An Oregon Trailblazer

Edition: July 2006 - Vol 14 Number 07
Article#: 2440
Author: Repertoire

Twenty-three years ago, Bob Altstock was talking about things that people are still talking about today. Altstock, who was president of Shaw Surgical in Portland, Ore., and chairman of the American Surgical Trade Association (now HIDA), died last August.

In an interview published in the September 1982 issue of now-defunct Medical Product Sales magazine, conducted as Altstock was poised to become the trade association’s senior VP, he reflected on the changing dynamics of hospital and physician-office sales. “For the hospital supplier, the real goal has shifted from a heavy emphasis on sales to getting the goods to the hospital and the departments within it in the most efficient, cost-effective way,” he was quoted as saying. Meanwhile, he said, the real selling activity was taking place in the physician’s office. At the time, Altstock’s company was already 55 percent non-hospital and 45 percent hospital.

Altstock was born May 10, 1925, in Portland, Ore., and served as an officer in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he started his career as a sales rep at Altstock and Fay Co., the company his grandfather founded in 1900. Several years later, he went to work for Altstock and Fay’s competitor, Shaw Surgical. One of his first assignments there was calling on physicians in a territory 50 miles from Portland. It didn’t take long for Altstock to convince Shaw’s owners that they should be covering the physician market in Portland as well. Within a few years, the company had four sales reps calling on physicians in Oregon’s largest city. Altstock became Shaw’s sales manager in 1964, VP of sales in 1972, corporate VP in 1978, and finally, president in 1981. Ultimately, Shaw was sold, and Altstock went to work for the Portland operation of Biddle & Crowther (now Cardinal Health).

Mentor to many

“When I was the new kid on the block [at ASTA], Bob took me under his wing,” says Herb Hilton, who now works for PSS. “He mentored me; I was proud to call him a friend.” While Altstock served as ASTA president, Hilton — who ran his own business, Hilton Surgical Supply, in Houston — served as the chairman of the physician/alternate site market group. He credits Altstock with helping him push through a physician sales certification program.

“Bob was a very polite, gentlemanly person,” recalls Berk Biddle, whose father co-founded Biddle & Crowther in 1930. (He sold the company to Bergen Brunswig — now Cardinal Health — in 1995.) Biddle describes Altstock as having a low-key personality, “in the Oregon fashion.”

“Beyond a doubt, he was one of the nicest men I ever met,” says DeWight Titus, who was assistant West Coast regional director for ASTA when Altstock was director. “When I came to ASTA, he led me through the maze.”

“He was a very well-respected person in the medical community, and was considered an honest man and one you could trust,” says Nora Altstock, who married Altstock in November 1970, just three months after they met. At the time, she was a buyer in the purchasing department of Kaiser Hospital in Portland, while Altstock was sales manager for Shaw Surgical. After he retired from Biddle & Crowther, Altstock worked part-time in home health stores and pharmacies in Portland and Canby, Ore., says Nora Altstock. The couple moved to Arizona after he sustained a stroke and was no longer able to work. He lived for 2 1/2 more years.

His funeral was held in Portland, and some 200 people attended. “It was quite a sign of the respect that people had for him,” says Nora Altstock. Bob and Nora Altstock had six children: Deborah, Robert, Christopher, Letha, Thea and William.