Edition: May 2013 - Vol 21 Number 05
Article#: 4236
Author: Repertoire

Editor’s Note: John Sasen, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of PSS World Medical – died at the age of 70 on Feb. 26. At the time of his death, he was looking forward to the challenge of melding the marketing efforts of PSS with those of McKesson Medical-Surgical. His career in healthcare spanned more than 40 years beginning with Clay Adams, a division of BD, where he eventually became vice president of sales, marketing and distributor relations. He joined PSS founder Pat Kelly at PSS in 1989. Following his death, Repertoire asked people in the industry to talk or write about John Sasen.

Doug Harper, group vice president and general manager, Invacare continuing care and outcomes management (and former president, PSS)

Adapted from remarks delivered at memorial service for John Sasen

It has become commonplace at many memorial services now to talk about what one did with the “dash” in their life. Of course, the dash is your life between your birth date and your death.

Has anyone lived their dash more than John did?

  • Great family man.

  • Extraordinary skier.

  • World-class diver.

  • Expert fisherman.

  • World traveler.

  • Golfer??

Has there ever been a better mentor:

  • To rookie reps?

  • To young and old leaders?

  • Presidents of divisions?

  • Captains of industries?

  • Entire industry?

A better negotiator?

  • Vendors left every meeting feeling they won. They didn’t.

  • Customers felt they got a deal. They didn’t.

  • Fishing bets with David, John always won.

A better salesman?

Everyone can tell a story about John. I’ll share one. It was 1976; I was a rookie salesman trying to figure out how to earn a living selling $3.50 alcohol dispensers. John at the time was a Clay Adams salesman in New England. He and I worked almost a day a week; he was the first one to turn me on to selling equipment. We had done a demonstration of an Accustat cell counter for a doctor in Fair Haven, Mass., and we were back to hopefully get the order. The receptionist asked us to please have a seat. As we’re sitting down, we see the doctor backing out of his space in the parking lot. John said, “Let’s go.” He grabbed onto the handle of the car on the driver’s side, shouting, “Doctor, only two CBCs will pay for this equipment.” The car continued to move. We didn’t get that particular order, but that was John the salesman – he never gave up.

A better leader?

  • What would you not do for this man?

  • He had an uncanny sense of when he was needed and what you needed.

  • He could take you to the “woodshed,” however, he would always lead you out.

A better friend?

  • No one ever had more friends. Did you ever walk a HIDA meeting with him?

  • Did you ever mention his name anywhere and not have the person you were talking to sing his praise?

John left every room and everyone he met better than he found them. Thank you John, for the impact that you had on our “dash.”

Mark Steele, president, Gulf South Medical Supply

I first met John in 1995. All PSS sales trainees traveled to the corporate office in Jacksonville, Fla., to attend PSS University. During the trip, our group was to have lunch with a PSS corporate officer. I remember being a little nervous going to the lunch, but how John was so gracious and could so quickly put you at ease. He went around the room and asked each trainee where they were from. When I told him that I was from L.A., he teased back, “Mark, you better be careful saying that in this part of the country because L.A. means ‘Lower Alabama.’” It was that kind of wit that John had that quickly won people over.

John is one of the most gracious people you will ever meet. Gary Corless always says John “teaches people how to treat people.” He treated all people with the utmost respect and dignity. Because there was such a rock solid foundation of trust with John, he was able to establish partnerships in the industry that others simply could not. Less known to many was his ability to resolve conflicts. I was speaking to an industry leader last week and he said that John many times “smoothed PSS’s sharp edges.”

John always spoke about “giving back” to the industry that he loved so much. We all saw this in the many years of participation on the HIDA board and industry panels. What was less seen was the private, one-on-one conversations John had with hundreds of people in this industry. Many a person’s career in this industry is that much better because of John’s selfless giving of his time and guidance.

I’ve got a few [stories to share about John.] John and I lived in the same town. I was driving on the way home and noticed that John was a couple of cars in front of me. An older woman whose car was in the center median was trying to get back on the road, but no one was letting her. John stopped, got out of his car and directed the woman back onto the road. While many have the “best intentions,” John is one of the few that acted on those intentions.

Eric Cohen tells a great story about how he went fishing with John. They were having a great day and caught a lot of fish. Later that day, a boat pulled up next to them and they got to talking. John found out that they hadn’t caught any fish yet and proceeded to give them fish from his boat. That was John, always giving.

No matter how busy John was, when you had a meeting with him, he acted like he had been waiting for that meeting all day long. You were given the warmest welcome, his distinctive handshake (first shake up and down, next shake he’d pull you closer) and something to drink. You then received what so few people do – 100 percent of his attention. Every fiber of his body was focused on you and what you had to say.

One more thought. John was a masterful negotiator, but it wasn’t because he would “win” and the other side would “lose.” It was because John invested the time to understand the other side’s needs and then worked extremely hard to create a deal where both parties would win.

Cynthia Logan, executive assistant, PSS

I first met John over the phone in 1987 when he was with Becton Dickinson and I had just started with PSS. One of my responsibilities was to facilitate sales meetings, and BD was a vendor who always showed their support at our events. To that end, he was my contact for questions, requests, etc. I was new, intimidated and overwhelmed, but he was as kind and patient as one could be helping me work through whatever issues I had. Who knew that down the road I would be working directly with him for 13 years? How blessed I was!

John had many strengths, but at the foundation were his faith and exceptional character. He treated everyone he met, no matter their station, the same – genuinely, with dignity and respect. He knew how to initiate and nurture relationships so that they grew and matured. His instincts were spot on and he just inherently knew what to “do” in whatever situation he faced.

John was a man who knew how to leave a legacy. He had a passion for the industry and compassion for its people. The fact that he gave so freely of his time to mentor countless young hopefuls spoke volumes. He contributed greatly in the areas of education and training to benefit the industry as a whole.

There are so many stories to choose from that attest to his character, but the most recent one I will share occurred at the end of January. I found myself admitted to the hospital for several days with, at that time, an undiagnosed condition. My co-workers found out that he planned to visit, and alerted me. With full knowledge of his recent heart surgery, I was afraid he would catch something that might derail his recovery. I begged them to tell him not to come. I e-mailed and told him I was concerned for his health and not to come. Well, guess who showed up carrying a vase of flowers bigger than he was? He wasn’t supposed to lift anything over 10 pounds, and that arrangement must have weighed 20 or more. It was HUGE! When I said to him, “You should not have done that,” he smiled and replied, “It was a labor of love.” I will tear up from now on when I recall that day. He was so special and dear!

Gary Corless, COO, McKesson Medical-Surgical

Corless, former president of PSS World Medical, shared this story with Repertoire:

I hopped in a cab at the airport here in Jacksonville. The cabbie asked me what I do. I told him I work for PSS. He said, “Do ya know John Sasen?” Then he said, “Nicest guy I’ve ever met driving a cab 20 years. As I pulled up to drop him off at a beautiful beachfront home, I commented on how nice it was. He said to me, ‘Come on in for a beer.’ So I did. Who does that?’”

We all knew someone – perhaps the only one – who does that.

It is very hard to sum up John and all that he represented. If I was allowed one sentence to do so I would say this: “John genuinely wanted … and acted … to help everyone he met.” Think of what that actually means on a day-to-day basis. Over 23 years, I never saw him falter. Truly humbling.

Eddie Dienes, president, primary care sales, McKesson Medical-Surgical

I met John when he was still with BD. When he came over to PSS, we became close friends immediately, and that friendship and respect grew over the years as we worked together. John was liked by everyone in the industry, and that is extremely rare. It didn’t matter if you were a vendor or competitor – you respected John and knew that he would negotiate or compete with you with integrity and respect. John was a good listener and always helped you work through issues or helped you see more clearly so the decisions you made were better. John will be missed not only as a businessman in our field, but as a true friend who made you feel special.

Matt Rowan, president and CEO, Health Industry Distributors Association

(Based on remarks at the Executive Conference, March 2013, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.)

In the outpouring following his passing, many words were used to describe John. As an executive, the words used were visionary, leader, mentor, diplomat, salesman and marketer, among others. As a person, the words used were gracious, humble, gentleman, mentor and friend. These are all accurate. But somehow they don’t quite capture what made John Sasen a truly unique individual.

Many people told a similar John story. That as a newcomer to the industry, John Sasen sat next to them at an event, introduced himself or in some other personal way, reached out to welcome them. They marveled that an industry icon would take the time to make a newcomer feel included and part of the industry. That was the essence of John.

It was the personal one-to-one connections John made with each of us, that combined to influence this industry’s culture. One where competition in the marketplace could be complemented by a sense of common purpose in settings such as a HIDA meeting. John Sasen invested genuine concern and interest in the relationship of anyone lucky enough to meet and know him.

His commitment to HIDA and the HIDA Educational Foundation spanned several decades. In the 1980s, John was one of the few manufacturers invited to the first Executive Conference – a 50-person meeting. He took particular pride in the growth of this event, and to see over 400 people [at the 2013 Executive Conference] is testimony to his leadership.

John led the development of the original Accredited in Medical Sales (AMS) program. This program raised the standard for sales effectiveness for thousands of sales reps through the years.

John’s contributions were recognized with his receiving the HIDA Industry Award of Distinction in 1989.

In the 1990s, he focused on leading HIDA and the HIDA Educational Foundation. He was elected the HIDA Chairman of the Board in 1998. He went on to chair the HIDA Educational Foundation Board of Directors from 1999 to 2008. He played a key role in defining the strategic direction that is responsible for our current success.

With unprecedented challenges in the industry and just joining a new company, John was as excited about the future as I’ve ever seen him. This was a leader who embraced and was invigorated by change.

At the recent HIDA Board of Directors meeting, the unanimous commitment was made to honor John’s contribution in a substantial and meaningful way. In the coming months, we will engage John’s friends, associates, family and the industry in a process to be sure we do this in a way that reflects John’s philosophies and matches his stature.

His humor, friendship and intellect had the most profound impact on HIDA and the HIDA Educational Foundation, and will be a physical gap in the industry that will be profoundly missed.

Elizabeth Hilla, executive director, HIDA Educational Foundation; HIDA senior vice president, education

John would probably be on the top of every person in the industry’s list of most-admired and most-loved people. He had this amazing way of making real personal connections with every person he worked with – not superficial connections, but real, enduring friendships. He knew how to focus on business goals and at the same time treat every person as a human being and not just a professional contact. He made our industry and every board or group he participated on a better place to be, and more productive as well.

What I heard over and over again [in March] is that no one had ever heard a bad thing about John.

I met John in 1986 when we started working on the AMS program together. He had the product development expertise we needed to create and sell the program, and he and BD were willing to contribute the time to HIDA. With his guidance, we got it produced and recouped the million-dollar investment in just a year or so – imagine that back in the late ’80s.

I realized a few weeks before he died that John has always been my guardian angel – there for me whenever I needed him. I didn’t expect him to go into that business full-time so soon, and I will miss him very, very much.

John Moran, retired, Welch Allyn

I met John when he was national sales manager at BD (Clay Adams), probably around 1980. However, I really got to know John when I had the privilege to work for him on the HIDA AMS initiative. It was while volunteering with him that I came to realize how talented he was.

John could think on his feet so quickly. He had the ability to get at the root of an issue, and solve it. As a result, he became a great teacher. He instilled confidence in people and made you feel more confident. Most important, John was transparent. He not only shared his wisdom with his own company, he included everyone in the industry, including his competitors. John wasn’t just a company guy; he was an industry guy. No one ever elevated the industry like John Sasen.

John was also a great fundraiser for PSS. No one could get share of wallet like John. On one occasion, he was about to make a major presentation to key vendors about a very large sales and marketing initiative the company was trying to kick off. He told me he was a bit nervous because it was going to be expensive. So he said, ‘Look, Moran, just before I ask for the order, do something to break the ice.” So just as it was time to move to the asking phase, I stood up in about the 4th row and tossed my entire wallet to him. He caught it nicely with one hand and told the crowd he was going to take everything I had in there. He made a great presentation, and the sales campaign was approved.

Brian Miller, senior director, brand management, PSS

I first met John in 2006 when I was interviewing for a newly created position in brand management with PSS World Medical. I had received a call out of the blue and, having had a background that was nearly 100 percent in the classic consumer products manufacturing business, had no idea why they would want someone with my background to work in private label for a distributor. Almost reluctantly, I spoke to John on the phone, and somehow found myself getting off a plane a few days later in Jacksonville. I was run through the traditional gamut of people with my last interview of the day with John, to whom the position was to report. I left the meeting that day literally saying a prayer that I would have the opportunity to work with this man and this company. (I did, and have to say that my life and career have been so enriched for having been a member of John’s team.)

From what I have seen in this and any other industry, there are people with high degrees of technical competency, management competency or people skills. In this business, there was no one else who excelled at all three. Nor do I recall anyone at any company I’ve worked who even comes close.

John was an uncommon man with a very common touch. No matter who you were, he would treat people with dignity and respect, even if they weren’t deserving of it. He mastered the concepts of the “one minute manager,” which was that if he had to take you to task for something, he would do it in a way that you left the guidance of what it would take to ensure that it wasn’t the end of the world, and that he would help for you to correct what needed to be corrected and make things better. As his employee for seven years, and as someone who’s worked in marketing and brand management for over 30, I never met anyone else whom I respected as much, learned so much from about people AND the business alike, and who you knew would do the right thing to make sure that everyone would walk away from even highly contested and confrontational situations knowing that they were heard and respected.

All during the period when we learned that PSS was to be acquired by McKesson, John was as busy as he ever was. Whenever we met or spoke on the phone, the FIRST thing he wanted to know was “how are your people doing with all this?” He meant this sincerely, as he had such a love for others and told us on so many occasions that people were the backbone of everything good that a company does. At the celebration that PSS had on the closing date, John did a masterful standup as MC. I was able to spend a few minutes with him afterwards one on one in his office, and remarked that I had never seen him dress down in jeans before (Fridays were casual days at PSS, but John would still wear slacks and a blue shirt). He told me, “Well, figured that I should get in at least one jeans day here as PSS.”

I know I’m not the first or last to say it, but John Sasen was my favorite boss of all time, my friend, my mentor, my favorite teacher, and the man that I will look at as an inspiration as long as I have the opportunity to lead and mentor others.

Don Kitzmiller, executive vice president, s2a molecular Inc.

John Sasen understood how to “live” life. He worked hard, he played hard, and he enjoyed every minute. He was one of the most positive people I ever met. I met John in October 1970 calling on a dealer, John Stutz, in Boston. John was a giving person, always placing others ahead of himself. Every time I was with John, it was like drinking out of a fire hose – he was rich with ideas and knowledge, which he generously shared. His versatility was evidenced by his hobbies – scuba diving, fishing, reading, skiing, golf, and love of dogs, and he was a great story teller. You always felt better after talking with John.

Pat Kelly, founder, PSS

I can talk all day about John’s marketing skills. I always reminded him that he is the best marketing man in our whole industry. Second only to me! It always made him laugh.

John and I were great golf partners, and the last five years only we played together. We stunk and that is why no one would play with us. We had only one rule: As soon as one of us got to a score of 100, the game was over. Winner was the chap under 100. This normally happened between the 15th or 16th hole.

When John wasn’t working, he fished. In Key West, on my boat one day, he caught over 40 fish and threw them all back. Of course I had to take him to dinner that night for grilled grouper.

Last but not least, I miss Johnny a lot, like everyone does. Everyone he ever met soon became his best friend. Our hearts are broken and we will never forget him.

To Johnny from Pat Kelly (just one of your best friends.)

Cindy Juhas, president, Hospital Associates, Anaheim, Calif.

DeWight Titus and John Sasen came up with the concept of the shared rep, and I was DeWight’s candidate. I had to interview with John, then with Clay Adams, and it was a great interview. I had to work as a shared rep between Titus and Clay Adams and even though I reported to Titus, John was always there for support and guidance.

John was the consummate politician. Not in a bad way, but in the very best of ways! No matter what the message, he could always make it sound good to the other person. He was also incredibly creative. He was the chair of the HIDA Educational Foundation board for many years – almost the whole time I was on that board. John started us doing strategic plans every year, and always had a fresh approach to the plan and the new year. It made all of us more creative and willing to come up with fresh ideas for HIDA to implement.

He was always willing to share his knowledge and would sit down with anyone who approached him. Not a lot of people in John’s position would give of his time so freely. A few [stories] come to mind. The very last time I saw John at the Hall of Fame dinner in Atlanta this year, I had a great chat with him. My question to him was, “John, you have given so much and have certainly made enough money to retire; why would you sign another two-year contract to work with McKesson on the transition?” Typical of John, he was as excited about this challenge and looking forward to putting the two marketing departments together. He said that this kind of exciting prospect got his creative juices flowing, and he would rather do this than think about what to do in retirement.

The other story happened when I was on a conference call with the Professional Women in Healthcare leadership. We were chatting about starting a scholarship in John’s honor and several women on the call talked about the time John had given them over the years. I didn’t realize how many people he had touched and what an incredible mentor he was for the entire industry until that moment. An incredible man who will be remembered for many years to come.

Brad Hilton, senior vice president, customer experience, McKesson Medical-Surgical

I first [met John when I] came to PSS with the Taylor Medical acquisition. My parents were friends with John through HIDA, and I had heard a lot of great stories about him from them prior to meeting him.

John was the best at bringing folks with different goals and agendas together for a common goal. He was a masterful negotiator, a true believer in a win/win, and a person who cared as much about the industry and our customer’s success as our own.

He was the best mentor, role model and friend any of us could have asked for. He willingly and graciously gave his time to all of us so we could grow personally and professionally.

There are a ton [of stories to share about John]. I think the best one was when I was with him and Kevin English on our first trip to China. They dubbed him “the advisor” and he lived up to his Chinese nickname. Kevin and I almost bought military grade binoculars from a Red Army soldier. We were caught up in the negotiations and he told the guy to leave. We were frustrated we weren’t getting these cool binoculars. He asked how we planned on getting them out of the country (duh)? Always one step ahead of the rest of us.


John Sasen: Many lessons learned, many lessons taught

Editor’s note: When Repertoire inducted John Sasen into the Medical Distribution Hall of Fame in 2009, he insisted these words precede the article appearing in the January 2009 edition of the magazine: “What follows is not a retirement speech, farewell address, or riding-into-the-sunset declaration. Rather, it is the story of an ordinary person blessed with the desire to make a difference, and who was given the opportunity to do so within an industry of outstanding people. It’s the story of a person who is still looking for a game changer.” He also asked Repertoire editors to include several key lessons he had learned in life:

  • Sell what you have.

  • Tough decisions require you to stay the course.

  • Think big. Do it right.

  • Trust your instincts.

  • Look for opportunities in dark clouds.

Following is an edited version of the article that appeared in January 2009 announcing Sasen’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

John Sasen was born in Springfield, Mass. His dad worked at Westinghouse Corp., and his mom stayed at home raising four kids. He completed college at Western New England College in Springfield and was trained as a diver in the Navy. He worked for several years as a hyperbaric diving specialist and rescue diver for United Technologies, which had the prime contract to build the space suits and portable life support system backpacks used by NASA astronauts. Using his scuba skills, he worked in a deep controlled tank with astronaut test subjects, measuring the mobility of spaces suits and the operational calibration of the backpacks.

He began his medical sales career with Clay Adams (later, Becton Dickinson Primary Care Diagnostics). His first sales territory was northern New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. “It took three weeks to cover the several hospitals that purchased products, from glassware to chemistry analyzers,” he said. The competition was fierce in the North Country. For example, he competed with hardware stores, which used to cut panes of glass into microscope slides.

With David Babbs, a sales rep with the George C. Frye Co. in Portland, Maine, who had a knack for selling capital equipment, Sasen offered analyzers of many colors. But they always managed to convince the customer that white was best; that was a good thing, because that’s the only color that BD offered. The strategy worked beautifully until one day, a hospital insisted on blue. “In the dead of winter, we bought paint and masking tape and tried to produce a blue analyzer,” he recalls. “What we produced looked like a Picasso painting. Hat in hand, we discounted the white.”

His promotion to the Boston territory marked the real beginning of his professional education, he said. His “teacher” was John Stutz, vice president of sales and marketing for Healthco, a Boston-based distributor. Sasen and Doug Harper (former PSS president and current vice president and general manager of Invacare Supply Group, Milford, Mass.) “spent long evenings months on end learning the wants, needs, values and motivations of physicians starting a practice, and typically would encounter two physicians an evening in setup discussions. We learned the business in a way I could not have imagined.”

While Harper was impressed with Stutz’s selling skills, he was equally impressed by Sasen’s perseverance and willingness to teach and train. “Manufacturers’ reps have a lot of responsibilities, and a lot of distributor reps to work with,” said Harper. “It’s easy for them to go to the established reps, who have a lot of business, and overlook the young kids starting out. But John never did.”

Sasen taught Harper lots about equipment selling. “The first day I worked with John, we sold $10,000 worth of lab equipment. Not only did we sell the equipment, but I knew I would get the repetitive reagent business too. That’s when he opened my eyes to the opportunity in physician sales.”

Harper was also impressed with Sasen’s approach to sales. “He had dogged perseverance,” he recalled. Just as important, he was able to gain instant credibility with everyone he met, including customers.

Building relationships with distributors

As Sasen earned another promotion – to Northeast instrument specialist – he fine-tuned his relationships with distributors. “We learned what to expect from each other,” he said. “And I followed the golden rules – show up early, be prepared, trust each other, have good communications and expect the sale.”

It was during his tenure as Northeast instrument specialist that he enjoyed what he believes was his best selling day ever. On a snowy February day, he and Danny Murphy, son of the owner of Central Veterinary Supply in Massachusetts, sold three chemistry and hematology analyzers in their first three calls. “We headed back to Massachusetts around midnight, singing songs, to pick up six more systems,” he recalled. The next day, they closed their first two accounts.

Paul Rust, to whom Sasen reported in the late 1970s, recalled the latter’s commitment to distributors. Though BD sold many products through dealers, the company developed a cell counter and point-of-care-testing platelet counter that it wanted to sell direct, said Rust. “The strategy irritated the heck out of John, and he finally convinced management that having direct-only products was ruining his dealer franchises. Like most everything he did, he persevered and finally got his way, by wearing everybody down.”

Sasen continued to rise in BD Primary Care Diagnostics. He was promoted to Northeast regional manager, then Western area sales manager, and then Eastern area manager, where three of his regional managers were previous bosses. Later, he became national sales manager.

When he rose to vice president of sales, Sasen thought he had reached the pinnacle of success. “Then an H.R. review indicated that without marketing, I had reached the end of the line,” he said. Jim Skinner, whom Sasen called a “brilliant marketer,” took pity on him and offered him an entry-level marketing position. As a result, Sasen moved to New Jersey and took a job as product manager over glassware and centrifuges.

Marketing education

“On my second day, I ventured to R&D and asked the VP what he was developing,” he recalls. “He exploded, saying ‘Marketing is responsible for giving me direction, [so] tell me what you want.’” Sasen considered this exchange to be the beginning of his education in marketing: “Find out what the customer wants, needs and values, and sell it at a profit.”

It was during his tenure in marketing that Sasen got a wakeup call. He and Skinner attended a HIDA meeting, and were embarrassed at the lack of BD’s visibility there. Recognizing an opportunity to brand the company in unique ways, he committed BD to become “best in class” at every industry event. “It was my great fortune to meet John Moran of Welch Allyn and Don Kitzmiller of Midmark, two individuals representing best-in-class at distributor relations, and to be able to learn from them,” he said.

Sales training

Sasen ultimately was named BD Primary Care Diagnostics’ vice president of sales and marketing, hiring Tom Crowley to head sales and Jack Addicks to head marketing. At around that same time, Haworth Parks, who was HIDA’s chairman, visited BD CEO Ray Gilmartin, requesting that Gilmartin allow Sasen to lend his assistance in leading the development of ADVANCE®, the first accredited sales training program in the industry. “I never would have had the opportunity to lead the project without the marketing investment in my career,” said Sasen. The development process took over two years, with Sasen dedicating about 40 percent of his time to it.

“I had been with HIDA for no more than a year when we embarked on developing the ADVANCE sales training program,” recalled Elizabeth Hilla, senior vice president and executive director, HIDA Educational Foundation. “Bob Barnes, who was chairman of the [HIDA Educational] Foundation said, ‘This is a really big undertaking; it’s a new business. We are going to create a new product line, and we need someone who understands how to launch a new product.” Sasen fit the bill.

More changes

As the project was launched, BD had decided to consolidate all its diagnostic instrument businesses in Hunt Valley, Md. Rather than relocate there, Sasen sought a new opportunity altogether, and accepted an offer from DeWight Titus – “a good friend and mentor” – to become COO of F. D. Titus and Son, City of Industry, Calif.

“While looking for a home in Orange County, my wife became concerned about the kids going to college on the East Coast, and I suddenly realized how selfish my decision was to ignore a spouse who had supported me throughout my entire career,” he said. Sasen respectfully declined Titus’s offer. “A few years later, my wife died in her sleep,” he said. “I believe God has a hand in our important decisions.”

But another opportunity presented itself. “PSS was on the move, bringing a new culture and dynamic to our industry,” he said. “A long-time friend, Pat Kelly, discussed the opportunity to hire bright, capable and energetic young people direct from colleges and universities, and educate them to sell. This for me was the perfect answer to continued growth, practicing what ADVANCE preached with some of the brightest and most capable people in the industry.”

Kelly had met Sasen when he (Kelly) was at Intermedco, a Houston, Texas-based distributor, and Sasen was at BD. “I remember approaching John with the concept, ‘Tell me what you just know we cannot sell; if we do sell it, tell me what you will give me,’” recalled Kelly. Intrigued, Sasen told Kelly that if Intermedco could sell 200 hematology units, BD would do “unbelievable things” for the distributor. The two of them came up with a “Fly Free in ’83” campaign, which rewarded sales reps with travel miles for reaching certain goals.

Kelly left Intermedco in 1983 to start his own business – PSS. Ironically, the young distribution company couldn’t get the BD line, because of obligations BD had with Intermedco. But eventually, the smoke cleared and PSS got the line. Then, in 1989, when Bill Riddell, one of the founders of PSS, left the company, Kelly approached Sasen about joining PSS.

The two talked for several months. Kelly recalls that one evening, he and Sasen were sitting in a bar in Las Vegas during a HIDA function. “I said, ‘John, the time to talk is over. You have to make a decision. Meet us for breakfast tomorrow morning and you’re with us. If you’re not there, I’ll never ask you again.’” The next morning, he found Sasen sitting at the breakfast table. After 20 years with BD, Sasen had decided to re-invent himself…again.


Sasen’s move to distribution was a baptism by fire. “Take it from me: Moving from manufacturing to distribution is like drinking from a fire hose,” he said. He spent his first few days on the job pulling orders in the warehouse, to learn distribution.

Quickly he became engaged in PSS’s quest to become the first national physician supply company – “never using price as a reason to gain business,” he said. “Securing major brands was a real chore early on. Every major distributor put pressure on suppliers not to extend their lines to PSS.”

Then in 1992, PSS saw opportunity where others did not. “We caught a huge break when CLIA 88 was enacted,” recalls Sasen. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) were passed by Congress as a means of developing quality standards for all laboratory testing.

“Prevailing industry wisdom suggested that physician office diagnostics had reached the end of its life cycle,” he said. The feeling was, physicians would stop testing in the office rather than face regulations and potential fines.

“We quickly mobilized our entire sales organization for three intense days of training and education. When the doors opened, our reps were knowledgeable and confident enough to deliver accurate information to our customers, allowing us to experience rocket-ship revenue growth over the next several years with diagnostic products.”

“The moral of this story is … never stop dreaming, challenging or believing that change cannot make you better and stronger,” he said.