The Motley Fool's readers have spoken, and I have heeded your cries. After months of pointing out CEO gaffes and faux pas, I've decided to make it a weekly tradition to also point out corporate leaders who are putting the interests of shareholders and the public first, and who are generally deserving of praise from investors. For reference, here is last week's selection.
This week I'd like to take a closer look at robotic surgical system designer Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG), and I'll show you why Gary Guthart is truly a one-of-a-kind leader.
Kudos to you, Mr. Guthart
Normally when I proclaim a company to be best in class, there's some bit of opinion thrown into the mix. With regard to Intuitive Surgical, it's 100% fact.
Intuitive Surgical is the company behind the da Vinci surgical system that's been sold and licensed to hospitals and universities worldwide. Intuitive generates revenue from selling the machines directly, as well as licensing them on a per-procedure basis. At the moment, there's no other company out there that can compete with Intuitive on a large scale. Robotic arm solutions company MAKO Surgical (NASDAQ: MAKO) and Hansen Medical (NASDAQ: HNSN), which sells robotics for catheter placement, have both missed analysts estimates by a mile! Promise for both companies has been high, but execution and costs have been their downfall. Even Accuray's (NASDAQ: ARAY) CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery system, which by all accounts sounds like a winner on paper, has seen sales creep higher while profits remain elusive.
Sometimes it's as simple as executing, and Intuitive Surgical, led by Gary Guthart, is getting the job done. In Intuitive Surgical's most recent quarter, the company noted growth across the board, with procedure growth of 26%, an additional 21 da Vinci surgical systems being sold over the previous year, a 23% rise in service revenue, and a 32% rise in net income. Game-set-match, Intuitive Surgical!
What's truly impressive is that this is the norm for Intuitive Surgical, which has grown, on average, at a rate of 25% per year!
Perhaps the only downside to mention is that the passing of the Affordable Care Act will impose a 2.3% excise tax on medical device companies like Intuitive Surgical and Medtronic (NYSE: MDT). Then again, both companies could ultimately benefit from the move as a larger pool of insured people could merit more physicians prescribing previously elected procedures and devices manufactured by these companies.
A step above his peers
Aside from dominating the competition, Mr. Guthart hasn't lost focus on what matters most: the employees and physicians that got the company to where it is today.
I think it speaks volumes that a quick glance of the executive management team at Intuitive Surgical will reveal more than a handful of executives tenured eight to 16 years, with only its Vice President of Human Resources tenured less than four years. Promoting from within and keeping its employees happy has always been a strong component to keeping a cohesive team and driving growth.
It's also worth noting that much of Gary Guthart's executive compensation is based on the performance of the stock. With a low base salary, Guthart aligns his pay with the performance of Intuitive's stock which is ultimately a win-win for investors.
For its non-executive team, Intuitive Surgical deserves a gold star as well. Full-time employees enjoy such benefits as: comprehensive health-care benefits, life insurance up to three times a workers' annual salary for beneficiaries, short and long-term disability protection, a generous paid-time off program, 401(k), and various Google-esque styled in-house perks like on-site oil changes for their cars.
Intuitive Surgical also extends its hand to fellow researchers. Each year, it hands out clinical robotics fellowship grants and technology research grants in the hope of advancing the efficacy, safety, and usefulness of robotics as pertaining to their use in surgery.
Two thumbs up
Simply put, Gary Guthart and Intuitive Surgical have created a well-oiled growth machine. We've been hearing for years that growth would slow or that its da Vinci surgical systems would drop in price as the technology became more prevalent and competition ramped up. What we've seen is the competition fail on multiple levels and Intuitive only grow stronger on every occasion. Although Intuitive Surgical offers no dividend, with $1.2 billion in cash and no debt, it may just be a matter of time before one is introduced. With fantastic employee perks, a cohesive and long-tenured executive staff, and a product that is second to none, Gary Guthart has delivered for shareholders many times over and deserves two emphatic thumbs up.
Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this prestigious weekly honor? If so, then head on over to the new CEO of the Week board and chime in with your fellow Fools on who deserves some praise. If you don't have a nominee yet, don't worry: You can still weigh in on other members' selections.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He loves giving credit when credit is due. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
The Motley Fool owns shares of Intuitive Surgical, MAKO Surgical, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Intuitive Surgical, MAKO Surgical, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.