Thomas O. Bales, Jr. has a degree in mechanical engineering; he graduated in 1970. Symbiosis Corporation, which he cofounded in 1988, now has sales of $60 million and 750 employees. It is a manufacturer of specialty medical devices and is located in Miami, Florida.
Bales had three cofounders, two of whom were friends from MIT days. The four were engineers working together for a medical instrument company supplying cardiologists. They thought they could run an instrument company better than business school grads; when an idea of theirs was rejected, they arranged an amicable split. Their former employer liked their product idea, put a down-payment on the initial shipment, and essentially financed their initial break-through.
Bales believes the secret to success in the medical instrument field is some sort of technological edge--some unique way of applying knowledge to a problem. Pacemakers (not his product, but a useful illustration) had been too heavy, so engineers with nuclear and rocketry experience familiar with strong, light-weight, corrosion-resistant materials such as tungsten and titanium were able to devise a light-weight substitute.
While engineers may be best at designing new products, he argues, they are not good at selling. His idea is to combine the engineering innovation of a small, scrappy company with the marketing muscle of larger instrument companies--hence the name Symbiosis. Symbiosis has recently been purchased by Boston Scientific, which will move some of its production to Miami (where production labor is $5.50 an hour as opposed to $15.50 in greater Boston). At the same time, many of the managerial and research portions of Symbiosis will be moved to Massachusetts, because it is so difficult to get technology managers, engineers, and other professionals to move to the Miami area.
With Symbiosis sold, Bales has gone on to start a new company providing rocket motors to the space program. He believes the importance of MIT is that anyone who's studied there knows what the state of the art is and has confidence that a group of bright people working together can solve practical problems.
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