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Carestream leader drives product

In the medical imaging equipment market, Carestream Health Inc. is a relatively small player. Jianqing Bennett plans to change that. 

Named president of Carestream’s digital medical solutions division in 2015, Bennett, whose first name is pronounced “Jan-ching,” heads the medical imaging firm’s second-largest but fastest-growing division.  

With 3,770 workers, Bennett’s division accounts for just over half of the firm’s 7,000-worker global workforce. 

An employer of 1,200 in the Rochester area, where the company has its headquarters, Carestream does not disclose how much of the firm’s more than $2 billion a year in revenues the digital equipment division accounts for. 

Carestream’s largest division is still its traditional X-ray film business, which goes back a century to the company’s beginnings as an Eastman Kodak Co.’s X-ray film unit. It became Carestream with Kodak’s spinoff of the division in a 2007, $2.3 billion sale to the Toronto-based private-equity firm, Onex Corp. 

The biggest players in medical imaging—General Electric Co.’s $15 billion, 46,000 employee GE Healthcare subsidiary and the also far larger Philips NV’s and Siemens AG’s health care units—produce bigger and more expensive equipment, room-sized MRI and CT scanners that sell for twice as much or more than the portable equipment Carestream makes. 

Bennett, whose medical imaging career began with stints with GE in her native China and the U.S., sees market opportunity in thinking smaller. 

“The key,” she says, “is to bring the machine to the patient.” 

Currently, in hospital emergency departments or operating rooms, if caregivers need certain scans, their only option is to wheel patients to their facilities’ imaging departments.  

Machines that would provide comparable information, but are small enough to wheel around, can save time and, in some cases, lives, Bennett says. 

Carestream research and development teams, largely based in Rochester, are working on development of such equipment and could be as close as three or four years away from premiering workable models. 

The biggest players in the digital imaging market are still concentrating on the big and very expensive equipment that traditionally has been their bread and butter. And, Bennett believes, they are shortsightedly neglecting the potential of smaller, more versatile units. 

A relatively new player in the market, Carestream has thought small of necessity.  

“GE and Siemens? They’re not putting a lot of focus on that,” says Bennett, seeing a virtue in necessity. 

Her tenure with the firm and involvement with its digital product development dates to its last days as a Kodak division. When she first started, she recalls, Kodak was just putting a toe in the water by private labeling other equipment makers’ machines under its own brand. 

Bennett was involved in the company’s development of a suite of X-ray machines that gave medical offices still using analog equipment an easy way to transition to digital. The line was an early hit and has remained a mainstay of Carestream’s product line. 

“It was a game changer,” Bennett says. 

David Waldman M.D, chairman of UR Medicine’s Department of Imaging Sciences, which worked with Carestream to develop and test the product, concurs. 

When kinks needed to be worked out, Bennett, a “wonderful” but also “really driven” person, was on task.

Says Waldman, “When there was a problem, she always made it right.”  

Building on products it had developed for the dental market, Carestream has over the past several years been developing a 3-D CT scanner aimed at the sports medicine orthopedics market. 

Another bet the company is making is that it can make a dent in the mature ultrasound market with a machine it believes is more versatile and easier to use than traditionally configured scanners. 

After testing the 3-D scanner, which included tryouts with the Buffalo Bills and SUNY Buffalo’s UMBD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine group, the company won Food and Drug Administration clearance to market the portable machine to U.S. customers last fall.

Growing up in China

Bennett has an open and unassuming manner. She is unreservedly enthusiastic about her company’s products. 

Where most senior managers at her level would have an assistant fetch a beverage, Bennett brews and unself-consciously serves a cup of coffee to a visitor herself, offering the drink much as one might welcome a neighbor to one’s kitchen.

A small, dark-haired woman, she is fluent in English, which she first learned in China, but still occasionally has to search for an English equivalent of a Chinese word or phrase. 

“It’s a funny story,” says Bennett’s husband, Brad Bennett, recounting their first meeting at a GE company dinner in Shanghai. 

Seated at the same table, they had not previously met. He was then an engineer in GE’s aircraft division; she was in health care. 

“She sat down far away from me,” he recalls. “She could speak formal English well but wasn’t sure about conversational phrases and wanted to avoid having to talk to me.”

Jianqing Bennett grew up in rural China on a collective farm.  

“My parents were peasants,” she says.

She means the term to be a job description. Villages such as hers centered on state-owned collective farms. Families worked together in the collectively owned fields. Each family got a share of the crops, doled out according to the amount of work it put in. 

Residents were also permitted to farm small plots to raise food for personal consumption.

Motivated by a desire to get a bigger slice of the collective pie, Bennett says, most families pulled their children out of school as soon as possible. Though they were not themselves educated, Bennett’s parents thought differently. 

“My parents are very wise people,” she says. “They wanted us to be educated.”

The youngest of three siblings, Bennett, 47, was born 10 years before China instituted its since ended one-child policy.

Six years her elder, Bennett’s brother was the first person from her village to graduate from college. Her sister’s ability to learn was compromised after she suffered a brain infection, Bennett says. But rather than putting her to work in the fields, Bennett’s parents sent her sister, who is five years older than Bennett, to a trade school. 

In middle school, Bennett partly lived away from home, staying with other girls 

from around the region in a dormitory. She took a bus home on weekends.  

“It was a short bus ride,” she recalls. “But it was too far to walk and not everybody could afford a bicycle. I was very interested in math and physics, but applied, not theoretical. Einstein’s relativity I don’t think I can understand.”   

After taking a national exam, Bennett was accepted at Fudan University, a roughly 100-year-old elite and highly selective public institution in Shanghai that she calls “China’s Harvard.” 

Tuition was free but her parents paid for her room and board. After completing a six-year program, Bennett earned a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering, graduating from the school in 1993. She went to work for GE, selling X-ray equipment to state-owned Chinese hospitals.

Coming to the U.S.

In the 2000s, Jianqing and Brad Bennett decamped for the United States to attend graduate school. He had decided to switch careers and wanted to go to law school. She wanted to get more background in business.  

They ended up at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, a school where each could pursue their respective studies. He earned a J.D. She earned an MBA.   

After a brief return to GE Healthcare, where she worked at U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee, Jianqing Bennett landed a job with Kodak’s health care unit. 

Brad Bennett, whose attraction to the law had faded while his interest in wine making grew by the time he graduated from law school, found work as a vintner, running a winemaking operation for a small Ontario County grape grower, Amberg Wine Cellars LLC.

When the couple’s two children, David, now 11, and Emilia, 8, came along, they decided one of them should be an at-home parent.

“She was making a lot more money than I was, so that was me,” he explains. 

Now a stay-at-home dad, Brad Bennett supervises the couple’s Mendon home, where he maintains a small, noncommercial wine-making operation in the basement.  

His wife’s domestic pursuits largely consist of shopping for and arranging an elaborate annual Chinese New Year feast, “which she enjoys very much,” and, when she gets a chance, gardening, Brad Bennett says.  But work “keeps her very busy.”

She laments her difficulties with roses. 

“They are hard to keep alive,” she says. 

Digital transition

Kodak, after seeing its traditional film revenue fall prey to digital photography far faster than it anticipated, was forced into a painful and protracted Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Carestream hopes to avoid the fate of its onetime parent by offsetting X-ray film declines with digital equipment growth.

Traditional X-ray film has been slower to fade than its now virtually extinct cousin: acetate and silver nitrate roll film for analog cameras. But its days are still numbered. 

Carestream’s digital medical equipment business remains in its infancy, with the ultimate success of the company’s think-small strategy still to be proven. Its record so far has been mixed. 

In 2014, Onex reported earnings of $41 million on revenues of $2.36 billion for its health care imaging segment, which consists of Carestream. A year later, the unit’s bottom line was in the red with a $30 million loss on revenues of $2.1 billion. 

“The decrease in revenues was primarily due to lower X-ray traditional volume,” Onex’s 2015 annual report states.  

Headwinds Carestream has been fighting include, “lower volume in the computed radiography business, due to a faster than anticipated market decline…as the medical imaging market continues to transition from film to digital products. Lower prices and unfavorable product mix in the digital radiography and dental equipment businesses are driven by competitive mar­ket actions and a shift toward lower-priced value-tier (imaging software),” the report adds. 

Bennett remains optimistic about Carestream’s long-term prospects. 

The firm’s larger competitors, she is convinced, will continue to shun the think-small strategy, ignoring an opportunity that ultimately will pay off for Carestream.

The market’s bigger players, says Bennett, wrongly see the smaller but versatile digital imaging equipment Carestream is betting its future on as a danger that “would cannibalize what they’re doing now.”  

In the meantime, signals from Onex are that the Canadian firm, which has been generous in its support so far, will continue to support Carestream, she says. 

Though it is a private-equity investor, says Bennett, Onex is atypically for its industry “in it for the long term.”

Jianqing Bennett

Title: President, digital medical solutions, Carestream Healthcare Inc.

Age: 47

Education: B.S. in biomedical engineering, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, 1993; MBA, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 2006

Family: Husband, Brad Bennett; son, David, 11; daughter, Emilia, 8

Residence: Mendon

Activities:  Cooking, gardening, home decorating

Quote: “The key is to bring the machine to the patient.”

2/24/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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