Jeffrey Rovell & Associates, Inc.
Gabbay-Frater Suture Guide

Jeff says: Careful research and attention to the details are what make a product stand the test of time. In this case, I was able to help two surgeons take a great idea and turn it into a now-standard surgical device.

How It Started

In 1978 I met Dr. Robert Frater, chief of cardio-thoracic surgery at Albert Einstein Medical Center. He and a colleague, Dr. Schlomo Gabbay, had created a product which they said would be very useful in aortic heart valve surgery. He showed me the prototype: it was a suture guide which he had actually used in surgery to keep track of the 36 multiple interrupted sutures he had to make during the procedure. They had spent a lot of time on its development, and were ready to leap into manufacturing it themselves. They came to me to help them develop a business.

Fundamentally, Frater and Gabbay were uncertain about how to go forward. How do you go about manufacturing a product? How do you bring it to the market? Most importantly, how do you know when it's ready, fully mature and in its best possible configuration? As is often the case, the concept of the product was good -- but the distance between their prototype and a marketable product was not within their experience to surmount.

"Musts and Wants"

In bringing the product from the meeting table to the operating room, it's always important to pinpoint its "musts and wants" -- the features it must have, and the extras which will make it truly compelling. This is an important process for companies, too. I made pinpointing those necessities our main task in developing the suture guide. My first step was to find a design firm familiar with operating room products, Huck and Studer, which could help bring us to the most appropriate design.

The original suture guide Gabbay and Frater brought to me was useful, but the design needed to be fine-tuned for ease of manufacture, ease of use, and disposability. Because the product was aimed at replacing a method widely in use with a new method, it had to be perfect in its applicability for surgeons. Working with the industrial design team at Huck and Studer, we re-made the guide out of plastic in a partnership with the Med Tech Group. I brought Frater and Gabbay in touch with surgeons from around the country to get feedback on the guide. I also brought them to Pfizer's Shyley division, maker of heart valves, to get Shyley„s input on the product.

A Classic Product

Eventually the development process culminated in a complete product package, including marketing, manufacturing, and a committed base of surgeons who already liked the product. 25 years after its introduction, the Gabbay-Frater Suture Guide still sells about $2 million a year -- it has sold over $30 million since 1979. It is a standard part of many heart surgeries and is well-known to every cardio-thoracic surgeon. Most recently it has been used in off-pump and other heart surgery procedures -- a testament to its unobtrusive utility.

The lesson of the suture guide is simple: even the most universal, compelling product concepts can be dramatically improved through great design.. Often, as here, people with excellent ideas don't have the tools and experience to truly maximize the value of their products. Had the suture guide been manufactured in its original form, it would not have been nearly as successful -- but as a product refined by a team of experts it has had lasting value for surgeons.