Don’t Take Your Eyes Off the Ball!

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HOW MANY OF US HAD A FATHER WHO TAUGHT US THE BASICS OF BASEBALL almost as soon as we learned to walk? I can still remember my father repeatedly advising me “don’t take your eyes off the ball!”

With the recent merger of Quest Diagnostics Incorporated and SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories (SBCL), the warning “don’t take your eyes off the ball” should be a strategic guide to every executive in the laboratory industry today. For managers within the “new” Quest Diagnostics, it is important for them to remember that the ball they want to swing at is service to existing clients. If they get distracted by internal consolidation projects, clients will suffer and competitors will have a field day.

Hospital laboratory directors will also want to swing at the ball of customer service. If the merged combination of Quest/SBCL drops that ball, there may be a motivation by hospital labs to switch to other reference laboratory sources. In fact, that is the theme of our lead story here.

Managers of regional laboratories and hospital lab outreach programs should swing at the ball known as new business. The next twelve months will provide excellent opportunities to use the market turmoil caused by the Quest/SBCL merger to capture new clients. But, to take advantage of this one-time opportunity, these managers must act with boldness and confidence. Now is the time to intensify sales activities and ask for the business.

I would like to point out that the apparent loss, by Quest Diagnostics, of Kaiser Permanente’s national reference testing account (as yet publicly unannounced), is the first evidence that distractions caused by its acquisition of SBCL have made at least some Quest clients vulnerable to competing laboratories. Regardless of price and terms offered to Kaiser by the winning laboratory, it was a highly-visible client which Quest could ill afford to lose at this particular moment.

After all, Quest has repeatedly told Wall Street financiers and the investing public that it can successfully acquire SBCL and hang on to the business. Loss of the national Kaiser contract within the first 30 days of the SBCL acquisition certainly contradicts that claim. That’s why my advice to everyone in the lab industry is the same as that heard from our dads so many years ago—don’t take your eyes off the ball! After all, there’s a lot of money to be made by those who stay focused on the exceptional sales opportunities now unfolding in the laboratory and pathology marketplace.


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