Ashley Gannon Interviews Steve Eglowstein, Director of Sales at IPL Plastics

Ashley Gannon, Executive Recruiter for Plastics and Flexible Packaging recently had the opportunity to interview Steve Eglowstein, Director of Sales at IPL Plastics. Mr. Eglowstein shared helpful insights regarding the plastics packaging industry, innovation, and leadership.

Please tell us about yourself and your company, IPL Plastics.

I have had over 15 years of Plastic Packaging experience, most of which have been in the manufacturing of rigid plastic containers. I have had roles from producing in sales to leadership. Currently, my title is Director of Sales and I lead Sales Reps from the Southeast, out to the Gulf Coast and the entire West Coast throughout that division. IPL Plastics is now the third largest manufacturer of rigid plastic containers in North America. IPL is comprised of 4 business units -The bulk division which is all plastic containers from 0.5 up to 6 gallons in rounds, squares, rectangles and various shapes and styles, a retail division, which is the smaller type of plastic containers that are synonymous with yogurt and sour cream and products you see mostly in the retail sector, a material handling division which is primarily storage handling containers, and an environmental division which are roll-out trash cans.

What led you to pursue the Plastics/Packaging industry in your career?

I think what really caught my attention in the Plastics/Packaging industry was the opportunity to work within an industry that is always growing and changing. Whether it is in food, chemical, or industrial, types of packaging are always changing. There are many initiatives that have been ongoing in the OEM to retail markets. The innovation and constant change is very present in Plastics Packaging, and finding a company that was open and invested in innovation allows you to get to the right customers for the right reasons.

IPL has a culture of innovation and commitment. How do you encourage innovation on the teams you lead?

It starts with a company like IPL who provides best in class product and service. Having these key components allows your team to collaborate with customers and truly provide solutions and the ability to differentiate yourselves from the competition. We, at IPL, encourage our teams and our sales folks to constantly think outside the box. We hire creative minds who are constantly looking to provide solutions, options or variations to the way that you’re doing things. Hiring people that have that mindset and then having a best in class company, best in class product, and having a team internally that welcomes that, drives innovation and people take to it. Each opportunity in our company is worth exploring and if it makes sense we will do it. We are probably more flexible than most of our competitors, so for that reason it creates an environment in itself that promotes innovation, thinking outside the box and coming up with new ideas.

What trends do you expect to see in the Plastics/Packaging industry in the next 5 years?

Source reduction is definitely a key proponent, not only from an environmental standpoint, but also reduction in costs. In addition, state of the art decoration has become more accessible to medium and small customers. IML or in mold labeling is something 10 years ago only large brand owners could afford to do. Through technology advancements, it’s not just for the companies who have a huge wallet, now some of the medium and smaller accounts can use state of the art decoration. I think you will see more and more of that. Being able to do shorter runs with decoration will be more available in the next 5 years, so driving out material, driving out costs, and using types of decoration in an economical way are trends I see. Lastly, innovation is not going to stop. Coming up with the best and newest mouse trap is an ongoing topic that has no finish line.

What traits do you believe are necessary in leadership?

The first is being able to hire the right people. One of the reasons we work with DRI is they give us the ability to hire the right people, by putting the right people in front of us. Additionally, being able to have access as a leader, keeping your ear to the ground and finding talent that can add value to the team is important. I think that once you’ve got the right people on board then it becomes leading by example. My job, in essence, is to remove obstacles and do everything in my power to help that person succeed whether in metrics, goals, and dollars; that’s my mantra. My job is to stand behind someone and help them move the pile and help them succeed in closing business, and achieving their personal and professional goals. We provide all the training and guidance but once you hire the right people and give them the right tools, leaders should be asking, ‘how can I help you?’ It’s not about who works for you, it’s more or less becoming teammates and partners and creating collaborative relationships.

Describe the approach you take to attracting and retaining high impact talent at IPL Plastics.

I think one of the assets that IPL’s culture has is having a collaborative and entrepreneurial type spirit. Some of our best in class competitors are very set in their ways. Having a leadership team that is open to new ideas, and wants to collaborate with their teammates seems very well received with the people that we talk to. It seems to be the culture people want to be around instead of the less flexible environment. There’s nobody at IPL that puts themselves above anybody else. We all consider ourselves partners, coworkers and we all work together for a common goal so people feel apart of the process and that’s how you get a better buy in.

What or who has motivated and influenced you to be successful in your career? Have you been involved in mentorship throughout your career, whether being mentored or mentoring others?

I have been very fortunate to have worked with and for people I would consider mentors. I have been given the opportunities to go through formal training and worked with good mentors who have taught me great skills in sales and leadership. These people have enabled me to pick up some great habits and great skillsets. As for mentoring others, part of my job is to mentor the people who report to me to certain degrees, helping them provide solutions and recommending how to handle different situations. Some people are just as experienced as I am, so the last thing I want to do is to tell them how to do their job. My job is to find out what can I do, how can I help, and how can I remove obstacles. For those with less experience that come across a situation they need help with, we will sit down, brainstorm, and look at our options to figure out the best way to handle it – that is one way I can provide some mentorship.

What is the biggest challenge facing the industry right now?

Top manufacturers need to have the ability to be flexible to meet and exceed customer expectations. There are folks that are much larger or much smaller that are very ingratiated in standard operating procedures IE, “that’s how it’s got to be done”, but business climate has changed over years. There are spikes and valleys in businesses and there are different senses of urgency and needs so the biggest challenge in the industry is being that company that not always says yes, but has the flexibility and open-mindedness to look at ways to help customers meet and exceed their expectations.

What do you think is necessary to be a successful salesperson in your industry?

There are a lot of people in our industry from the sales standpoint that are used to doing things the same way that everybody else has done it for some period of time and I don’t believe that necessarily holds true anymore. Customers in the industry have evolved. The average customer is more astute as to entertaining a new vendor coming in, listening to the questions they ask and the way they conduct themselves, and they’re saying to themselves, “Is this someone I can look at as a partner? Do they have our best interest at hand? Are they bringing new ideas to the table?” This is a different mindset than just trying to speak to customers to sell your product or service. Salespeople need to enable themselves to get in front of customers and ask them a lot of questions, find out what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, where they want help, and then providing solutions, suggestions or options. When you do that, then you become an extension with a company and you are viewed as a partner with your customer. I think that’s very important and the industry needs it.

 

Ashley Gannon
Executive Recruiter
agannon@directrecruiters.com
440-991-1064

Brian Silverstein Interviews Florence Hudson

Brian Silverstein, Director of Life Sciences recently had the opportunity to ask Florence Hudson, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer, former IBM Executive, and Editorial Board Member for Blockchain in Healthcare Today a series of questions. She shared insights regarding her impressive career, trends in the tech and healthcare industries, and advice for up-and-coming STEM professionals.

Please tell us about yourself.

I’m a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer, and that interest started when I was about 3 years old. I was brought up by my maternal grandparents because my mother died the day I was born, so my mother’s brothers and sister became my brothers and sister. My oldest brother loved space. He used to get me up at 5 or 6 in the morning to watch the Apollo missions take off. I remember thinking it was so cool and wondering how they do that, and how they get up there and back to earth safely. They say that’s when you become an engineer - when you start asking ‘how.’

From there, I got a number of scholarships out of high school and ended up going to Princeton to be a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer. I worked at Grumman and then NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab, so I’ve always worked on things that are the leading edge and the future. I was able to work on the space shuttle program and met Sally Ride; she was going to be flying in the space shuttle, and I was building the space shuttle. At the end of the 70’s, the aerospace world was really in a decline, so I took a look around and thought that computers were going to run the world someday, so I interviewed with HP and IBM, and took a job with HP in California. I was there for a little over a year then my grandfather got sick, so I moved back to NY and got a job with IBM. They called me an early identifier, which means I was on track to be an executive, and I was fortunate enough to have a 33-year career at IBM, including Vice President and Director roles.

When I got to the point in my career where I wasn’t going any higher, I decided to look for roles that met my goal to become a Senior Vice President and C-level executive as I had documented in my 1-page lifetime strategic plan created in 1983. At that point, my friend introduced me to a Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer role at Internet2, which was a really fun job. From there I joined the Blockchain in Healthcare Today Editorial Board, which I still do now. In addition, I am the Editor in Chief for a book on women and the Internet of Things and this framework called TIPPSS – trust, identity, privacy, protection, safety and security for the Internet of Things. I’m focused on this area to increase awareness of the need to improve trust and identity of things, people, software, and cybersecurity to keep people safer in this hyper-connected world we live in. There are about 15 women writing chapters in this book from different parts of my life; research, industry, government, academia and more. I am also Special Advisor for Next Generation Internet for the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub at Columbia University, a very cool role. I also speak at many events regarding Internet of Things, smart cities, Women in STEM, Blockchain, and more.  Now I’m looking for the next cool thing I can do whether it is board positions, or new roles where I can make things better – that’s what engineers do.

You have a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. What led you to get involved with healthcare in your career?

When I was at IBM in Corporate Strategy, Lou Gerstner as the CEO inspired us to look at some of the newer markets we should be participating in. Healthcare and Life Sciences was one of them. At the time I was a VP in Corporate Strategy and my team led the development of a number of new strategies, including creating the analytical structure to understand and operate in new markets that weren’t really defined yet, as documented in a Harvard case study about the IBM EBO (Emerging Business Opportunities) program. We created a framework to assess market potential and value creation, then developed a range of uncertainty for the new markets including everyone’s opinion to help us move forward together. We did that for healthcare and other markets. I also worked on the IBM Watson cognitive computing strategy which included choosing healthcare as a prime opportunity for cognitive computing.

As I started getting involved more with Internet2, Healthcare and Life Sciences came up as a key focus area. As Chief Innovation Officer, I did a community survey to find what areas of open collaboration we should work on together, and came up with distributed big data and analytics, the Internet of Things, and end-to-end trust and security. Within big data and analytics, one of the use cases that came forward was Healthcare and Life Sciences. When the Cancer Moonshot came along I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the summit at Howard University in Washington, DC to discuss how the scientists and technologies can support the acceleration of cancer research and data sharing. I was fortunate to be appointed to the program committee for the computational approaches for cancer workshop at the annual SuperComputing conference as another way to leverage different types of scientists, technologists and researchers together to apply their cumulative thinking to cancer. Healthcare is a huge space with so many opportunities to improve outcomes, so much to figure out, and so many challenges. We can bring brilliant people together, leveraging existing and new technologies, to work together and use their unique gifts for good.

Being a Special Advisor for Next Generation Internet at the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities you see in the world of data?

One of the biggest challenges is cultural; people have to choose to share their data. In research environments your research is your intellectual property, it’s your identity and it’s what helps you get tenure, so we need to get to thinking that data needs to be shared. The other challenge is protecting against other people changing your data. We have to apply new technologies to areas where people aren’t used to sharing data and give them protection.

The opportunity across the board is using the data for good. We need to look at data holistically to get key insights and make the right decisions to change things. Another thing as we look across the world is working together to come up with what we want to accomplish and how we can make things better by improving collaboration within data science globally.

What trends do you expect to see in technology in the next 5 years?

A trend I see is the need for this TIPPSS idea; trust, identity, privacy, safety and security. More people are becoming aware of the threat of physical and financial harm from the connected devices and systems on the planet. We need to build in TIPPSS for new devices, and add more security to existing devices and systems. I think there will be more and more awareness and regulation in these areas. The issue of ethics will also increase regarding how we use the vast amount of data available about people and things, relating to data science, IoT, privacy, and security. There are so many aspects of making tech more safe and secure as it becomes more integrated into our daily lives. For example, quantum computing is going to be very real and provide opportunities and challenges; if you make something really smart it can be good and bad so figuring out the ethics of data and tech are more and more important as we move forward.

What interesting new projects are you working on?

The Blockchain world is very interesting. My position on the Editorial Board of Blockchain in Healthcare Today allows me to look at how new blockchain technology, which tucks under the TIPPSS umbrella, can provide better integrity, trust and security of data, whether it’s data about the pharmaceutical supply chain to make sure counterfeit drugs don’t enter, or provenance of medical or clinical research data as it is transferred between devices, institutions, people and networks in the eventual pursuit of precision medicine and precision cancer care. We focus on figuring out how to maintain integrity of the data since all devices which house the data are hackable. Blockchain can help with this, as it tracks who and what creates or changes data. It’s exciting to work with doctors, the editorial board, and medical schools to make things better by marrying technology with healthcare.

I am also involved in a number of things related to TIPPSS, which we need to get more women involved in. The way I look at diversity, until we are at human population parity in STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - we aren’t leveraging all the resources on the planet; if 50% of the planet is women, then 50% of everything should be women. We need to encourage women and let them know that they can do it and they should get involved.  

What types of mentor or mentors have you had throughout your career?

My first was my brother who woke me up to watch the Apollo missions when I was 3 years old. He provided me the opportunity to see what’s out there so I could see what I was interested in. My parents were also always very supportive of me. My first real mentor in the aerospace engineering field was Yvonne Brill, who passed away a couple years ago. I met her when I was at Princeton University and president of the Society of Women Engineers section. When she passed away, her NY Times obituary called her the first female rocket scientist in the US. She connected me to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab as my summer internship and she was on the NASA safety advisory board after the Challenger disaster. She was incredible. I always show pictures of her when I do my Women in Tech talks. Whenever I went back to Princeton I always tried to go and visit her at her house and give her a hug. Last time I saw her, she showed me the medal President Obama had just presented her on Technology and Innovation. I also had a number of mentors at IBM when I was on the Executive path. Now a few other women and I who were VPs at IBM have started doing peer mentoring and ladies dinners to help each other in work and life. We invite the EVP from IBM who mentored us all to join our dinners too.  He is still there for us even though we have all retired from IBM.

What do you believe are the traits and qualities of a great leader?

I think a great leader needs to care. They need to care about the business, their team, clients, people, partners; people can tell if you do or don’t care. You can show that you care by listening. I used to present to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem when I was at IBM, and I’d speak to them about our strategy, and they gave me this ornament I still have that says, ‘It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen’ – Oliver Wendell Holmes. So as leaders it is our job to listen, respond, and lead, inspiring people to look forward, look up and think of what more they can be or do, and help them reach for the stars.

You were recently featured by the New York Hall of Science with your STEM profile. How do you encourage STEM careers among your network?

I’m approachable and friendly, but I’m a geek; I worked on future missions around Jupiter, cognitive computing, next gen internet, and helping cure cancer. I say if I can do it, you can do it. I had very humble beginnings, with my mother dying and my father leaving, and I was an orphan, so if I can do it, you can do it. I encourage anyone to find what inspires them and do it. It could be boys, girls, robots, anything; I’m flexible, we just need more thinkers and doers in the STEM field.

Based on your LinkedIn profile, you have earned various honors and awards. To what or whom do you attribute your success?

My parents were my core. They were so supportive of me – they lost their daughter and then took care of me. I was first in our immediate family to go to a 4-year college and they supported that. I also had teachers who were supportive of me. You need personal cheerleaders in your life that believe you’re great. My parents, siblings, friends, daughter, have all been personal cheerleaders for me and I’m very lucky that they support me.

What advice would you give to up and coming technology professionals to be successful?

Figure out the unique gifts God gave you and use them for good. If people say you have a gift, ask them for feedback about it and what the good part was. When I was looking at how to portray myself, my mentor from IBM said that my unique value is that I’m technical and a business executive, and it’s the unique combination that really differentiated me, so that’s what my CV says at the top now. Getting feedback from other people, listening, and leveraging that can help you on your way to success. Find things that really inspire you, listen to the market, continue to pursue your ideas, and don’t give up. Look at how to leverage ideas for good and watch out for those who use their ideas for bad.

Brian Silverstein
Director of Life Sciences
440-996-0877
bsilverstein@directrecruiters.com

Robert Cohn, Managing Partner Interviews Toby Thomann, President of WAGO

January 24, 2018

Robert Cohn, Managing Partner recently had the opportunity to interview WAGO Corporation President, Toby Thomann. Mr. Thomann answered questions regarding his career track, WAGO, the Automation space, and more. 

Please tell us about yourself and WAGO Corporation.

I am originally from Akron, Ohio where I attended and graduated from The University of Akron with a BS in Marketing.  My career at WAGO started in 1994 as a Regional Sales Manager covering OH, MI and W.PA. Over the years, I have held several positions within the company including Central US Zone Manager, Marketing Manager, National Sales Manager, Vice President of Sales and now President. 

About WAGO:

WAGO is a family owned German company founded in 1951.  Today WAGO employs almost 9,000 people, has 28 wholly owned subsidiaries and 42 agencies globally.

Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at WAGO. From our pioneering CAGE CLAMP® spring pressure connection technology to our extensive range of Interconnect, Interface and Automation solutions, such as the fieldbus independent WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM, our customers count on the unconditional performance and reliability of our products to ensure the safe, efficient operation of their systems every time.

You have extensive experience at WAGO in marketing and sales. How have these experiences prepared you for your position as President of WAGO’s North American Headquarters?

I have been fortunate to grow with WAGO and hold several different positions within the organization.  This allowed me to work within different departments and learn about them, lead them and ultimately bring them together. This has been both challenging and rewarding, going from a relatively small company to where we are today.

What are your goals for WAGO the next 3 years?

The obvious answer is to aggressively grow sales and market share in North America. However, that is only part of the equation. Ultimately my goal is to provide strong leadership and vision to our team, exceed customers’ expectations and provide a great place for our employees to work and achieve their goals.

What trends are you currently seeing in automation?

I see customers requiring suppliers to bring more to the table.  We need to offer solutions, not just products.  We need to take an interest in what our customer’s goals are and help them achieve them.

WAGO has numerous innovative patented products. How do you encourage innovation among your staff?

We empower our people to be creative.   Anyone can open a catalog and pick out a product.  I mentioned before that we need to differentiate ourselves from others in our market.  One way to do this is to develop a custom solution that provides a unique way of solving a problem or improving an application.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to find and develop the next generation of leaders for our company.  In today’s society we do not find the generation of individuals that are looking to commit the time and effort required to develop into leadership roles.  Most individuals do not want the responsibility and the challenges associated with certain roles.  We need to identify and develop our next generation of leaders to help drive the future. 

Part of the vision at WAGO is investing in people and resources that allow for the development of new products that meet the standard of being safe and reliable everywhere in the world. What strategies are you currently using to invest in hiring top talent for your company?

Today we search for our top talent with the help of dedicated recruiters.  We are also considering an internship program to try and develop our own candidates, but this is only part of the equation.  At WAGO we consider each employee a long-term investment and therefore, we take our time to make sure they are the right fit.  After hiring them you now need to retain them, and at WAGO we are trying to provide ”World Class” facilities and environments for our employees.  We have invested heavily in updating our facilities with the latest ergonomic features and promote health and wellness programs along with competitive salaries, retirement programs and benefits.  Today’s market is competitive, and therefore you need to have something that differentiates you in the market.  Our greatest resource is our people and we try to keep that in mind as we make our decisions.  We are fortunate to have great longevity with our employees both locally and globally and we always are looking for ways to keep the team happy and motivated!

Have you had mentors throughout your career?

Yes, and I still continue to have mentors.

What advice would you give to up and coming professionals pursuing careers in the Automation space?

I would tell up and coming professionals to be creative!  You need to be a resource to your customer - basically an extension of their company.  Most companies today lack resources, so if you can provide value you will succeed over others that are just checking the box!  Try to gain some hands-on field experience especially if you are going into sales.  The automation market changes rapidly so make sure you are willing to adapt to change and not get passed by!

What important characteristics are needed to be a leader in Automation?

To be a leader in Automation, you have to be a differentiator.  What separates you from the competition?  Most manufacturers build good, quality products so you need to have something that sets you apart.  Is it your relationship, innovation, quality, warranty or your handshake to a customer, no matter how large or how small they are?

As an award-winning company, what is WAGO’s differentiator that sets you apart from competing organizations?

From the beginning, WAGO has never wavered in our technology.  We invented “Spring Pressure Termination Technology” and it is the basis of all of our products for over 65 years.  Today we see our variations of our technology being produced by every major competitor in the market!  We believe this is a testament to what we invented and continue to maintain a leadership position in today.

Why is WAGO a great place to work?

It starts with our people.  People are the key to any company’s success.  However, I think we take it a step further.  We have a great facility to work in, we try to maintain a “work hard, play hard” motto and even as we continue to grow as an organization we try to keep the feel of the company somewhat intimate and keep the employees’ needs first. 

Is there anything else we should know about you or WAGO?

Probably more than you care to know or that I could bore you with! If you need more information or have additional questions please feel free to contact me.

Robert Cohn
Managing Partner
440-996-0595
rcohn@directrecruiters.com

Norm Volsky Interviews Adam Kaufman, President & CEO at Canary Health

December 15, 2017

Norm Volsky, Director of Mobile HIT interviews Adam Kaufman, President and CEO of Canary Health. Mr. Kaufman shared the mission of Canary Health, interesting trend news, and a multitude of insights from his HIT career. 

Please tell us about yourself and the mission of Canary Health.

I’m an Engineer and a Health Economist who came to Digital Health out of a passion for solutions and technology-enabled services that rethink approaches and improve people’s lives; and I have a real commitment to making sure that those solutions and services work. Canary Health is the perfect place to blend my first career as an engineer with my work in economics. We’re dedicated to the mission of empowering individuals to better self-manage and to understand how their health impacts their lives. It seems like an obvious thing, but for a lot of us we don’t stop to realize that our emotions, daily habits, and relationships are impacted by having one or more chronic conditions.  It’s a really exciting mission to be empowering people to have the health they need for the life they want.

What is Canary Health’s key differentiator in the industry?

Our key differentiator is our focus on helping people determine what matters to them and working towards what’s important to them. I think a lot of the industry has an important, but over-reliant belief that better data and analytics are going to solve the problem. We are certainly big believers in helping people see the trends in their data and leveraging analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve our service, but there is something missing in those processes that helps someone understand what matters to them. We are differentiated by this unique approach that comes from intellectual property developed at Stanford University around how you engage someone in their own health and support their self-management. That is our foundational approach to helping them understand how to better care for themselves and drive towards improved condition management.

What inspired you to pursue a career in healthcare?

Two reasons why healthcare is the most exciting place to think about how technology can improve people’s lives: One is that it’s a great mission to know that every day we are working on impacting people’s lives in one of the most basic ways; their health and their ability to do the things they want.  Second is that the healthcare industry has lagged far behind in terms of the adoption of technology and the way that technology has disrupted the traditional service patterns. It’s an exciting place to be able to work on both a great mission and to make impact given how much opportunity there is to rethink care delivery and patient engagement.

What trends do you expect to see in the HIT industry in the next 5 years?

The most talked about trend, and I certainly agree, is Healthcare’s connection to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the ability to now leverage data to speed the processes, feedback loops and intelligence. I think that’s really interesting. What I think is less talked about, although maybe even more impactful, is how we are finally past the early adopter stage of health technology permeating the rest of our lives. I’m particularly interested in the extensions of health into other areas of our lives – like some of the innovative work with Alexa, and the rapid adoption of monitoring devices.  In the normal course of how individuals buy and shop for things, or interact with technology, health is often front and center. There have been some false starts in some of the bigger consumer technology companies into healthcare but I don’t think they’re giving up. Apple is taking another stab at it and Google is very involved, so I think that hopefully in the next 3-5 years we will start to see health as an element of our life that fits into the way we think about all the other things we’re doing.

How is your company getting into AI and Machine Learning?

We think that regardless of how great the technology is, healthcare is still a human delivered service, so a large part of our service is the technology, the experience on the app, and the experience with the devices we ship, but an important part of it is also the interaction with our coaches. We have a network of almost 90 coaches who interact with participants of our services. One of the first places we are applying AI and intelligent feedback loops is into what this coaching element. We look to help them learn about the personalities and the demographics of participants, not just whether they’re male or female, but how it all rolls up into a personality type, and how we can then help them be smarter about the way they respond to questions. Clearly there’s a lot of gain in getting the right answers, but we make the connection of who the user is as we know about them through the technology and through their consumer profile with our coaches’ engagement. We think it’s a really exciting application that can make our coaching more effective and more efficient while driving towards a more tailored and custom experience.

What interesting new projects are you working on?

A big project for us, and for us it’s the whole reason we’re here, is to further embed self-management support into condition management approaches.  We see that as focusing on what matters to an individual and empowering him or her to set goals to own that process. What I mean by condition management is the more clinical element of medications, physiological measures and clinical care related to a consumer’s disease. We want to connect that experience, which is primarily a disease management experience, with the self-management experience. That’s our big push and our reason for being; to humanize those programs that historically have been too clinical and not focused enough on what matters to the individual.

Have you had a mentor or mentors throughout your career?

I have had a number of mentors. I think some mentors are people who are in your life forever and some play particular roles.  My first boss at my first job out of college was just an incredible mentor professionally, but also showed at that stage how you could run a business, be friendly with the people you work with and care about them, but at the same time lead your own life, have a family and be committed to them, and be committed to other elements. He was such an important mentor because he was a good example of how to make a successful professional career fit with a successful life. My advisor in grad school was incredibly important for helping me think about some of the more intellectual challenges, and the Chairman of the Board at my previous company is someone that I deeply respect and continue to look to for guidance.  And in addition to bosses, a number of colleagues have been incredibly mentors. I have also had an executive coach off and on for a decade and that has been incredibly valuable as well.  I think sometimes we can use the word mentor too hierarchically and would encourage a broader perspective.

What strategies do you use at Canary Health to attract and retain top talent?

The easy answer is we do what everyone else would say; we make sure compensation is competitive and work towards ensuring delight in our team’s roles. I think that’s table stakes. For us we focus on a culture and approach of real transparency; we are incredibly honest with people as we’re hiring them.  We’ll openly discuss topics around our corporate trajectory and growth for example.

This, for example, has been very valuable in Digital Health to level set expectations that might be brought from consumer technology companies around the pace of growth.  I have stressed with candidates that if they’re here for a quick win in terms of equity liquidation, we’re not the right place. We’ve lost some candidates to folks who are seeking more of the Silicon Valley cycle, but it has allowed us to attract great people who are aligned with our mission and aligned with our approach to focusing on impact and growth at the same time.

Participant Engagement in your program are at high levels and a 90% satisfaction rate. What do you attribute this success to?

We take design very seriously and we take the user journey very seriously. We put participants at the center to decide what they want to commit to and what matters to them. Our design philosophy is about them first. We never make a recommendation; we give tips or examples but really everything participants are doing is something they’ve committed to. It’s all about them inside of a framework of support, tools, coaching, and nudging that we know they need to be successful but they’re the ones setting the way it works. On top of that, our cultural honesty permeates the way we act with our participants. Our service is not a single transaction, so it’s about engaging folks long term. We’re honest with them about how fast we think things will happen, and honest with them about what they need to put in to get there. The participants know what to expect and that helps keep them engaged.

What do you believe are the traits and qualities of a great leader?

I think I would start by saying I don’t know if I know. I think leadership evolves. What people need evolves and different qualities are needed at different stages of a company so I don’t think there’s a single answer. It depends on the situation and depends on what was promised to the people you’re leading. It comes back to authenticity; it’s different in each setting. Leadership in a video game company would be different than if you’re a coach of a sports team, and different than in our business. Our team, extended team and participants know we believe what we are saying, and we’re clear about it. That’s really critical.

Your LinkedIn profile mentions that you are active in a number of organizations with a primary focus on defining and measuring the health and economic impact of technology. What steps are you taking to achieve this within your organization?

That passion and commitment comes from my graduate work. My PHD is in Health Economics and Health Program Evaluation. To me, it’s a commitment to rigor around evidence. We’re about building long-term sustainable impact, while also building a big company. This takes time.  We could fool ourselves in the short run, but eventually it’s going to catch up to us and there’s no long-term value in that. To say we’re data driven is easy, but what is harder is building the culture data and insights that matter.   Some of the ways we do this are simple – like closing not only our financials, but participant engagement milestones regularly and with rigor and holding a weekly meeting that is attended by the whole senior team and all team leaders to review, look for correlations and drive upcoming behavior. We also work with our clients to match the outcomes we have in our programs with what they’re collecting, which allows us to connect the participant experience to utilization and expense. The third thing we do is build rigorous clinical trials, often with our academic partner. For example, our colleagues at Stanford and Anthem have run a major trial in which they’re looking at clinical outcomes and utilization, and they’re doing it in a very rigorous way because they are committed to publishing the information out to the public.

What advice would you give professionals looking to break into the HIT industry?

The biggest piece of advice I would give is that it is very multidisciplinary. HIT is often, although not exclusively, not deep foundational technology, but it’s technology that needs to be utilized and integrated with clinical care. For a technologist, having some sense of the business case and use cases is helpful and for the business side to know how technology is utilized and where it goes. Just within our company we’ve got clinicians, designers, product people, and economists. Because HIT is still an emerging field, there’s no core curriculum just yet – I think we’re getting closer, so you cannot just train yourself for just that. Being open to the reality that we are still figuring out how these different disciplines fit together is going to be critical for anyone who wants to get into HIT.

Norm Volsky
Director of Mobile HIT
440-996-0059
nvolsky@directrecruiters.com

David Peterson Interviews Todd Blumsack, VP Business Unit Web Fed NA of BOBST

November 22, 2017

David Peterson, Managing Partner of Plastics and Flexible Packaging had the opportunity to interview Todd Blumsack, VP Business Unit Web Fed NA of BOBST Group North America. Mr. Blumsack covered background on his career, helpful advice for sales and marketing professionals, and insights on trends in the industry.

Please tell us about yourself.

I am a family person, and my favorite thing to do is spend time with my family.   In my free time, I enjoy mechanical and electrical involved hobbies. I work on my boat’s engines and electronics, from a basic level to more advanced rebuild work.  I also take the same approach with my home and car; wherever possible, I do the home maintenance myself while trying to teach my children what I learned from my father.  Fishing and working out take the balance of my free time.  I travel a great deal for work as well as work a great deal of hours, and working out is good for my physical and mental state.

What was your motivation to pursue a career in the printing industry?

The public school system I went to offered courses in all sorts of technical areas, and my first experience with photography and graphic arts fascinated me. All aspects of cameras, darkrooms, and printing press were interesting to me. I liked imagery/photography but had zero artistic abilities. The graphic arts field enabled me to see images come alive on the page without the need for artistic skills. My other passion was electronics and mechanics, and the ability to work with, operate, and repair the various equipment was enjoyable. I had the opportunity to go to college at R.I.T and pursue this passion. Upon graduation, I wanted to go into sales and/or marketing, but the overall market was not good at the time.  I was offered a more technical position from the company I co-oped with.   The position turned out to be excellent, and the company eventually offered me a sales position. From that position, I moved into marketing, sales management, and then to managing both groups.

With over 24 years of experience in marketing and sales, what would you consider to be the most important lesson learned in your career?

The most important lesson is to be open-minded and always improve my knowledge and skills in both sales and marketing.  Like all else in life, sales and marketing evolve.  The methods to accomplish both change and improve, and if you are not learning, you are going backwards.  I believe in Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – Habit 7.  We all need to stop and sharpen the saw to do our jobs effectively.  When we are in a profession and we are not looking to grow and improve, we are not doing ourselves and those we work with justice.

BOBST uses the phrase, “People – Knowledge and Values” to describe itself. As VP, Business Unit Web-Fed, what do you do to make sure you are exemplifying these 3 facets in your leadership style?

“People – Knowledge and Values” are important to the Bobst culture along with Trust, Respect, Passion and Performance.   Everyone at Bobst does their best to live by this. I try to be there in every way for those I work with.  I trust they are working hard, doing their best and then ask each one “What can I do to help you succeed?” or “How can I work on internal issues to enable you to do your job better?”. Success is a team effort, and being part of a team means WE succeed as a team. If WE have issues, WE work through the issues as a team.  “I” is not a positive way to work with others. We all need to give credit to the team and not take credit for the team’s work.

What new and innovative projects are you currently working on?

Bobst Web Fed is working on promoting automation in the conventional, non-digital printing, area.  We are incorporating HD Cameras and RFID technology to enable customers to setup and operate various types of conventional printing equipment easier and faster.

What trends do you expect to see in printing in the next 5 years?

Trends are both in the digital printing area and automation area.  We will see more robotics and digital printing as part of the various printing solutions. I believe conventional printing will remain in the printing/packaging world, but digital will become stronger in the areas that need shorter runs or personalization.  SKU proliferation will continue, as people want products more aligned with their individual needs. This will drive how printing/packaging evolves.

What is the biggest challenge you are seeing in your industry or the manufacturing industry in general?

Our industry is very manufacturing oriented. A big challenge is talent for both packaging manufacturers and suppliers to the packaging manufacturers. We need skilled talent to operate the equipment. The equipment is evolving with technology and the talent to train, install and repair the equipment is in demand. Getting the word out that the packaging industry is high tech and offers a great career needs to be spread.

What advice would you give to professionals looking to break into a successful career in sales and marketing?

Chose an industry that truly interests you. In sales and marketing, you are dealing with people and you need to relate to and understand the people and the market.   If you do not posses and show real interest and passion, you will not succeed. Secondly, work very hard. I deal with individuals with varying education and experience, and what sets successful people apart from the rest is hard work.

What traits do you think define leadership?

I believe leadership should be earned, not given. As a leader, you need to show the people you work with trust, respect, passion, morals and care about those you work with. In addition, you should not expect anyone to do something you are not willing to do yourself. One final key is to admit when you are wrong or made a mistake. Nobody is perfect; I have and continue to make mistakes. I just try to learn from my mistakes.

Describe the approach you take to attracting and retaining high impact talent at BOBST.

Attracting and retaining talent is key to success. A company is nothing without the talent. Understand what the person you are trying to attract is motivated by and try and put some of those elements into the position. Some people like to travel and some do not, altered work hours, compensation elements outside of salary, and just the need to be part of a new team are some of the areas that can drive talent to your company. Finally, be honest and let the prospective employee know both the good and the not so good.

What or who has motivated and influenced you to be successful in your career? Have you had mentors?

Many people have influenced me in my career, some good and some not so good. First, would be my parents. They instilled hard work, education, and the ability to finish a day and be happy when you look in the mirror. Early on in my career, like many others, my confidence got in my way. I was put in my place early in my career, and shown the correct way to handle myself in a business environment. In the middle of my career a peer who became my mentor/manager/friend showed me how to present and build industry relationships. Lastly, a manager who became a friend, then peer gave me my first management position, helped me grow in my career and acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses’ so I could continue to improve and grow. A great mentor has the ability to tell you your strengths and weakness, and point you in a direction to improve.

David Peterson
Managing Partner of Plastics and Flexible Packaging
440-996-0590
dpeterson@directrecruiters.com

Norm Volsky Interviews Brenda Schmidt, Founder & CEO at Solera Health

November 13, 2017

Brenda Schmidt, Founder/CEO of Solera Health, recently spoke with Norm Volsky, Director of Mobile Healthcare IT about her company, goals, trends in the HIT industry, and much more as a part of our Thought Leader Interview series.

Please tell us about yourself and the company you founded, Solera Health.

I started my career in Science, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology and a Master’s degree in Immunology, and then flipped over to Business.  I worked for Baxter Healthcare for about 15 years, the last 6 of which I was responsible for the Clinical Nutrition Market in Latin America. I really wanted to break out of a large company and start something on my own, so I looked around at where the market was going in the early 2000s when health management was going high tech, high reach. I thought there was a real opportunity to impact the health of service workers who didn’t have a computer and required more of a community-based focus. I bootstrapped a company, Viridian Health Management, for about 10 years and the experiences with Viridian led me to Solera’s business model. Solera has created a new category as a preventative care benefits manager. We connect individuals to non-medical prevention, coping and support services that meet people’s unique needs and preferences, paid by their health insurance company. We have initially focused on the Diabetes Prevention Program to prove our business model.

What was your motivation to start Solera Health?

I purpose-built Solera’s business model through several experiences at Viridian that identified the need for a marketplace or integrator in healthcare for non-medical services, delivered by community organizations and digital health solutions paid through medical claims. At Viridian, we focused on employee health management for organizations that had very diverse employee populations. These employers required a creative approach to monitoring the health and productivity of their employees, primarily through program delivery by local community resources that delivered evidence-based, culturally competent programs, which was unique in the market in the early 2000s. After that, we won a large CDC population health demonstration project that leveraged community resources to deliver evidence-programs as a health management strategy for small and mid-sized employers. We then worked with a national retail pharmacy chain to manage patients with multiple chronic conditions, referred from a local accountable care organization, to keep them compliant with their care plan between their doctor visits. Based on these three experiences we realized that there was a real need and opportunity for a technology platform and business model that could connect patients, health plans, and physicians with non-medical prevention, coping and support services, delivered by digital health solutions or community organizations, that could impact cost and quality through a high-access, low cost network. That was the motivation for Solera. I pivoted the business model from Viridian Health Management and purpose-built Solera’s business model to address that market need.

What inspired you to pursue a career in healthcare?

I was always interested in Science in high school and in college, getting my degree in Microbiology. Disruptive companies in genetics and tech were starting to enter the market.  I thought there would be growth in careers focused on genetics or microbiology, and I applied for a position as a microbiologist. I’m pretty outgoing and I remember the guy in the lab saying, “this job is not for you.” After that, I thought about medical school but got my Master’s degree in Immunology partly because my parents said I either needed a job or I would have to come back home. I didn’t have a job and I didn’t want to go back home, so I went to Grad school. At the end of my Master’s I realized I didn’t want to get my PhD and spend my career in research. I wanted to go out and see if I could make a difference in healthcare through product, technology and innovation. My first job out of Grad school was as a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep and that was probably much better suited for my personality. After a few years in sales, I joined Baxter Healthcare and had a variety of roles in Global Marketing, Product Management, and Quality.  Those experiences in a world-class company served me well when I started my own company. From the very beginning, the vision was to create an innovative company that solved a big healthcare problem with a culture of compliance and quality as opposed to a technology – driven company that develops a product and then looks for a buyer. Solera purpose-built our business model to solve a problem with a large financial impact for payers. This has led to Solera’s quick market adoption and growth.

What are your goals for Solera Health in the next 5 years?

Five years from now I want Solera to be a global platform for integrating non-medical services into medical care at a lower cost to improve quality of care. As a first step, Solera chose to integrate the hundreds of Diabetes Prevention Program providers to prove our business model - that health plans would see the value of non-medical providers to prevent and better manage their members, and would pay for non-medical services delivered by community organizations and digital health solutions. The Diabetes Prevention Program was the first prevention program that we launched in an ecosystem that includes prevention, coping and support.  Solera’s technology platform supports value-based non-medical network designed to keep people compliant with their care plan between doctor visits by connecting them to an ecosystem of community and digital providers.  Solera guides each patient to the “best fit” program provider based on their unique needs and preferences. For example, a physician might tell a patient to lose a few pounds, eat healthy and exercise more and then send them out into a world where that’s not very easy. Solera can help the patient by matching them to a program, paid for by their insurance company, where they live, work, play, pray and shop and provide them the needed resources whether that’s prevention programs or social support, resilience, sleep or healthcare related social supports. All of those things have a direct positive impact on healthcare costs, but they’re not appropriate services to provide within the four walls of a clinical setting.

What trends do you expect to see in the HIT industry in the next 5 years?

A trend we are already seeing is market consolidation of digital apps. There are hundreds of apps, and individual point solutions have a difficult time gaining traction with payers and employers who are looking for single-source platforms. The other trend we’ve seen is collaboration among a wide variety of stakeholders to integrate their various technology and digital solutions into a patient-focused strategy where those things, in concert, can provide holistic care to a patient. In general, people are realizing that a single technology is not going to solve an end-to-end problem in healthcare, so collaborative partnerships and integrated technologies help streamline both the contracting process and the patient experience. Another trend is that demonstrated clinical effectiveness is becoming more and more important. Payors want proof that these things work in broad populations, and certainly, the FDA is moving in that direction around pre-certification of digital apps. Another trend is just the recognition that human interaction and accountability is an important driver of behavior change, and that digital apps that use data and even provide feedback using artificial intelligence haven’t shown that they can drive sustainable behavior change. We have seen several hybrid models where content delivery and data collection can happen digitally, but when you want to provide effective support for sustainable behavior changes, we believe that takes human interaction, accountability and motivational interviewing - which is very difficult to do with technology.

What interesting new projects are you working on?

We looked at all the reasons why our business model was successful for the Diabetes Prevention program. There were 3 key factors that drove the success of our business model. The first was a highly fragmented set of program delivery providers that required integration into a network. The second was the need for a standard set of quality metrics across a disparate group of program providers to document quality, performance and outcomes. Third, we look for programs where there could be an engagement strategy dependent on consumer choice. Even though many program providers may be delivering the same program or addressing the same problem, the intervention methodology and patient experience can be very different. Solera is like Match.com for non-medical service providers - we match people to the program provider that best meets their unique needs and preferences.  The delivery modality could be telephonic, telehealth, digital, online, community, in person, group, or individual. There are several different variables that can impact a person’s success. Because behavior change is so personal, it is important to meet people where they are and provide programs and program providers for them where they feel that they’ll be most successful. As the business model has expanded beyond Diabetes Prevention to other non-medical services such as sleep, resilience, tobacco cessation, and healthcare related social support, we look more like Expedia.com when you think about a wide variety of different types of programs and services that we can bundle together. For example, if your trip includes a car, a hotel and a flight, in our world that might be diabetes prevention, stress and a food prescription as a custom bundle for each person from among our variety of programs and services that’s unique to each person. That analogy makes a lot of sense for our technology platform and the business we’re building. The next market we are launching is an integrated network of sleep and resilience program providers. There are so many different digital apps addressing sleep and stress management that deliver their programs in very different ways that there is even more of an opportunity to identify and match people with a program that meets their needs than diabetes prevention. Improved sleep and resilience also have a direct clinical correlation with obesity and chronic disease. As we’ve talked to employers, consultants, plans and even the providers and vendors in our network, most agree that our model makes sense. If Solera can identify the people that are the “best fit” for each one of our network providers, it benefits both the program provider and the patient. We have dozens of solution providers in our network. They are not competitive with each other, even when providing the same program, because they don’t want the most people using their app or program, they want the people who are going to be most successful using that app and program. If Solera can help make that match, it benefits everybody.

You are the President of the Council for Diabetes Prevention and the Board of the Arizona Bioindustry Association. What new initiatives are you accomplishing on these boards?

Each board has very different missions. Here in Arizona, there’s a recognition that Phoenix and Tucson have the assets to support and fuel an innovation economy and become a medical and technology innovation hub. The Arizona BioIndustry Association was critical in pushing the angel Investment tax credit through the legislature, paving the way for tax breaks for people investing in young entrepreneurial companies. The organization is a catalyst for bringing capital to Arizona life sciences and healthcare technology companies, and supporting technology transfer to commercialize the innovative technologies being developed at our state Universities. The group is also creating collaborative partnerships with the Arizona Technology Council and other economic development stakeholders to attract companies to Arizona, making sure that we have adequate talent and socializing the assets that can support a vibrant start-up community.

The other organization that I’m very passionate about is the Council for Diabetes Prevention, a new non-profit that was started just about a year ago at a Congressional briefing. The Council was created with the recognition that the Diabetes Prevention Program was going to become a required preventive benefit for all Medicare members. The program is delivered by highly fragmented community-based organizations and digital health solutions that didn’t have an advocacy voice in Washington. The Council provided the opportunity for these providers and other diabetes prevention stakeholders to come together, share best practices, and establish quality metrics for program delivery for the industry.  They also needed an organization to advocate on behalf of non-medical providers that could deliver these evidence-based programs in a quality way without licensure, credential, or certification. We now have almost 100 Council members, an independent 5-member board. The Council is very active in advocacy and working with CMS and CDC to ensure the effective implementation and administration of the DPP. It was fun to be involved in something from the very beginning that could make a big difference in a new national benefit.

As an accomplished healthcare entrepreneur, what advice do you have for up and coming entrepreneurs?

Breaking through the noise in healthcare is really hard. There are literally hundreds of healthcare startups pitching to the same buyer. When introducing a disruptive technology or new product, it is important to focus on the problem you are solving, and the industry will look to you to solve it. Grow through thought leadership and clinical evidence as opposed to marketing.  It is also important to identify and sell to the person who is financially motivated to buy your solution to solve a problem that impacts their bottom line. Health Plans and employers are very fatigued with point solutions and are looking for platforms that offer an integrated solution or end-to end patient experience. There are certainly a lot of problems to solve in healthcare but I think the other important strategy is collaboration. There isn’t a single company that has an end-to-end solution for payers. A good strategy for new market entrants is to partner with a more established company that already has clients and revenue. Find partners where your solution helps them add more value to their existing client base as a way to gain revenue and traction to avoid the very long sales cycles. This has been an effective strategy for benefit integration platforms and consumer engagement companies. Once the new company has established credibility as a partner to one of these larger organizations, it’s easier for them to sell directly to payors and scale their businesses

What drives you to succeed?

I just really want to make a difference. When I leave the house in the morning I tell my husband, “I’m going out to change the world one pre-diabetic patient at a time.” We just did a series of testimonial videos for people who have participated in the Diabetes Prevention Program that highlighted their journeys.  Solera has made a difference in people’s lives even though we don’t deliver any of these programs. Sometimes I play these videos to focus on our mission because it is a privilege to have the opportunity to make a real difference in someone’s life, and it is very motivating. There is a tremendous opportunity to scale non-medical programs delivered in communities and the world can’t move fast enough for me to scale prevention and support programs and services that I believe can transform healthcare. I see such a huge opportunity to impact patients outside of clinical settings. While I am focused on innovative business models to transform healthcare to improve costs and quality, it really comes down to helping individuals improve their health. The personal stories of people struggling to improve their health and the feedback that we have made it a little easier for them drives me to do more.

What strategies do you use at Solera Health to retain top talent?

I have purpose-built a mission-driven organization with a great corporate culture. Solera benchmarks our corporate culture against industry and national benchmarks, which we exceed in all categories. We recently won the “Best Places to Work” award in Phoenix.  We also hire self-driven people and then give them the freedom to excel.  I have a no-jerks rule, a rule to not have stupid rules, and we really focus on mastery, autonomy and purpose in a collaborative environment. Solera is a very mission-driven organization and it’s important to me that everyone can tie their job with both the business objectives but also the purpose of the organization. Corporate culture and focusing on the importance of our culture has really helped us attract and retain top talent. People want to work here. We consistently get inbound inquiries about coming to work for us because people believe in our mission and believe that we can make a difference.

How has government regulation and policy affected your niche in the healthcare industry?

Government regulation was the driver for us selecting the Diabetes Prevention Program as our initial market and product. The Centers for Disease Control was authorized by Congress back in 2010 to scale the Diabetes Prevention Program. The CDC built an infrastructure of community organizations using non-clinical providers as trained Lifestyle Coaches who were delivering the program through grant funding. The CDC developed a standardized curriculum that was public domain and established quality and fidelity metrics for the program. That standardization and CDC oversight made it a good market for us to start because we could assure our health plan clients that we had a quality delivery network as opposed to Solera curating our own network. The Center for Disease Control has an existing infrastructure and framework. We saw a line of sight on reimbursement for two reasons, the first being that the US Preventative Services Task Force made a recommendation that the Diabetes Prevention Program was the Gold Standard to address cardiovascular risk reduction. It became a mandate for health plans to cover cardiovascular risk reduction through a 12-month intensive lifestyle program that really wasn’t applicable to deliver by higher-cost clinical providers. The second reason was the Diabetes Prevention Program was being evaluated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center as an expanded model. We anticipated that the Diabetes Prevention Program would become a covered Medicare preventive benefit around the 2017-2018 timeframe. Back in 2013 we knew it was an interesting market for us to enter based on regulation and prove our business model, and not have to go to health plans and ask them to cover services without documented impact and outcomes.  The health plans felt that they had to cover the DPP and we provided a business model that made it very easy for them to administer and offer the program to their members and employers.

When did you feel that this business model was going to be a success and you were solving the problem you set out to solve?

A very meaningful moment for me was the day we reached out to health plan members to inform them of the Diabetes Prevention Program as a new health benefit. We could actually watch and see the statistics of people matching and enrolling in the Diabetes Prevention Program. We celebrated the number of people who may not become diabetic. We’ve enrolled more people in the Diabetes Prevention Program in 2017 than the entire industry has enrolled combined over the previous 4 years, so we have solved for consumer engagement and scale. This is tens of thousands of people who may now not get diabetes. It’s really thrilling to see our model and technology working.

Norman Volsky
Director of Mobile HIT
440-996-0059
nvolsky@directrecruiters.com

Norm Volsky Interviews Justin Kahn, Founder/CEO of TruClinic

October 10, 2017

Norman Volsky, Director of Mobile Healthcare IT recently had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Kahn, Founder/CEO of TruClinic for a Thought Leader Interview. Justin shares the interesting background of his career and the inspiration behind TruClinic, as well as industry insights, advice for young entrepreneurs, and more.

Justin Kahn, Founder/CEO of TruClinic
Justin Kahn, Founder/CEO of TruClinic

Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Justin Kahn, I’m 39 years old. I have had multiple careers in my life – I’ve been a Realtor, a Natural Disaster Claims Adjuster and for the past seven years, I have been the Founder and CEO of TruClinic.

Give us some background on TruClinic, why you started the company, and the mission behind it.

I joke around and say telehealth chose me, which is kind of true. When I was young I got hit in the head with a baseball bat during a softball game.  I suffered a traumatic brain injury and was misdiagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for over a decade. When I was in my late 20s, I had a seizure that scared me into seeking out the help of a neurologist who discovered, after working with her over a period of time, that I had TLE (Temporal Lobe Epilepsy). She put me on an anti-seizure medication and it changed my life almost overnight. I used to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and those went away after I started this medication. As a side note, I grew up around the VA hospital system. My stepfather was an administrator for the VA so we lived on the grounds of different hospitals growing up as a kid. I knew what the infrastructure was like at the VA and knew some of the problems they had as it related to behavioral healthcare in particular. In 2008, I happened to read a transcript of a speech that Robert Gates had given to the graduating class of West Point and he talked about how the DOD was going to start investing billions of dollars into the PTSD epidemic that had been plaguing the branches of the military. That article resonated with me because growing up, I always wanted a doctor to see these panic and anxiety attacks I was having in real time instead of trying to explain what had happened weeks later in the doctor’s office. When I read that article and started to think about the infrastructure at the VA, I came up with an idea, really thinking about what I wanted for myself and how that might apply to the VA. My idea was to connect active duty troops with VA providers from the troops’ home state at the beginning of their service career. When the troops graduated from training, they would be deployed and assigned with a group of providers from the VA.  During deployment, they would be able to meet with those providers through a secure video conference and the idea was that it would be outside of the military, but not outside of the DOD. The hope was that the troops would be comfortable engaging with the VA providers while they were deployed so when they transitioned to a veteran status, they would already have those relationships established and would continue to engage those providers, and more importantly, they would get used to the technology.  The video technology piece is important because close to 40% of veterans live in rural and frontier counties in the US. I took this whole idea to the Salt Lake VA, and they liked it. The VA said if we could produce the technology we were proposing, then they would give us a grant. Less than a year later, we brought the BETA version of the technology in for a pilot in which relaxation exercises were taught to a test group of veterans using the technology. They measured the retention rate against the control group, which did not use technology, and they had phenomenal success with the test group. That led us to apply for grants with Utah Valley University and also from the Governor’s Office of Utah to finish building out the first version of the platform.  We also used grants to do a couple of projects with the Goshute Native American tribe, one of the most rurally isolated tribes in the continental United States. Our success with the Goshutes led us to get the seed capital for the company, which was really the beginning of TruClinic and how we started off to the races.

As an accomplished, young entrepreneur, with several awards to back that, what advice would you give to up and coming entrepreneurs?

Don’t quit. Take criticism, feedback, advice, and learn from people who have been through the experience. Take their advice with a grain of salt and don’t be afraid to make decisions. The best piece of advice anyone ever gave me outside of my father is “the only wrong decision is indecision. You can either act, react, or do nothing, but you do it consciously.”

What drives you to succeed?

Success is an unattainable target; an ongoing goal. I love what I do because I am capable of doing it. I am always working towards the never-ending definition of what success could be. In my opinion, success can only be measured against the happiness one feels in their day to day activities.

What interesting new projects are you working on?

The stuff we are really interested in right now is machine learning. With the launch of our new version 3 platform we have much more robust capabilities around gathering and analyzing data and using that in a way that actually provides real ROI back to our customers. The first movers in telehealth as it relates to machine learning and AI are around patient triage and common symptoms, deciding whether or not individuals need to go to the doctor or if this is something that could be handled through an algorithm. This is the place to start and is one of the low-hanging fruits, but when you start really thinking about predictive analytics, clinical decision support and longitudinal data and what that means in terms of not only helping to streamline efficiency, but also to improve patient outcomes- that’s one of the things that really interests me personally as we think about how telehealth moves into the next iteration. My team and I think of that as virtual health where you’re unifying the experience between what happens inside of the four walls and outside in the real world.

What challenges do you currently see in the healthcare IT industry?

It’s the wild west in a lot of ways, but there’s also a lot of noise. As one of my mentors would say, “there’s a lot of sizzle but not a lot of sirloin.” The first wave of telehealth was the direct-to-consumer and specialist consults. The second wave was the platform play, and now there are a variety of different technologies to choose from. Video is a commodity, and now there are a lot of single use, tactile solutions out there that are limiting in how they can be applied to different use cases and workflows. Frankly, I feel bad for hospital and health systems and even the smaller mom and pop clinics and practices.  The challenge they face when it comes to picking a vendor and building a strategy is that they may spend millions of dollars with a platform or provider services organization and then hit the proverbial wall with what they can do with it. What that has led to is organizations buying multiple overlapping and sometimes redundant solutions in order to fill the different use cases or work flows they’re trying to support as it relates to telehealth, and it becomes cumbersome, unruly, and unmanageable especially in large organizations.  That’s why TruClinic is winning customers. We are seeing customers who have invested into those platforms and transitioned over to us, and we have also seen new customer entrants in the market coming straight to us because of the solutions and the services we provide and the partnerships we have created with our customers.

Have you had a mentor(s) throughout your career?

I collect mentors. I am only as smart as the people I surround myself with. I make it a point to engage and meet people by going out for coffee, learning, asking questions, and posing scenarios. I find that is one of the most effective ways for me to gain perspective and insight and to help me in how I think about the challenges or problems that I’m faced with.

What strategies do you use at TruClinic to retain top talent?

We are a big family here at TruClinic. Every person that I work with is someone that is part of the culture, and part of the fabric. We all support each other and we all make sure that we are helping each other in carrying the load. We all have our own domain expertise so we collaborate internally as a team as well as externally with our customers. I think that a focus on collaboration and team dynamic allows for the most constructive work program. We also use other strategies; For example, our engineers are not allowed in the corporate office unless they’re specifically here for a meeting. Otherwise they’re home, in a coffee shop or wherever their safe space is for programming. We do that because there is this component of what is called context switching – to have an engineer be in a mindset and be developing and have to switch, attend a meeting, or phone call then come back to programming, it’s difficult to do. We are an agile shop, so we decided that engineers work their own time, they have to be on certain calls or meetings for check-ins, and stay in constant communication. Everything we do is written, but I don’t care if engineers code at 2 AM or 2 in the afternoon as long as they get the work done. We have an understanding of different teams and different dynamics, and how they work and when they need to be available. We try to build the culture where, following the Netflix model, we don’t care when the work gets done as long as it gets done, and it is quality work, and on time. From a CEO perspective, the trick is to treat your team like a family, listen to the concerns and suggestions they have, and build the culture and team at the same time.

You received your B.A. in International Economics, and B.S. in Political Science and Government. What led you to pursue healthcare?

Originally, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer working on international infrastructure projects. That’s where I thought my career would go in college. Instead, my career went a different way. I came out of school, got a sales job, did some consulting and learned real estate because it was interesting to me and that was the direction my life went for the better part of a decade. I knew that being a Real Estate Agent wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was more the fact that it gave me a lot of flexibility in terms of trying to figure out what I did want to do with my life. A real estate commission can be significant, so being a real estate agent and a claims adjuster gave me the ability to save money and invest it. When I made the decision that I wanted to pursue TruClinic, I self-funded the company for the first 2 years and did that based on the commissions I was making. This all led into what we, as a company have been able to do. Like I said before, I am only as smart as the people I surround myself with and everyone on this team has been an integral part of the company. Their knowledge, background, expertise and their experience have all help shape the vision and the direction and the strategy of this company.

What trade shows are you looking forward to attending in the near future?

I’ll be heading to the Gartner IT Symposium, the Conex Event in Dallas, HIMSS, ATA, AHA, SPS, and ISM. We do a decent amount of shows and speaking.

Norman Volsky
Director of Mobile HIT
440-996-0059
nvolsky@directrecruiters.com