Founded by a retired nurse in 1983, Montreal-based Baylis Medical Co. began as a distributor. From her home office, Gloria Baylis—better known as a Black rights activist after she successfully sued the Hilton chain for discrimination in 1966—imported and distributed medical devices for neurosurgery. Her first hire was her son, Frank, and her second hire was Kris Shah, who has served as president since 1989.
Until 2001, Baylis continued as a distributor specializing in cardiac electrophysiology devices. But being the middleman wasn’t ideal. “As a distributor,” says Shah, “you’re always caught between the supplier and the customer. The technology could fall from favour, or the company could go to direct sales, so your work is always precarious.” So with a staff of just six, after five years of development, Baylis invented and launched its first product: a system of electronics and electrodes that disrupts nerve pain signals to the brain, to aid in the management of chronic spinal pain. “That product alone grew us rapidly from six people to 60,” says Shah.
Since then, Baylis has collaborated intimately with hospitals to create and deliver specialized products. Among them is a metre-long transseptal needle, used to access the heart’s left atrium, and a radiofrequency puncture system, developed with Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, to treat blue baby syndrome with minimal invasion. In the works, says Shah, is a push toward more minimally invasive therapies. “We’re trying to get access to the heart by simply going through the skin.”
Baylis now employs more than 400 people globally; most are in Toronto and Montreal, about 40 are in direct sales in America, 10 in Western Europe, and there are distributors as far away as Japan, Brazil and the Middle East. Technical knowledge is important for each, says Shah, but it’s not as important as empathy—the defining characteristic they seek in every hire.
Resumés are combed for real-world examples, like volunteer work or school projects that demonstrate a passion to help people in general and individuals in particular, as Baylis goes above and beyond to save every possible life. “Some of these cases are urgent, and we’ll hop on a plane—device in hand—at a moment’s notice,” says Shah. “Everyone from sales to the top, including me, is willing to do this.”