Ambu’s CEO seeks to “Zoom In” on what the Danish company has done best.
More than a year after she took over the corner office at Ambu, Britt Meelby Jensen recalls what brought her into leadership. She already had a seat on the board at the maker of single-use endoscopes, anesthesia and airway management devices, and patient monitoring technology.
“We were in a situation where we saw challenges with declining profitability and we were not able to meet our revenue targets that we had put out to The Street. So it was around that time the chairman asked if I wanted to run the company,” Jensen said during a recent DeviceTalks Weekly podcast interview.
In many ways, Ambu’s challenges stemmed from its success. The Danish company, founded in 1937, launched the Ambu Bag in the 1950s. The self-inflating, manual resuscitator is still a fixture in hospital emergency departments to this day.
Ambu’s close connections with health providers’ ICU and anesthesia departments led the company to develop single-use scopes. Disposability addressed concerns over reusable scopes causing infections and also reduced delays in availability from having to wait for scopes to get cleaned and repaired before each use, according to Jensen, who recounted the history.
“The customers were looking for a solution that they would have ready at hand when a patient cart came in,” Jensen said.
In 2009, Ambu launched the first single-use bronchoscope, the Ambu aScope Broncho. The device developer now sells its fifth-generation Ambu aScope 5 Broncho.
The visualization business that includes single-use scopes makes up more than half of Ambu’s more than $600 million in annual revenue.
“I was and continue to be very excited about the potential we have as a company, having really proven that we are able to move into a new area and change the paradigm working closely with our customers,” Jensen said.
In recent years, Ambu has expanded its single-use scope lineup from pulmonology into new endoscopy segments: urology, gastroenterology and ear, nose and throat. However, the strategy has required building new relationships with health professionals elsewhere in health systems to educate them on the operational efficiencies and clinical benefits that could come with single-use scopes.
“We’re facing a situation where we underestimated some of the time it took for our customers to adopt a new way of working,” Jensen said.
Meanwhile, Boston Scientific and other companies have entered the single-use scope space. Jenson welcomes the competition: “I think it’s good for us to have more companies with single-use endoscopes that can help bring attention to the benefits for our customers there.”
Jensen, who originally entered the life sciences sector as a consultant and a Novo Nordisk executive, successfully led Atos Medical until the laryngectomy care company’s acquisition by Humlebaek, Denmark-based Coloplast in early 2022. Before that, she was CEO of Zealand Pharma from 2015 to 2019, leading the Copenhagen-based diabetes company through its 2017 IPO.
“I could see that some of my experience fitted very well into some of the challenges that we had, both in terms of getting the financial situation back on track, as well as also getting investor credibility back,” Jensen said.
“In every job I’m in, I am very curious to learn and to develop. … I think I leveraged what I’ve learned from my past career, and then I bring that into a new situation. I’m very focused that it’s not only about me, but it’s about the whole organization starting with the executive leadership team [and] building a strong leadership team that collaborates well and engages.”
Since taking over Ambu in May 2022, Jensen has made some tough choices to set up the company for future success, including laying off 200 employees. The company’s new Zoom In strategy centers on meeting true customer needs, executing efficiently, sustainability, and people and culture.
As of the writing of this article in September 2023, Ambu was wrapping up its present fiscal year with expectations of 6-8% revenue growth, up from 4% the year before. During Q3, pulmonology scopes returned to positive growth year-over-year, and sales of urology and ENT scopes was growing strongly.
Said Jensen: “With our new Zoom In strategy, it’s all about focus and execution, making sure that we really focus in on all the segments that we’re in to do a good job and then also focus on how we execute, because we’ve had a couple of years where things have really moved fast.”
Ambu’s strategy has always been to be close to its health provider customers, according to Jensen.
“We continue to challenge ourselves, understanding the customer’s needs [to] come up with new and greater things.”