Lesley Gouldie, CEO of Thornhill Medical (Photograph by Marc Rochette/Courtesy of Thornhill Medical)
When Lesley Gouldie and the team at Thornhill Medical were approached by the Ontario and Canadian governments to supply hundreds of their unique MOVES SLC life-support machines, Gouldie, the company’s president and CEO, knew they would have to move fast.
Normally, the small Toronto-based company can produce 25 to 50 units per month but, to provide such urgent support, Gouldie helped Thornhill Medical ramp up its operations almost overnight so they could produce 300 to 500 units per month.
“We were able to find a manufacturing partner very quickly,” says Gouldie, a CPA, referring to Guelph, Ont.-based auto parts manufacturer Linamar. “They were a great partner. We were able to leverage their supply chain capabilities as well as their manufacturing capabilities to support us to bring our product into market as soon as we could.” This move helped the company dramatically increase its capacity. “[We] are very proud that we’ve been able to provide some level of support and comfort to people with technologies that can help.”
Gouldie benefited from her experience as a CPA as she moved to safely scale up operations. Born and educated in South Africa, she became a professional accountant there in 1985. She moved to Canada in 1986, where she developed a keen interest for operations. “Every time I took on a role, I expanded my footprint from the pure financial into more operational,” says Gouldie. She gained marketing and sales experience when she ran the higher education division at Nelson and, later, a digital marketing company.
In December 2015, Gouldie was hired as the chief business officer of Thornhill Medical, a role that blended financial support, business development and operations. In February 2019, she became the company’s CEO.
PIVOT: What makes Thornhill Medical’s mobile ICU devices unique and important in the fight against COVID-19?
Lesley Gouldie (LG): Our particular technology is not just a ventilator—it’s an integrated life support system, which includes ventilation, an oxygen concentrator, patient monitoring and suction. It’s portable, compact, battery operated, clips onto the side of a stretcher and can be used in very extreme environments.
The MOVES SLC passed all kinds of very stringent tests so it can be used for patient transportation. Think about a patient in an ICU unit who’s attached to all that technology for life care support and has to be moved by helicopter to another facility. From a logistical point of view, how do you do that? Our technology has life-saving components embedded in it and can be attached to a stretcher so the patient can be moved in a continuum of care, whether they have to be transported to another hospital or just down the hallway.
These devices give the front-line heath care workers a whole suite of solutions at their fingertips so they can solve a multitude of different problems.
PIVOT: What is Thornhill Medical’s current focus?
(LG): We completed the Ontario order and are in the process of finishing up the Canadian order. We also got an order from the Department of National Defence, which was really great for us because, ironically, our technology—while in use—had not been adopted by Canadians prior to the pandemic. Getting the endorsement of the Canadian government and the provincial government has been fantastically gratifying for us and has made us very proud to not only serve our country but it also will help us with getting Canadian exports going forward. We’re expanding our footprint and are in the process of looking to support other jurisdictions; we continue to field inquiries from around the world.
We’ve also had to rethink our entire business because our go-to-market strategy involved a lot of face-to-face meetings, travelling around the world, in-person training, presenting at conferences and being at trade shows. We can’t do any of that stuff now so we’re in the middle of revitalizing our entire digital strategy and building all kinds of digital assets.
PIVOT: You had to move quickly to scale operations while also juggling public health guidelines to help protect employees’ health and well-being. What was that like?
(LG): Our team is fairly accustomed to thinking about crisis response and agility, just because of the nature of the products we develop and manufacture. It’s part of our mindset.
Scaling up to seize this opportunity and meet the needs of the pandemic is an extraordinary challenge. It really was an unprecedented task, but people were amazing and, to me, it gave everybody in our company the opportunity to be a leader because there wasn’t time to ask questions—everybody had to act really quickly. What was so heartening to me, as a leader and as a human being, was to see everybody so willingly step up to the challenge and be so proud that we could actually be part of the solution.
PIVOT: In what ways has your accounting background been beneficial to your work?
(LG): My CPA training helped me move forward with confidence to act with the speed that I needed to. When working in a company adjunct on its life cycle, there are many things you have to take into consideration—such as securing financing, managing working capital and prioritizing spending. My CPA experience and learning early on in my career enabled me to do that in a very confident way and made that aspect of my job so much easier.
With scaling up, I had to make so many decisions of extraordinary magnitude—in terms of dollars and in being strategic—in a very short period of time. We were all making decisions in a week that normally take six to nine months. Having had that financial training and background really enabled me to have the confidence to do it and to act quickly.
When you’re scaling very quickly and dealing with suppliers who are scaling very quickly, and you’re dealing with medical devices, you’ve got to make sure that all the quality processes are still being complied with and that the business is protected. Risk mitigation and understanding and managing risk are a really big part of what you learn as a CPA.
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From the front lines
Lesley Gouldie offers some hard-earned advice for small and medium-sized businesses as they continue to weather the effects of the pandemic
1) Business owners: take care of your health first. “You need to be healthy both physically and mentally to make sure your business can be sustained.”
2) Manage your fixed costs. “When you’re a small business, this is one of your biggest challenges. Maybe there’s a way you can share your overhead with like-minded businesses, cost-share or develop some economies of scale.”
3) “Deconstruct and revisit your business model because you can shift how you deliver your offering. Perhaps you can monetize things that previously you hadn’t thought of.”
4) Improve your e-commerce platform and digital strategy. “If you don’t have a digital presence and an e-commerce platform, that’s very challenging. You may think your business doesn’t need them—it does.”
5) Seek outside professional advice. “Sometimes it’s worthwhile getting professional advice on potentially restructuring or eliminating costs. You may not want to spend the money in the short term, but if they can help you reframe your cost structure, it could be very beneficial in the long term.”