The Cook Company Future And Its Founder’s Legacy

Cook Medical Group President Kem Hawkins says the company's mission will not change with the passing of founder Bill Cook.

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Photo: Courtesy of Cook Medical Group

The West Baden Springs Hotel, one of Bill Cook's historical renovation projects.

Whether you go to the Christmas tree lighting on Fountain Square, a football game at IU, or for a workout at the YMCA, you are experiencing a bit of the Bill Cook legacy.

Cook is credited with revitalizing downtown Bloomington.  He is the founder of the Monroe County YMCA and he paid to install the lights at the football stadium.

In the business world Cook is known for his contributions to the healthcare industry.  He and his wife Gayle started the medical device company, Cook Incorporated, in the bedroom of their Bloomington apartment.  It now manufactures an array of medical products, from catheters to angioplasty balloons, and employs more than 10,000 people worldwide.

Cook Group President Kem Hawkins says the company will continue on with little interruption.  Cook had been sick with cardiovascular disease for years so he had time to plan for the future.

“He was an incredible mentor to all of us,” says Hawkins. “And there’s an incredible responsibility to ensure that his legacy lives on, because we have been a company of standing on the highest ethical ground, of making sure that we do the right thing by the patient. And our loyalty to the medical disciplines that we serve. And we certainly don’t want to look back at any point in the future and disappoint Bill.”

Hawkins will continue as president with Steve Ferguson as Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Cook’s son Carl will take over as CEO.

Despite being the richest man in Indiana, and one of the richest in the world, Hawkins says Cook’s goal was never to make money.

“It was a tool,” Hawkins says. “And it was a tool that had great responsibility, and it could be used in a manner that could be destructive, or it could be used in a manner that would build. And I know that I am the only president in the world that, almost 11 years ago, Bill Cook said to me, ‘You know, Kem, this isn’t about money. I want you to make every decision in the best interest of the patients.’”

And in his philanthropic efforts, Cook insisted on doing things that made people’s lives better.

“I can’t begin to tell you the number of things that have never been published, where Bill, the family, and the company have intervened at times to help both individuals and group with no expectation of a thank-you, or no expectation of an acknowledgment … but done just to make life a little easier for some, and sometimes to make a right out of a wrong.”

Cook established a low-cost health clinic for employees, provided hundreds of millions of dollars in education grants and endowments, and took a particular interest in historical restoration.  One of Cook’s most notable projects was the half-billion dollar renovation project at the French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel.

Cook had agreed to accept the state’s highest honor, the Sachem, at a ceremony in May.  It is given annually to recognize a lifetime of achievement and moral virtue that has brought credit and honor to Indiana.  Governor Mitch Daniels says he will confer the Sachem to Cook posthumously.

Sara Wittmeyer

Sara Wittmeyer is the News Bureau Chief for WFIU and WTIU. Sara has more than a decade of experience as a news reporter and previously served with KBIA at the University of Missouri, WNKU at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY, and at WCPO News in Cincinnati.

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