Alcon's Endicott Seeks to Build on First-Year Progress, Invest in ECP Relationships and 'Complete the Swing' to a Standalone Company

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David Endicott
GENEVA—With its first year of operating as a standalone independent company just about wrapped up, Alcon (SIX/NYSE:ALC) is pleased with its progress but expects to build upon this initial success as it unlocks the company’s full potential in the eyecare sector. This was the message from chief executive officer David Endicott, who has been leading Alcon since last April when Novartis officially spun off its former eyecare business unit. “In 2019, we did what we said we would do. We delivered solid financial results and achieved several important operational milestones,” Endicott told analysts last week, noting that the next step for the company is to “harness the energy created by the spinoff” and build even more momentum in 2020 and going forward.

In its 2019 earnings report last week, which showed increases in both sales and core operating income, Alcon also noted that it has now achieved 13 consecutive quarters of top-line growth and has improved its standing with eyecare professionals, as VMAIL reported. “Our biggest metric is success with customers,” Endicott told VMAIL in a separate interview. “What we are trying to do is continue to be friendly to our customers in a way that helps their practices.”

Endicott said in his visits with ECPs and other customers the general feedback he’s hearing from these groups is that “Alcon is back.” He noted that while this is a good sign, Alcon still has work to do in the market.

“I would say ‘general consensus’ is the right [description] because we still have spots where we are making up for” past shortcomings, he explained. This includes the company’s investment in optometry and its relationships with universities, which are areas that Alcon hadn't executed as well with as it did in the pre-Novartis days. (Novartis spun off Alcon early last April, as VMAIL reported

He added, “There’s quite a lot that we can do for optometry that we need to get back to. That’s kind of the core of who we are. And we are going to keep investing and launching new products for optometrists and ophthalmologists all year. That’s the core idea of how we are going to get back to who I would say Alcon really is.”

One way this will continue to happen in 2020 is that Alcon’s business practice management group, that supports iLux MGD for dry eye will begin to build out what a comprehensive dry eye treatment program could look like in an eyecare practice and how this can benefit ODs. Endicott said Alcon expects to provide better coverage by reps this year as a result of a sales force redeployment that began last year as a way to enhance the frequency of reps’ visits to practice locations.

He also noted that Alcon is looking at ways to support ODs in the area of contact lens delivery directly to patients. “We are looking very carefully at how we might be able to help the independent optometrist, in particular, retain patients in his or her practice through some special direct-to-patient delivery,” he said.

The patient-delivery program is being tested by Alcon now—a process that competitors in the contact lens space also are working to develop, Endicott noted. “We will see how it takes shapes this year, [but] I don’t want to over-promise on it because people have been doing this for awhile. But I do think there are some interesting ideas that we are going to bring forward this year.”

Endicott also told VMAIL he believes Alcon has opportunities to increase its presence in the area of glaucoma treatments. He said the company believes that surgical intervention with a device is a real opportunity to help glaucoma patients. Endicott noted though that there are “many good ideas” for treating glaucoma in the development stages. “We are trying to find out where we ought to play, either with our own products or perhaps with external ideas that others have developed,” he added.

Endicott said ECPs are coming around and are now becoming more excited about Alcon’s product development and pipeline. “Optometrists are beginning to believe that Alcon is investing in the profession and in products that they believe will help their patients," he said.

With respect to the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on China, Endicott said Alcon does not have any manufacturing facilities in China but some of its suppliers operate production sites there. Alcon has contingency plans in place to offset any short-term impact.

“We have about three to four months of supply of key components that we need for manufacturing,” he said. “So we believe that, unless this persists beyond summertime, we are probably ok. But there are some assumptions, in there,” he added, noting that surgical equipment is the sole area at Alcon with its supply chain running though China.

There’s still work for the company to do as it works “to complete the swing,” as Endicott called it. But he’s pleased with the headway made to date. “We still have a lot to do to kind of separate entirely from Novartis but …. getting through the first year without any major hiccups has been a big step forward,” he told VMAIL.