By Katie Reid
ZURICH (Reuters) - Flying fanatic Hansjoerg Wyss, chairman of Swiss medical device maker Synthes <SYST.VX>, has navigated his group into the flight path of Johnson & Johnson <JNJ.N>.
Synthes' leading position in trauma makes it a very attractive target for the U.S. healthcare conglomerate and a deal, potentially worth around $20 billion, could even be accretive for J&J in the first year, some analysts said after Synthes confirmed the two groups were in talks.
But the course Synthes now takes depends largely upon high-flying Swiss Wyss and whether he will relinquish his near 50 percent in the group that he joined in 1977.
"He is still very active in the business, loves it, everyone thought he'd never sell," said Tim Nelson, a healthcare analyst with Nuveen Asset Management.
Wyss, 75, who was brought up in Berne and is Switzerland's second richest man, lives both in his home country and the United States.
He came to Synthes, a maker of nails, screws and plates to fix broken bones, after he sold a plane to one of the four Swiss doctors behind the company.
This group of pioneering doctors set up the Association for the Study of Internal Fixation AO/ASIF in 1958. The AO Foundation, still a key partner to Synthes today, gives Synthes a significant competitive advantage, and it could even have a say about how any takeover of Synthes pans out.
The four Swiss doctors believed fractures could be better treated by internally fixing bones with implants rather than by using a plaster cast and traction and their methods are widely applied today.
Under the media-shy Wyss, Synthes USA brought manufacturing and distribution together. Wyss also expanded the group's sales force and set up training courses for young surgeons interested in learning about the new techniques of bone fixation.
With a market capitalization of more than $18 billion, Synthes, which is based in West Chester in the United States, is today one of Switzerland's largest listed companies, employing some 11,400 people worldwide.
"If you look at the company now and if you look at the company when he joined, it would seem that Wyss has done something right," said ZKB analyst Sibylle Bischofberger.
"The group has had the right strategy, products and innovation. Wyss seems to be very strongly involved," Bischofberger said.
Wyss, who was born to a mechanical calculator salesman, has one daughter, Amy, who is also on the board of Synthes, but is said not to be willing to follow in her father's footsteps.
(Additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)