Mike Mussallem took a bow after 23 years of steering Edwards Lifesciences Corp. (NYSE: EW) to become the world leader in replacing heart valves without resorting to open-heart surgery.
Normally tough analysts took the time on an April 26 first-quarter conference call to praise Mussallem, as did his successor during a May 11 annual meeting.
“Mike, we sound like a broken record over here, but it’s the end of an era, and you definitely will be missed,” UBS analyst Danielle Antalffy said on the call. “It’s been such a pleasure being on this journey with you as you have such a meaningful impact on so many patients’ lives, so thanks for letting us share that with you.”
Mussallem in December announced his plans to retire as CEO of the Irvine-based company while keeping the title of chairman.
In his final conference call, Edwards boosted 2023 revenue forecast to the high end of $5.6 billion to $6 billion.
“Mike, you have been an inspiration for all of us across the company as well as the medtech industry,” his replacement, Bernard Zovighian, told shareholders at the annual meeting.
Born and raised to a working-class family in Gary, Ind., Mussallem at the age of 18 went to work at a local steel mill, so he could pay for his chemical engineering degree at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which to this day he proudly noted that U.S. News & World Report has ranked for 22 consecutive years as the nation’s best undergraduate engineering school.
In 1979, he joined Baxter International as an engineer and eventually transferred to Orange County in 1988, rising through the ranks where he “fell in love with the cardiovascular business because of the connections with patients.”
When Baxter decided to exit the cardiovascular business with a spinoff named in honor of Miles “Lowell” Edwards, who built the world’s first mitral valve successfully placed in a patient, Mussallem said he raised his hand to become CEO.
A pivotal moment came in 2004 when Edwards paid $155 million to acquire PVT, a company experimenting with a catheter to replace aortic heart valves. Instead of performing open-heart surgeries, and cracking open a patient’s chest, a catheter could be introduced in a small hole in the upper thigh and then make its way to a diseased heart valve.
The replacement valve would inflate like a balloon, pushing aside the diseased valve.
“We’d been advised that it was a fool’s errand, would never work,” Mussallem recalled in an interview last year. “It was a bet-the-company investment because of the promise. We didn’t know if it was going to work.”
The company had to stop the first trial because early patients didn’t live, and the company had to revamp the procedure.
Eventually, the European Union in 2007 approved the procedure, followed by the U.S. in 2011.
The company’s stock, which began trading at a split adjusted $1.15 each in 2000 is now around $89 and a $54 billion market cap, making it Orange County’s most valuable publicly traded company for much of the past decade.
More than 800,000 patients have been treated with Edwards’ transcatheter therapies.
Mussallem boosted the company’s employee count to 17,000, including almost 5,000 in Orange County.
The Business Journal named Mussallem its Businessperson of the Year in the health sector in 2022.
Mussallem, who will remain chairman, says he’s planning to stay well involved in Orange County business and charitable affairs.
“I’m proud of Edwards’ continued dedication in providing innovative technologies and solutions for patients fighting cardiovascular disease and also restoring the critically ill to health,” Mussallem said at the annual meeting.