In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated much of Puerto Rico. Access to basic medical supplies—syringes, tubes, catheters—was crucial.
During those difficult times, Puerto Rico Hospital Supply (PRHS) never closed, propelled by generators amid the destruction. Felix Santos ’78, P’16, is CEO of both PRHS and Customed, the company’s manufacturing arm.
His 250-person company has a vast reach, distributing goods to hospitals and doctors on the island as well as in Florida and the Caribbean, playing an essential role in health care throughout the region. The third-generation family business is the largest company of its kind in Puerto Rico, says Santos. “Puerto Rico is a big manufacturing place for medical devices,” he says. “We distribute everything but medicine and food.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Santos had known he wanted to go into business since he was a youth. Babson was his number-one choice of college, and he completed his degree in three years. “I was always an entrepreneurial person,” he says.
Santos began his career as a management consultant at Ernst & Young, focusing on health-care accounts. After earning an MBA from Northwestern University, he briefly worked on Wall Street before starting a wholesale flower business, Caribbean Cuts, also in New York City.
But Santos always knew that one day he would join his family’s business, which his grandfather founded in 1946. So in 1987, he moved back to Puerto Rico, became marketing director, and soon after came up with the plan to add the Customed division. “I saw a lot of potential to expand our business to other markets within health care outside of Puerto Rico,” he says, “and to develop our own private label, Customed, so we could start manufacturing our own products.” In 1991, the board named him CEO.
As the company grows to meet health-care demands, it retains the flavor of a family business. At 89, Santos’ father still keeps a hand in the company, and Santos works hard to provide customers with personalized service. “Babson was great for me, because it has such a large, international community of people with family-owned businesses,” he says.
His career, says Santos, is thrilling. “I love running my own show. I love the merchandising aspect and the marketing aspect. I travel worldwide looking for new products to develop or for us to distribute, in burgeoning areas like infection control and radiology,” he says.
Beyond his business, Santos also is using his expertise to help steer Puerto Rico’s beleaguered economy by serving on the official committee of unsecured creditors for the commonwealth, established as part of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, passed by Congress in 2016. The committee represents the interests of Puerto Rican general unsecured creditors, helping them to negotiate with debtors.
“It’s important to have a local businessperson that understands the challenges that Puerto Rican companies encounter on a daily basis,” he says. “We have all been severely affected by the downturn in the local economy, and the health-care sector is key to the financial recovery of the island.”—Kara Baskin