Valuing people over profits

While many business owners talk about valuing people over profits, Todd Griffiths has made it his mission to do exactly that.

Griffiths, 33, is the CEO of Pulse Medical, a Hamilton-based company that offers leading-edge medical alert products designed to help seniors live independently, knowing that help is just a button-press away. But it wasn’t an obvious path that led Griffiths to his career.

Griffiths’ life was shaped by the seven years he spent in the military after bouncing through various sales jobs. Despite being born in Burlington and having spent no time underwater, Griffiths followed in his older brother’s footsteps to become a diver with the Royal Canadian Navy. He reflected on how his time in the ferocious training regime affected his mindset.

“They instil in you that you want it so bad. They push you and push you and push you — I was willing to give up my life for this course,” he said.

During one training dive, Griffiths found himself low on air, debating what to do next.

“They teach you so much to not come up until the job is done. I just ran out of air underwater — I was more focused on the job than my air. Unfortunately, I was too deep to do any stops on the way up.”

After surfacing, Griffiths found himself placed in a hyperbaric chamber and suffering from vertigo.
“I don’t know if I got the bends. I probably did, but I couldn’t tell them or else I’d get kicked off my course.”
While Griffiths later graduated and was assigned to HMCS Fredericton in Halifax, he never shook that training experience.

“I was affected, but I didn’t realize how badly for a while,” he recalled. “You’re just taught to believe you’re so tough.”

The tough exterior would crack a couple years later.

“We were going on a dive in March, and it was gorgeous outside,” he said. “I was thinking how warm it is — but the water is freezing. Instead of wearing my woollies under my wetsuit I wore a thin membrane and I forgot my headgear. I got in the water and it was so cold I can’t describe it. But I decided to dive. And I remember going through every stage of hypothermia. Shivering, muscle cramps, nausea, delirium. It was awful. When I got out of the water I don’t remember anything other than passing out.”

Griffiths looks back at that dive as a defining moment in his military career and his life.
“I didn’t know I had PTSD at that point — I realized later on when I couldn’t dive anymore. I was becoming a risk to my team. Nobody saw it, but I knew it.”

While Griffiths was in the process of being medically discharged from active service, his life was thrown onto a new path by the death of his grandfather in 2015. His grandfather was living at home by himself when he suffered a stroke.

“He laid there, unable to move, talk or eat. He died of starvation. We found him a few days later, but it was too late,” he said. “I just know that if he had a fall alert device, he’d be here today.”

Armed with his background in sales, and facing the prospect of finding a career outside of the military for the first time in years, Griffiths launched Pulse Medical in hopes of helping other families avoid the heartache that his endured. While Griffiths was familiar with many of the competing companies in Canada, he was determined to make the peace-of-mind of a medical-alert system accessible to everyone.

After having partnered with the City of Hamilton’s subsidized-housing department to offer the lifesaving service to residents, Griffiths was surprised at how many people truly needed the service but couldn’t absorb the cost.
“I got to look over budgets of these residents, and they really just can’t afford it. So we made a model that everyone can afford at $29 per month.”

Griffiths’ military experience also laid the foundation for another pillar of Pulse Medical’s mission. After making the transition to civilian life, Griffiths recognized the obstacles that veterans with PTSD and other disabilities experience when rejoining the workforce, and watched as veterans whose only professional experience was in the military struggled to find jobs.

In founding Pulse Medical, Griffiths made it the company’s mission to help tackle the issue, vowing that for every 200 medical-alert devices sold, Pulse Medical will hire one veteran to join the team.

“We’re more of a social enterprise than a for-profit company in that way,” he said. “My goal is to provide jobs for people who went through a similar experience as me. I want to provide a streamlined process for them and show that these guys can work just as well as anyone else.”

Now in its second year, Pulse Medical is coming off a frenetic period of growth that saw the company triple its business over six months, with clients from Manitoba to Newfoundland living safely and independently in their own homes. Griffiths is bullish about the company’s future but is keen to talk more about what that growth means for fellow former soldiers.

“In the U.S., people are so supportive of their veterans. I don’t know why that’s not a thing here, but it should be,” he said. “It’s something we can improve on. And it has to start somewhere.”