At the start of the summer, and after 17 years with TiLite and Permobil, Josh Anderson decided it was time for a break.
While working for TiLite — which Permobil acquired in 2014 — Anderson had overseen the launch of every product in the ultralightweight wheelchair manufacturer’s portfolio and had been part of the incredible growth TiLite experienced. In fact, Anderson has spent his entire career within Complex Rehab Technology (CRT). He got his start working for a dealer in Miami, where he quickly established himself as the expert to contact for highly custom manual chairs. Anderson was known to develop and create components on his own that made existing manual chairs more functional for his clients… a skill he says he developed out of necessity.
Better Fit = Improved Mobility
At age 14, Anderson sustained a cervical spinal cord injury in a diving accident. At the time, he was a sophomore in high school and already standing at 6’6”.
“Yes,” Anderson said, anticipating the question. “I played basketball.”
After the accident, he did his rehab at Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. But even one of the best facilities in the country had trouble fitting Anderson for a manual wheelchair. He had to sit on two cushions just to get his legs positioned on the footrest without the footrest dragging against the ground. This position was problematic because he was then too far from the wheel to efficiently propel or maneuver the chair.
“I would go on outings with other new injuries and be so frustrated that I couldn’t do what the ‘paras’ were doing,” Anderson says, referring to peers with paraplegia. While watching them, Anderson became convinced that his mobility would improve if the chair just fit him better. He started hanging around Shepherd’s wheelchair tech, himself a chair rider, and tweaking on his chair. And he immediately saw the significant difference that a little adjustment could make to his mobility.
It was a discovery that would serve Anderson well throughout his career.
While working at the dealership in Miami and having access to the latest high-tech chairs, Anderson noticed something: “While manufacturers were rapidly developing better manual wheelchair frames, the major components for the chairs had become very stagnated,” he recalled. “There was no one really using high-end wheels in the manual wheelchair industry. If you bought a high-end bicycle, you would expect to get high-end wheels. The same holds true for cars: If you bought a Porsche, you would be very disappointed if it came with hubcaps.”
But the same principle did not hold true for manual wheelchairs. Anderson noted that at the time, it was common to get a high-end wheelchair with nothing more than basic wheels. Recognizing this, he went on to start the wheelchair division at Spinergy, the dominant player in high-end wheels within CRT. And while these wheels were a huge leap in technology and performance for manual wheelchairs, Anderson said he is equally proud of what he calls the aesthetic effect.
“It was with these wheels that I first realized that a radical new look could have a huge impact on how a rider perceives themselves,” he noted. “I want to look in the mirror and feel enabled, not disabled.
“One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever heard was while sitting in the airport, a stranger came up to me and said, ‘Man that is a really cool bike!’ That was so impactful because he equated my chair more to a bicycle than to a wheelchair. I was no longer using a device for people with disabilities, but a consumer device.”
In 2004, Anderson went to work for TiLite. “I loved working at Spinergy, and they were doing amazing things,” he said. “But there was something about this new company that really appealed to me. TiLite would do anything they could to provide the rider with better mobility — appreciating that it’s not just better materials like titanium, but that those materials need to be combined with a better fit to produce a better outcome for the rider.
“Every team member at TiLite shared that passion. We believed any product we developed needed to provide the rider with some unique benefit not available on another product. If it didn’t, we had no business making it. From 2004 to 2014, we released at least one new product every year along with several component upgrades. It was a small group of very passionate people working in a very agile environment that accomplished great things quickly. I believe TiLite set a new standard for aesthetics and performance manual mobility.”
A Big Pitch & a New Challenge
Fast forward to early 2021. Looking for his next challenge after leaving Permobil, Anderson says he needed time away to figure out his next move. He and his wife, Abby, flew to Hawaii for a tropical vacation in mid June.
But Anderson’s hiatus, retirement, or time away from CRT, whatever you choose to call it, lasted just two weeks… and ended when Anderson answered his cell phone while on a Hawaiian beach.
That phone call was from Larry Jackson, President of Sunrise Medical North America. In July, Jackson celebrated his first anniversary at Sunrise Medical after a long tenure at Permobil.
“Josh and I have known each other for more than 25 years!” Jackson said. “I loved having him work for me when I was at Permobil and knew how passionate he was about manual mobility.
“We kept in touch since my departure, but mainly to talk about Formula 1 auto racing. As soon as I heard he was looking to do something different, I called him. I said, ‘I have something that may interest you!’”
Jackson’s big pitch: Sunrise Medical was looking to bring RGK wheelchairs to the American market.
“I knew that Josh liked RGKs,” Jackson acknowledged. “He always said they were extremely good at creating solutions to chair riders’ unique needs. Solutions that riders couldn’t live without once they had it!
“I told him I needed help bringing RGK here. While they’ve been very successful at building their business in other parts of the world, they have never looked to the U.S. market, predominately because they did not have somebody who knew the market well enough. Seeing as how Josh has done this twice — this would be perfect for him!”
Anderson’s new role as VP of Business Development makes him responsible for RGK within the United States while reporting directly to Jackson. “Josh knows firsthand that a better fit chair yields better outcomes for the rider,” Jackson said. “He also knows the aesthetic expectations the customer has. I am sure Josh had other offers, but I said, ‘It’s not just about making money. It’s about making a difference and a sense of fulfillment.’ I think that’s what sold him!”
For Anderson, joining the Sunrise Medical team is a bit like returning to his earliest days as a wheelchair rider… while also looking forward to what comes next.
“I have grown up with Sunrise,” Anderson said. “My first wheelchair out of rehab was a Motion Designs QUICKIE 2. They are known for great manual wheelchairs. So it will be very important to position RGK as a product line extension.
“We do not want to cannibalize Sunrise’s outstanding product offering with QUICKIE, but merely to market RGK as an option for those riders that require a higher level of customization. One of the challenges will be simplifying the process of getting a made-to-measure manual wheelchair. That means making it easier for those doing the prescribing to order a custom chair as well as simplifying the paperwork and delivery time to get a custom wheelchair.”
And while Anderson originally thought he’d have more down time between positions, he’s now more than ready to get going.
“Sunrise has a very aggressive timeline for RGK, and there is a lot that needs to be done,” he says. “I feel very confident that I have the full support of Larry, RGK, and the entire team at Sunrise. I am very excited about this next chapter in my career!”