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February 9, 2023 CORNER OFFICE

Sheffield, a voice for women’s health, leads Trumbull’s CooperSurgical through acquisitions, growth

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED CooperSurgical President Holly Sheffield.

From a corner office in Trumbull, Holly Sheffield leads a workforce of 3,000 spread across 26 locations around the world.

She’s the president of CooperSurgical, a medical equipment and health services company that’s turning more than $1 billion a year in revenue.

CooperSurgical forms the eastern branch of The Cooper Cos., paired with California-based CooperVision, a power in the optical-lens market. Together, they form a specialty healthcare firm that generated $3.3 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2022, which ended Oct. 31.

Yet, CooperSurgical is better known on New York’s Wall Street than on New Haven’s Church Street.

A little more local recognition would be “nice,” Sheffield acknowledges. CooperSurgical occupies 267,000 square feet of leased space in Connecticut, including about 77,000 square feet in its Trumbull headquarters at 75 Corporate Drive. It also has 190,000 square feet of distribution, manufacturing and engineering space in two other Trumbull buildings at 95 and 50 Corporate Drive.

CooperSurgical's 77,000-square-foot Shelton headquarters at 75 Corporate Drive, in Trumbull.

CooperSurgical’s roots stretch back 50 years when it began manufacturing surgical equipment for the obstetrics and gynecology fields.

Today, Cooper’s catalog is extensive and includes about 600 medical devices. Many are manufactured at the main design and production center in Trumbull where CooperSurgical employs about 500.

But the largest driver of its 21st-century growth has come from IVF — in vitro fertilization — and contraception. Cooper opened its California Cryobank in the late 1990s for eggs storage. Its offering in contraception — Paragard — is an intrauterine device.

A series of acquisitions in recent years have accelerated the growth. And in October, Cooper expanded its reach in genomics research with a multiyear deal with BioSkryb Genomics.

Integrating components

The acquisitions of Generate Life Sciences in late 2021 and Cook Medical’s reproductive health business in 2022 are major building blocks that complement and diversify Cooper’s business, Sheffield says.

Privately held Generate is a leader in supplying donor eggs and sperm for fertility treatments. It also brings cryogenic preservation technology for storing eggs and stem cells from cord blood and cord tissue.

The Cook Medical deal brings minimally invasive medical devices in the fertility, obstetrics and gynecology fields.

Sheffield expresses unbridled enthusiasm for the potential of the additions but cautions that 2023 will be a year largely focused on integrating the new components — and about 600 new employees — into Cooper’s operation.

She acknowledges that Cooper’s work in fertility and contraception puts it squarely in the center of the national political debate after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which ruled abortion isn’t a constitutional right.

She says she welcomes “the good discussion” of women’s health issues and reproductive policy, and that her company has felt no negative impact so far.

Quite to the contrary, she points to conservative Texas as a strong but unlikely growth market. Under Texas law, she explains, corporate health plans must cover fertility services creating a great opportunity for Cooper.

However, the company is facing geopolitical headwinds in 2023.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted Cooper’s largest source of donor eggs. Sheffield says Cooper is working to reconnect with women who have fled to Poland and restore the flow of donor eggs.

Professional experience, personal passion

For Sheffield — who received $2.8 million in total compensation in 2021, according to the company’s proxy statement filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission — the role of leading CooperSurgical marks a plateau in her journey from an accounting student at Cornell to becoming one of the few women leading a global healthcare firm with more than $1 billion in revenue.

After graduating from Cornell, she earned an MBA at Columbia and moved to Wall Street. She developed an expertise in health care while moving up in the securities industry.

She was managing director at Credit Suisse before joining UBS Securities as managing director, global head of medical technology. She moved to The Cooper Cos. as the chief strategy officer in 2018, and became president of CooperSurgical in 2020.

Along the way, she has become an eloquent spokesperson for women’s health. She describes her job as the ideal combination of her professional experience and personal passion for women’s health care.

In an article posted on CooperSurgical’s website, she writes: “Our ambition is to work across specialties and borders to empower a data transformation that will accelerate science and bring a higher level of insight, efficiency and trust to the entire fertility journey.”

Still, there are issues to be addressed.

Workplace reviews at Glassdoor and Indeed have been mixed. Pay and benefits are a plus but communication and career-advancement opportunities lag, according to past and present employees.

Some comments point to a disconnect between senior management and the work that needs to be done.

Sheffield declined an opportunity to dispute the criticism, instead describing the reviews as “feedback that informs our efforts.”

She points to extensive in-person and online training opportunities and an 18-month program for those aspiring to management positions. She also points to the proximity to Yale as an asset in developing talent.

One in three employees work in production or distribution and lack classic office access to services like those provided by the human resources team. To compensate, Sheffield explains, the company created a dedicated app that allows access to a host of resources including online training programs.

On a personal note, Sheffield says she hopes to be more active in networking with local and state groups this year, particularly with other women leaders in science ad technology.

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