SonoSite’s Chairman, Kirby Cramer, Retires to ‘Refresh’ Board With New Blood

Kirby Cramer, one of the most successful all-around life sciences executives in the Northwest, said today he’s retiring after 12 years as the chairman of the board of SonoSite (NASDAQ: SONO), the maker of portable ultrasound machines.

Cramer, 74, has been SonoSite’s chairman since the Bothell, WA-based company was originally spun off from ATL Ultrasound in April 1998. Since the beginning, he has worked with CEO Kevin Goodwin to turn the concept of portable ultrasound, originally supported by military contracts, into something more useful for mainstream medical diagnosis. Cramer oversaw the company as it went public, eclipsed $200 million in annual sales, became profitable, built a workforce of 730 employees, and continued to grow even when faced with competition from no less than General Electric.

“Kirby Cramer has imbued SonoSite with a long-term discipline and persistent strategic opportunism that has led the company to achieve a revenue run rate of over a quarter billion dollars and an installed base of 60,000 systems,” Goodwin, SonoSite’s CEO, said in a statement.

Cramer is staying on the board until SonoSite’s 2011 annual meeting, but he’s now handing over the chairman’s role to Robert Hauser, a Minneapolis cardiologist and SonoSite director since 2004.

Cramer, an occasional guest speaker at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, explained that after 12 years as chairman, it was time for the company to bring in new blood, and it was right for him to practice what he preaches.

“This has been in the works since I hit 70! I am now 74,” Cramer said in an e-mail. “I give a lecture on corporate governance at UW Business School. I flat out state, 10 years, and you are out! I missed by two years. The rationale is that after a decade you have shared all you know with the management team. A company needs turnover to refresh the Board with younger directors.”

Kirby Cramer

Kirby Cramer

Some of the new directors that Cramer is referring to are Carmen Diersen, 49, the chief financial officer of Shelton, CT-based Spine Wave; Rod Hochman, 54, the CEO of Swedish Medical Center in Seattle; and Paul Haack, 59, a certified public accountant formerly with Deloitte and Touche. SonoSite has three directors in their 70s, counting Cramer and Hauser, the new chairman.

While Cramer is pulling back from SonoSite, he’s still staying active as the co-chair of Wings, the Northwest’s new angel investment network for medical device companies. Cramer also has a lot of contacts in the biotech community, as a longtime former director of Immunex before that company was sold to Amgen in 2002, and in the contract research business. Earlier in his career, Cramer was CEO of Hazleton Laboratories, now part of Covance (NYSE: CVD).

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