In late January 2020, when Chinese officials walked into Medicom’s surgical-mask factory in Shanghai, CEO Ronald Reuben knew what to expect. Back in 2003, as the first SARS virus began to spread, authorities had also arrived to requisition Medicom’s supply for local need. This time around, the impact was more profound. Just days after China intervened, the Taiwanese government took over Medicom’s facilities near Taipei as well. Then, in March 2020, French officials assumed control of Medicom’s Loire-region plant, which is a significant producer of N95 masks in western Europe. Reuben understood that as COVID-19 made its way around the world, “everyone was looking after their own population.”
Reuben has seen how swiftly a health crisis can turn medical supplies into, as he says, gold. He formed the company in 1988, when he was just 23 years old, in the middle of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “The WHO had just advised all health-care providers to wear gloves, and, overnight, everyone needed protection,” he recalls. Reuben began rifling through the Yellow Pages, buying up gloves and exporting them to the U.S. That sustained the company for a while, but then, in the 1990s, Medicom’s suppliers started turning into competitors — so Reuben bought a medical plant in Augusta, Ga., in 1997 and began manufacturing his own products.
It was a good call. “In our first 10 years as a company, we did $10 million,” says Reuben. “In our next 10 years: $100 million in revenue, 400 employees, no debt.” As Medicom expanded its infection-control products to include gowns, disinfectants, wound-care products and sterilized packaging, as well as masks and gloves, Reuben turned his attention to the international landscape. In the past 10 years, he says, “we have become a billion-dollar business, with 2,000 employees and 10 factories globally, serving 100-plus countries.”
But Medicom doesn’t just excel at the marathon — it can sprint, too. In May 2020, the company inked a 10-year contract with the federal government to produce more than 40 million N95 and surgical masks for healthcare professionals in Canada and managed to get a 5,600-square-metre facility up and running in Montreal in just three months. In June alone, Medicom announced new plants in Singapore, France and the U.K.
It’s growth made possible, says Reuben, thanks to the drive of the organization. “People have worked themselves to the bone over the past year because of a strong sense of purpose.” They know the essential products that Medicom provides are protecting their families, their neighbours and those on the front lines of this pandemic. “When you have good people who have a common mission,” says Reuben, “you can succeed and scale up the way we’ve done.”