CAS Medical Systems CEO talks manufacturing overseas at lecture

Thomas Patton, CEO of CAS Medical Systems, spoke to UConn students on Monday, March 28 in the Conover Auditorium at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. He highlighted the importance of understanding different culture's cultures as the key to success in international business. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Before Thomas Patton became CEO of CAS Medical Systems, he was just a kid running a lemonade stand on a local golf course.

Though he didn’t realize it at the time, while he was selling dixie cups of lemonade for five cents a piece, that he was introduced to the “hard” factors that drive companies to manufacture goods overseas. If Patton’s roadside business hadn’t been funded by the world’s most devoted angel investor — his mom — there was no way it could have withstood the costs of supplies, labor and overhead while maintaining the same low prices thirsty golfers had come to expect.

“You’ve gotta be able to cover the cost of your goods,” Patton said Monday evening at part four of the “Global Business Leadership Seminar Series” in the University of Connecticut’s Konover Auditorium.

When it comes to more complex products — like CASMED’s cerebral oximeters, disposable sensors for monitoring oxygen levels in the brain during surgery — Patton said companies consider more than just the bottom line. This is where international business’ “soft” factors, including manufacturer quality, accessibility and attentiveness, come into play.

While a factory worker in Bangladesh might make as little as $1 an hour, providing a huge profit margin compared to an American worker making as much as $18 for the same work, it’s not always advisable to go with the budget option.

Even in today’s interconnected global society, it can take months to receive a shipment from abroad, Patton said, and it can be difficult to monitor product quality from half a world away.

“Think about our product, if we’re wrong, people could die,” Patton said “This sensor has to work every single time and unless somebody can make a product that works every single time we would never use them.”

This is part of the reason why CASMED produces its cerebral oximeters’ circuits in Connecticut, Patton said, while the rest of the sensor is manufactured in China, where wages are closer to $6 a hour.

The pursuit of free trade shouldn’t excuse companies from their responsibility toward society as a whole, though, Patton said. He believes part of the overwhelming support for GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stems from the loss of American manufacturing jobs to the global economy.

“The unskilled part of our workforce in the United States is hurting, we’re hollowing out the part of the middle class that used to have a manufacturing job,” Patton said. “I’m a capitalist, and my sense is that this is the way to go. You allow societies, individuals, companies, to do the things that they are best at, but that also still means that you have to do something for those that are left behind. You can’t just have a purely capitalist environment.”

He said it’s also important for UConn students looking to go into international business to recognize that the U.S. isn’t the center of the universe. Understanding different cultures’ customs and negotiation styles is key to success. In Japan, for example, it’s considered rude to negotiate one on one, while manufacturing in China practically shuts down during celebration of the Chinese New Year.

“People are business, not corporations, so make friends throughout the world,” Patton said. “This world we live in is a fantastic place with fascinating people who think a lot differently than we do and you need to be aware of that.”

The “Global Business Leadership Seminar Series” is part of the Center for International Business Education and Research’s professional development certification program at UConn. Students must attend three out of four lectures during the spring semester to receive the certificate.

“There’s actually a lot of companies that look for GBLSS certification on resumes, so I think the word is getting out,” said Michele Metcalf, director of CIBER.

In addition to serving as a networking event, the “GBLSS” lecture series exposes students to parts of the business world, like manufacturing, they might not cover in class said Arminda Kamphausen, associate director of CIBER.

“It’s important for the students to see what they’re aiming for in action,” Kamphausen said. “I learn something new every time I come here.”

The “Global Business Leadership Seminar Series” was sponsored by CIBER, the International Business Society, the Center for Career Development and the Office of Undergraduate Advising for the School of Business.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.