Monday, December 18, 2006

Langer's CEO Puts His Best Foot Forward

News Article
December 18, 2006

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Langer's CEO Puts His Best Foot Forward

At only 31, Gray Hudkins, CEO of orthopedic device maker Langer, is taking the path to success step by step

Gray Hudkins may seem like an unlikely advocate for patience. At only 31, Hudkins is the chief executive officer of Langer (GAIT), a Deer Park (N.Y.) maker of orthopedic and skin-care products with $35.8 million in revenues in the year ended Sept. 30. Still, Hudkins put in time at a variety of different companies before landing in his current role. He says he didn't start out with his mind set on a corner office.

Hudkins came to Langer with a background in finance. After graduating from Princeton University in 1997, he held roles at a private merchant bank, a private equity bank, and a branded consumer-products company before becoming director of corporate development for Stamford (Conn.)-based e-commerce outfit Clarus in December, 2002. A year later, Hudkins went to work for Clarus Executive Chairman Warren Kanders as a principal in private investment firm Kanders & Co.

Kindred Styles

Soon, Hudkins found he enjoyed working with Kanders, who is the chairman and largest shareholder of Langer. "He has an incredible track record of building companies and he's just an amazingly intelligent investor," Hudkins says of Kanders. "My experience and my strengths dovetail nicely with how he likes to build his investments. It really just worked out this way."

In October, 2004, following the company's $15.5 million acquisition of skin-care company Silipsos in which Kanders said Hudkins played a "vital role," Hudkins came to Langer fulltime, stepping into the role of chief operating officer. He took over as CEO of the 35-year-old company effective Jan. 1, 2006, upon the departure of predecessor Andrew Meyers.

Notwithstanding his rapid rise, Hudkins says being CEO—and working with Kanders—have taught him not to be in a hurry. "You're exposed to everything from the 30,000-feet view of things down to the day-to-day minutiae," Hudkins explains. "Our approach to things is to be very patient, and we have this view that life is a very long time. Even though I'm doing this at the age of 31, I want to do well for everybody, for myself, and our shareholders. You have to be patient."

He needs to be. On Dec. 5, Chief Financial Officer Sara Cormack resigned for personal reasons. She had been on the job only three months.

Such challenges are part of the job, of course. As is contending with the fact that shares of Langer are down 23% this year as of afternoon trading Dec. 15.

A strategy of growing a company through acquisitions appeals to Hudkins. On Nov. 14 Langer announced an agreement to buy privately held specialty-soaps maker Twincraft for about $26.7 million in cash and stock.

"I like the approach, and I like doing it in this format," Hudkins says. "For me, being the CEO of the company is very exciting and really a lot of fun, because I get to do a lot of things that I really enjoy in connection with an approach that [Kanders] has used and has worked very well for him."

Lessons Learned

Indeed, being CEO has been "an incredible experience," Hudkins notes, one that has helped him to meet interesting people and learn to appreciate his strengths and weaknesses. "It does keep you pretty busy," he says. "The challenge for most any person in any company, whether it's a CEO or somebody else, is knowing where you can add value, and where you should leave things to people who are better at other functions."

Hudkins advises aspiring CEOs to seek out colleagues they'll enjoy working with. "If you have any interest in doing this kind of stuff, you're going to be working quite a bit," he explains. "It's important to enjoy the people you're around. I know it sounds trite, but it's the biggest thing I've learned."

Click here to see the list of 40-and-under CEOs of publicly traded U.S. companies.

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