Larry Jackson Is Sunrise Medical’s New North American President: “It’s About Making a Difference”

Larry Jackson is back in the Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) industry as the new President of Sunrise Medical North America.

After 26 years with Permobil, starting as a sales rep and eventually becoming President of Permobil in the United States, Jackson announced his retirement in early 2019.

But leaving CRT behind turned out to be difficult, given Jackson’s lifetime of experience in the industry. He joins Sunrise Medical at a time when so much about healthcare’s future is evolving.

“Make a Difference in This World We Live In”

Jackson’s work in CRT began well before his well-known Permobil tenure.

Larry Jackson with Nashville cityscape background

Larry Jackson

“I was born in this industry, basically,” Jackson told Mobility Management. “My father had a dealership, and it’s an industry I really love.”

Jackson said that as a new retiree, he tried some of the usual activities, including watching Netflix and ESPN programs. But he found himself missing the interactions that had become part of his daily CRT routine.

“When I left, I really missed helping people,” he said. “And not just the clients we help every day. They’re great, and that’s what I want to do. But it’s also the employees and the teamwork. When I watched Michael Jordan on [ESPN], it reminded me of all the teamwork. I love interacting with the team. That’s what drew me back. I’m not done.”

Jackson acknowledged he had other inquiries and opportunities, but he added, “This is what I know, and this is where my passion is. You’re always told to follow your passion, and you’ll never work a day in your life. This is a tough business, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that you help people and you’re actually able to make a difference in the world, it does mean something to me, for sure.”

Ultimately, Jackson decided to return to the industry that has long been his calling.

“You can sell razor blades or toothbrushes, and you can work for one of those big companies,” he said. “Or you could go into the restaurant or bar business. But that just wasn’t going to be fulfilling for me. That’s what my fear was: I wasn’t going to be fulfilled. It’s not all about just making money or trying to sell something to somebody. It’s about making a difference. That’s even more important in this society in the last six months, obviously even in the last eight weeks, with the Black Lives Matter [movement] and everything. It’s so much more important to try to make a difference in this world we live in.”

A Tremendous Product Portfolio

The world we live in is changing before our eyes in many ways. Within CRT, those changes include existing and upcoming product offerings from Sunrise Medical.

“Sunrise is a bigger international company than most people think,” Jackson said. “They have the resources, and they’re always working to develop the infrastructure to increase their market share and increase their ability to sell more products.

“I’ve known Sunrise for all my life, basically. I remember when they were a public company. What I really am interested in now and what I learned more about was the product portfolio that they have. They have a tremendous product portfolio, a very wide product portfolio, from JAY cushions to manual chairs to power chairs. And then they bought high-end manual chair [manufacturer] RGK, outdoor power chair manufacturer Magic Mobility, and they bought Oracing, which is a sports chair and E-Mobility company. They’re very progressive in that application. They’re trying to look beyond Group 3 power chairs or K0005 manual chairs. They’re known for being really great manual chair operators, but they’re not known for everything else. When I looked at the portfolio, I didn’t think they were getting the recognition that they deserve.”

Jackson said he’s most excited about Sunrise’s R&D team “and the products we have in the pipeline in the next three years. It’s going to be phenomenal. It’s going to be quite a challenge to get them to the market and do all the education that’s going to be involved. I feel like I can apply my skills set to that. I’ve done those things in the past.”

The Future for Complex Rehab

Jackson said he’s excited by how well telehealth and remote services have worked during the COVID-19 pandemic’s trial by fire, and he sees plenty of applications even after the pandemic is over.

“Absolutely, especially people in rural areas who have been hard to reach,” he said. “They’re so underserved. You can go out to any Small Town, USA, and meet somebody who’s in the wrong product because it’s 50 miles to get to a real rehab [facility]. So they just take whatever they get.

“You see this in other places, as well: You see this in South America, you see this in Africa, you see this in China. If the accessibility of those places is limited, they get bad equipment. They get wrong equipment, for the most part. And then they just change their lives. They learn to live with it. I don’t think you should have to do that. The equipment should match the client.”

Despite the emergence of remote services, Jackson believes CRT will always be a hands-on industry.

“I think a hybrid version of [remote services and telehealth] down the road would be fantastic, but I still think you’re going to have to see people in clinic and you’re going to have to do physical evaluations,” he said. “That’s still going to be 70 percent of the business. I don’t think you’re going to get away from that. We have to be careful not to believe it’ll work in 100 percent of the applications. It just won’t. But if it’s done properly, you have a sales rep that doesn’t even have to go to the evaluation or the fitting, and you have a therapist remotely that’s there, and you do a video transfer back and forth, and it’s as good as being there. You didn’t have to travel, especially in high-traffic areas, the New York Cities and the Californias of the world, where you could do one fitting a day maybe, just because you’re stuck in traffic all the time. Now you can sit at home and do a couple a day, at least. And they can be high quality.”

Among the advantages of in-person visits, Jackson said, is introducing clients to new seating and wheeled mobility products.

“You’ve got a customer and it’s time for them to get a new chair,” Jackson said. “But they haven’t seen all the products. Technology changes very rapidly, and you’re doing a disservice to the clients, I think, if you don’t allow them to try everything.”

Planning Out Priorities

Asked what his priorities are for Sunrise Medical — seating, ultralightweight wheelchairs, tilt-in-space wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, alternative driving controls? — Jackson answered, “That’s tough! All of them are priority number one. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces here.”

 

One of Jackson’s big priorities is simplifying processes across the board, from selling seating with the wheelchairs to reducing the copious amounts of paperwork that up till now have always been a part of CRT.

“I will always believe there’s good money in healthcare,” he said. “I just think we waste it a lot of times on the wrong applications. We need to streamline the whole process and see whether telehealth is part of that streamlining. There’s no reason we need to have so many people at dealerships processing so much paperwork that goes through so many people at CMS. It’s just astronomically a lot of waste. And the clients are the ones who pay. They don’t get the proper equipment because of all of these wasted costs.”

Jackson also wants to be sure the client remains at the center of everything Sunrise Medical does. Jackson has long attended Abilities Expos to talk one on one with people who use wheelchairs and their families. Those are experiences he wants to retain and expand upon in his new role.

“When you go to an Abilities Expo show, you’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said of consumers. “They’re mad at the dealership, they’re mad at their insurance company, they’re mad at CMS or Medicaid or whomever may be. I don’t want them to be mad at us. We’re trying our best. That’s all we can do, try our best and do a good job and meet your expectations or exceed your expectations. And that’s what I want to bring, that positivity. That’s the goal: Let’s make this better. Whether it’s fighting on funding issues, bringing up things that aren’t paid for, like seat elevators — I think I can bring some of that to this market.”

Though Sunrise Medical is a global company, Jackson intends to cultivate and nurture the personal relationships that have always been the heart of Complex Rehab.

“You can be as big a company as you want to be, but at the end of the day, it’s still about your interaction with people,” he said. “You can’t lose that interaction with customers. You’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to bring the sunshine. For our clients, there are so many things that can bring them down: They have a disability, maybe they had a car wreck, and their life is completely changing. We don’t want your product to be one of your problems. We want our products to be something that actually helps you. Let the other things in your life be your focus, not the product. The product’s got to work and it’s got to work in the background. It’s kind of like a good computer. If you’ve got a good computer, you don’t notice. But if it breaks on you all the time, it really kills your whole world.”

Larry Jackson began his CRT career as a sales rep for his father’s “small, very small” rehab business. A lot has changed since then, but a lot hasn’t.

“The beauty is you’re always interacting with clients and customers, and you can truly see what a really good technical device can do for somebody,” he explained. “You send them the chair, you take care of them, it makes their life better, and you pat yourself on the back and go on to the next one.

“I always love going to the Abilities Expos and seeing people and trying to get as many of the office employees involved in that, because if you’re not sales rep, you don’t get that feedback. And that loop is very important. Once you get that, it’s a fever. It’s like being bit. You love it. That’s where I am, to be quite honest. That’s what I missed.”