] program, and the time we give people to manage their lives—those are the things businesses need to do. In terms of sustainability, we are working on reducing grass, water, waste, and energy use.
It’s all about making Merit more than just a place to go to and then go home at night. It’s enriching peoples’ lives.
Could you describe your process in selecting South Jordan back when you did? I read that, decades ago, people said you were “crazy” for purchasing 60 acres of land in sparsely-developed southwest valley.
The big places to go, at the time, were out by the airport or on 2100 South. I did not want to be just another building or another business in a big pod of businesses. I wanted to not only build a business, but help build a community.
Do you have executives that live in SoJo? How much of your workforce lives in this part in the valley?
As I recall, 25-30 percent of all of our employees live right here in South Jordan. That’s a pretty significant number, when you think about Sandy, Draper, Herriman, West Jordan, Granger, West Valley—there are a lot of places around here.
What part of the valley do you live in?
I used to live in South Jordan! Now we have moved by the Hogle Zoo. My wife [Anne-Marie Wright Lampropoulos] is a trustee for the University of Utah and cares for her mother, who lives by there.
Do you see there being any traction in SoJo area for medical tech startups in SoJo?
I know there are a number of businesses that have come here to support Merit, Bechton-Dickinson in Sandy, and, of course, Edwards (Life Sciences). What those three businesses do is bring a substantial need for services. These companies are “magnets.” Some people call it the “Economic Multiplier Effect.” We have been able to visibly see that, just with companies Merit is associated with.