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We talk history and take a look at the future prospects for the company and the sector

An interview marking DARCO's 35th company anniversary between Johannes Hagenmeyer, Managing Director of hg DARCO Group, and Alexandra Panizza.

Johannes Hagenmeyer, Managing Director of hg DARCO Group

Editor, Alexandra Panizza:

When DARCO Europe was first registered as a company in 1992, DARCO's company founder, H. Darrel Darby, sen., of Huntington, West Virginia, USA, together with your father, Klaus Hagenmeyer, was also keen to establish DARCO products in Europe. Darby sen. had set new standards in the USA with the first "MedSurg" surgical shoe for the post-operative treatment of foot surgery in 1985. The European subsidiary in what was your family home at the time began with just 4 employees. You completed your training in your parents' company and you have been the Managing Director ever since 1996.

What has happened since then?

When we were founded, foot surgery in Germany was still very much in its infancy. Our idea with the Society for Foot Surgery, which was formed in 1996, was to bring the skills and knowledge of American foot surgery to Europe, quickly proved to be a success and its momentum soon made itself felt. Interest from experts in DARCO's orthopaedic aids and foot surgery implants increased rapidly, and our market presence naturally also increased.

35 years later hg DARCO Group as the holding company of all hg medical and DARCO subsidiaries around the world employs around 350 staff in 5 locations. How did this come about?

Orthopaedic aids and implants for foot surgery have always been very much part of my professional life. And the goal has always been the same: DARCO has always wanted to get orthopaedic quality off the ground, so to speak. Since launching in the USA in 1985, a lot of new products and technologies have, of course, been added. But precisely because we are niche suppliers, it has always been important for us to stay ahead of the game and to play our part with the latest developments for improving post-operative care.

Would you like to tell us something about your companions on this journey?

I took over the management of the European subsidiary in 1996 and I've been able to build up a great team. At the same time, Darrel Darby II, the son of the company's founder, was following in his father's footsteps. We're not just business partners, we're also really good friends. I am particularly happy that a few of our staff from the very earliest days are still on board today and some have had an exceptionally successful career within the company. That our staff can live and work in the place that they are from is something I see as a great advantage and today you could definitely say that there really is a good work-life balance here at DARCO.

Mr Hagenmeyer, you are now the Managing Director of the holding company, hg DARCO Group, that means your heart beats for two companies. How did this come about?

I thought you might ask me that. I need to go into a little bit of history.

In 2007 DARCO outsourced its implants division. As an anchor company, DARCO has predominantly concentrated since then on the development and marketing of orthopaedic shoes and aids in the area of trauma, post-op and wound care. Thanks to the experience I'd had during the time when we still made implants in the areas of manufacturing and marketing, it was very easy for me to understand the needs of customers and I was able to assess user requirements very accurately. In 2007 hg medical evolved out of DARCO's former implant production, a company which had made its name on the globally expanding implants market and with its inventive talent and passion had driven the advances in implant technology at the sites in Raisting and in Huntington, USA.

The hg DARCO Group has grown out of these components. Both divisions complement each other wonderfully and my heart beats for the whole enterprise. This is where I see the greatest potential.

How have the company structures changed since the founding of the holding company?

The increased scale of the companies naturally now requires other structures and hierarchies. In particular, as regards the regulatory requirements for a medical devices company, the changes are very noticeable and important for us so that we can compete on international markets. But we have always been able to maintain our sense of family togetherness, and I'm very happy about that.

How has the sector in general changed in the last 35 years?

Because of ever-changing trends, medical technology must, of course, also keep on changing. A lot has happened: on the part of doctors and medical supply stores, in the company and in the world of competition. New production techniques have created innovative products. The market has changed and consolidated. This means that we have to make our way as a smaller family-owned company. The networking of professional associations is much more intensive. Foot surgeons are increasingly specialised today, and that was not yet the case in 1992. The speed of innovation and digitalisation are increasing, and even the patient today is quite different from 35 years ago and much better informed. As market leader in this niche, we have been able to perform well.

The DARCO anniversary is under a particular shadow this year. You must surely have imagined that things would be very different at the start of this anniversary year than they are now with the coronavirus crisis. How are you coping with the situation?

The cessation of orthopaedic procedures is a great challenge all over the world. We're not over the worst of it yet, but fortunately we've noticed an upward trend again. Our summer festival or doors-open day have had to be cancelled this year.

What changes and challenges are to be expected in the near future?

Along with expanding the range of our post-op and trauma products, we will be devoting ourselves more to the area of diabetes and wound care. Due to the worldwide increase in diabetes, serious foot diseases are occurring ever more frequently. As a result of demographic changes, patients are demanding greater mobility and a more active daily life, despite their restrictions. New operation methods in foot surgery require new approaches to solutions, particularly in post-operative management. We are also working intensively on modular systems and product platforms, which allow individual customization and flexibility.

Internationally, we are increasing our sales in the European market and networking with international professional foot and ankle associations.

The exchange of scientific knowledge is the basis for many product developments. DARCO has become involved with the Woundcare-Circle which was set up by us and our long-term partners in 2015. This is an international partnership that engages intensively with the prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers on the feet and lower extremities.

You are a successful entrepreneur. What are the reasons for your success?

To be honest, I really enjoy my work and it's never dull. And the right people have come along just at the right time.

Thank you for being so open and friendly in our chat.

Ask us - More interviews on DARCO topics can be found here.