Quest, in transition, recruits Mayo Clinic exec to run major division

Dr. Franklin Cockerill III

Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) is bringing on a Mayo Clinic executive as its new chief laboratory officer, a big personnel move as the New Jersey company continues an ongoing reorganization plan to restore more robust growth.

Dr. Franklin Cockerill III is also now a Quest vice president and came on board as of Oct. 1. Executives and shareholders alike will likely pay close attention to his work in the coming months, considering his job includes overseeing quality, regulatory, technology, standardization and medical operations through Quest's wide diagnostic laboratory network. As well, his tasks include advancing Quest's medical affairs, academic and government strategies, and collaborations, the company noted in its announcement.

Cockerill, a trained medical doctor, replaces Dr. Stephen Suffin in the position. Suffin announced a while back that he'll be retiring at the end of 2014, but plans call for having him stick around as a consultant through 2015 to help with the transition.

Cockerill brings a lot of key experience to the job. Most recently, he served for several years as president and CEO of Mayo Medical Laboratories, a global reference laboratory within Mayo Clinic that is "the third largest provider of esoteric laboratory services in the United States," Quest said. While there, he helped build lots of new revenue for the division. But Quest also noted he improved clinical testing standardization, efficiencies and quality through "dozens of laboratories" within the organization, among other accomplishments.

He also brings some multifaceted clout to Quest. Between 2006 and 2014, Cockerill was also chair of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology for Mayo Clinic, managing more than 3,200 medical professionals who handled laboratory testing for both Mayo Clinic and Mayo Health System. On the regulatory and lobbying side of things, he was recently director of the Board of Directors of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, and he chaired the FDA's Microbiology Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee. He held other association/board roles as well, and he authored or co-authored more than 150 medical publications and holds patents and licenses for various clinical discoveries. In other words, Cockerill has lots of connections, and value, as well as experience, something that Quest is clearly relishing bringing on board in its time of transition.

Quest President and CEO Steve Rusckowski said in a statement that Cockerill's work at Mayo Medical Laboratories and Mayo Clinic was noteworthy.

"He led strategies that spurred remarkable accomplishments in diagnostic innovation, service and quality, generating meaningful benefits for patients as well as business growth," Rusckowski said.

Certainly, there's plenty of hype behind the announcement. But Quest needs leadership that can help it move past all the restructuring and resume more robust growth beyond what it has obtained through acquisitions. An innovative chief laboratory officer can help it through this transitional phase, lead development of new products, and find ways to navigate what has become a complex regulatory environment and market for diagnostic and laboratory services.

Quest's net income hit $133 million during the 2014 second quarter, down from $165 million in the 2013 second quarter. The results stemmed from the absorption of restructuring and M&A integration expenses, as well as overall reimbursement approval challenges in the broader market.

Quest traded at $60 per share late morning on Oct. 2, down about a half-percent from the previous day's close.

- read the full announcement

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