Owens & Minor – A Richmond VA Business Success Story

In the reconstruction period which followed the American Civil War, Richmond began to dominate the South from a commercial and industrial perspective.  The drug wholesaling industry was no exception and Richmond boasted five wholesale drug operations with only New Orleans presenting any real competition.  In this market there were two rival salesmen; Otho O. Owens and G. Gilmer Minor who joined forces in a partnership which created Owens & Minor in 1882 operating from 1007 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia.

By 1891, Richmond has established dominance over New Orleans as the South’s drug wholesale and distribution center with six wholesale operations.  In 1906, Otho O.Owens died and the presidency of the company passed to G. Gilmer Minor which started a business dynasty lasting four generations.  The company continued to thrive and grow to such an extent, that despite severe shortages caused by the First World War, sales surpassed the $1 million mark in 1917.

In 1927, just before the onset of the Great Depression, the Owens family sold their stake in the business which continued under the leadership of the Minor family.  By 1945 as the Second World War was coming to a close, sales had reached $2.5 million.  In 1947, a third generation of Minors took the helm with G. Gilmer Minor Jr. assuming the role of president of the O&M company.

The Fifties were a time of change and innovation for O&M. .The company took delivery of its first IBM computer in 1954, designed to automate the ordering process and a move which placed O&M at the forefront of technological innovation.  This was simply a prelude to a series of corporate takeovers and buyouts which would catapult the company onto the national and international business stage.

In 1955, O&M bought Bodeker Drug Company and rebranded itself as OMB.  In 1958, further business expansion took place with opening of the first wholesale distribution center outside of Richmond by O&M in Wilson, NC.  By the end of the decade, OMB sales exceeded $7 million.

In 1966, OMB purchased A&J Hospital Supply in Richmond, in a move which took the company into the medical/surgery distribution business (known as med/surg) and formed a distinct component of OMB, separate from the drug wholesale business.  A further acquisition in 1971 saw the incorporation of Marks Surgical of Augusta, GA into OMB and followed shortly afterwards by a listing on the Over The Counter exchange (OTC).  By the end of the decade, OMB sales exceeded $100 million annually.

In 1981, the fourth generation assumed control of the company with G. Gilmer Minor III taking over the President and CEO offices with the retirement of G. Gilmer Minor Jr.  Minor Jr, remained however, as Chairman of the Board.  The new leader continued the acquisition strategy of the company and O&M secured a contract with Voluntary Hospitals of America (VHA).  It is this deal which firmly cemented the med/surg business within the O&M family, and this also came to dominate the business as a whole.  By 1988, the company had grown to the extent that it successfully sought a listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the symbol, OMI.

By 1989, O&M had become the 2nd largest med/surg distributor in the the country, after it bought National Healthcare with seven locations in the western US. Sales were now in excess of $1 billion annually and predominantly were derived from the med/surg business.  The decision was taken to sell the drug wholesale business and in 1992, the drug division was sold to Berger Brunswig.  This in turn gave O&M the cash to buy Stuart medical which had a very strong med/surg distribution business in the North-East and doubled the size of the company once more.

As the millennium came to a close, Craig Smith became the first to assume the title of President of the company, as G. Gilmer Minor III stepped down in 1999, though he retained the title of CEO and became Chairman of the Board.  In 2001, the company’s use of technology had propelled it to the forefront of cutting edge application and innovation of hi-tech tools.  This was recognized when the influential Information Week magazine found that O&M had been voted the #1 company for the use of technology amongst the largest companies in the country.

In 2005, Craig Smith assumed both roles of President and CEO with the retirement of G. Gilmer Minor III who continued as Chairman.  The acquisition strategy has continued however, with the takeover of McKesson’s and 8 further locations across the US with a specialty in acute care med/surg supply and distribution.  In 2008, The Burrows Company of Chicago, IL was acquired with a further 9 locations across the Upper Mid West.  In 2009, O&M reported sales in excess of $8 billion despite a severe recession failing to dent an increase of 11% over the prior year.

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One Comment on “Owens & Minor – A Richmond VA Business Success Story

  1. karen titus says:

    Great job! Thanks for the good report on one of Richmond’s oldest and finest firms.

    Double-check the next-to-last paragraph – Missing a date: “Gilmer Minor III stepped down in 199, though he retained the title of CEO”

    Keep up the good work.

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