Josh Anderson: My Job Is to Be a Sounding Board

The last two years have been a whirlwind for Permobil, the complex rehab power wheelchair manufacturer based in Lebanon, Tenn.

In May 2014, Permobil acquired TiLite, the custom ultralightweight wheelchair manufacturer in Pasco, Wash.

Less than a year later, in March 2015, Permobil announced the acquisition of ROHO Inc., a seating manufacturer based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. The swirl of activity made the industry wonder: What would happen to the renowned TiLite and ROHO brands? Would the companies lose their identities and be swallowed up by Permobil?

Whether coincidentally or related to this sudden, explosive growth, some shaking out seemed to occur in the months after the ROHO acquisition. Permobil saw personnel changes in divisions including sales and marketing.

Then in November, Permobil President Larry Jackson announced that Josh Anderson, a VP with TiLite, had been promoted to VP of marketing for Permobil. The move was additionally significant because it meant an employee of one of the acquired companies had been added to Permobil’s senior management team.

An Industry Veteran

Anderson, of course, is not new to the industry. He’s made his career in complex rehab, first by working for a provider, then moving into the marketing department for wheel manufacturer Spinergy. Anderson then moved to TiLite to direct marketing and, most recently, product and brand development efforts.

Despite that résumé, Anderson told Mobility Management that he sees his new role as a facilitator and wants to support his colleagues’ efforts rather than to just come in and make changes as he sees fit.

“ROHO, being the newest member of the family, is operating on their own in terms of their marketing,” Anderson said. “But what we really hope to accomplish with this integration is to utilize the talent that we have across the three different organizations. We’ve got people in Nashville who are really good with print, and we have people in St. Louis who are great with the different social media. Being able to utilize those talents across all three organizations is really huge. It gives us a sounding board: What do you think about this? and vice versa. Sharing a lot of those resources is the area I think that we stand to gain the most in the short term.”

As far as what ATPs and clinicians will see, Anderson explained, “I think that they’ll see, because we’re all part of the same family, a more integrated, high-end look across all of our ads, even though we’re functioning as different units. We’ll have a breadth of talent that in every way will improve the look of the ads, whether it’s from photography to text to placement. My focus is on TiLite and Permobil. We are hiring within both departments so we have the right people to do the things we want to do. We have a really aggressive schedule for what we want to commit to in terms of developing campaigns around our existing products, online and Web site development, pretty much every facet of marketing. We want to improve and change the look, give everything a fresh new look, and I think that’s a bold statement, to do that in many different arenas in a pretty short time period. We would like to do that in 2016.”

From a Consumer’s Perspective

In addition to his marketing expertise, Anderson brings the consumer perspective to his new position. A wheelchair user since his teens, Anderson has developed high expectations for the seating & wheeled mobility equipment he uses every day, and for the equipment he wants Permobil, TiLite and ROHO to offer his peers.

“I think wheelchair users are just like any consumers,” Anderson said. “They’re looking at the aesthetics of the chair, saying, ‘Can I see myself using that product? Does that make me feel more enabled, or do I feel disabled?’ If I’m sitting a hospital chair and I look in the mirror, I feel pretty disabled. If I’m sitting in a TiLite or in a Permobil, I feel more enabled because they’re sleek, they’re modern, they have this design element that makes them less medical. And I think that’s really cool.”

When Anderson discusses wheelchairs and their components, he sounds like the educated consumer he is — and he’s convinced that other chair users assess their mobility choices the same way.

“When you talk about what does a consumer see and look for, they look for a comfort level,” he noted. “I don’t mean just a physical comfort level, but reassurance. When you’re talking about seating & positioning, with a backrest you have a lot of real estate, and you’re looking for something clean and elegant that integrates into your chair. At the same time and equally as important for all of these products is a functional level. Looking at that product, does it meet my functional needs? Is it going to have the performance that I’m looking for? Is that going to make my quality of life better than any other product on the market? If you’re talking about a power chair that has a standing function, and that you can weight shift and weight bear all at the same time, and it’s in this sleek package that nobody even notices — that’s huge.”

What the Industry Will See

Permobil and TiLite shared booths at such events as the International Seating Symposium in 2015; expect all three manufacturers to share exhibit space going forward, Anderson said.

More significantly, expect the three to share intellectual resources, such as the expertise of their respective clinicians. And look for research efforts to continue.

“ROHO has a fantastic group of researchers led by Kara Kopplin,” Anderson said. “So we’re already looking at different products and types of research that we can work on together. There is no one in the industry that has done nearly as good a job in terms of their research and developing usable data. That’s definitely going to continue.”

Anderson also looks forward to technology collaborations, when designers and engineers from all three companies are able to get together and let ideas fly. “That integration’s already happening, and it’s fun,” he said. “Again, what makes it easy for us all to work together is the same fundamental philosophy. If you asked anybody at ROHO, they would say absolutely, we are consumer centered and develop the best possible products for our customers. If you asked somebody at Permobil, they’d say the same thing. If you asked somebody at TiLite, they’d say the same thing.

“Going into a project, we’re not designing around a code or developing around a code or creating a marketing around, ‘Hey, we offer free armrests’ or something like that. We’re looking at ‘What can we do to enhance our users’ lives?’ When you start from that basic point and move forward from there, it makes it so easy to do all these things and these integrations.”

And as for the latest acquisition — Patricia Industries, a division of Permobil’s parent company, Investor AB, purchased adaptive automotive manufacturer BraunAbility in September — Anderson can’t contain his excitement. His father made his career in the automotive industry, so cars are in Anderson’s blood.

“I haven’t had any conversations with [BraunAbility] yet as far as collaborations, but that certainly would be a dream of mine,” he said. “Just from the standpoint that if there’s an area where I’ve seen a disconnect, it’s the wheelchair manufacturers and the adaptive vehicle manufacturers never really did communicate. I feel there’s this void in the way our products can be integrated to work together and be seamless and much better looking and again, offer better quality of life. As soon as I heard [about the acquisition], my mind started racing: What could we do to develop this next level of product together?”

“Some of the Best People in the Industry”

Anderson was adamant that his responsibilities include supporting the efforts of all of his colleagues. “This family, I think, represents some of the best people in the industry,” he said.

And he is not worried about either TiLite or ROHO being strong-armed or absorbed into Permobil.

“I don’t think anything will be forcibly changed,” he said. “Everyone, whether they’re working in Pasco or St. Louis or in Nashville, there’s such a great deal of respect for the people who have built these brands and these companies that nothing would forcibly changed. If there’s a strong feeling about things, those people are heard. There’s always middle ground that can be reached.”

He noted that, speaking with his Permobil hat on, “We would never forcibly change something at TiLite, just from the standpoint that if we were getting pushback on it, there’s a reason. We need to take a better look at that, and maybe come up with a better solution. The same holds true for ROHO.

“My job here right now is to facilitate those projects we all want to move forward on, and be a sounding board and the type of person that anyone can go to with questions and concerns.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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