12 CEOs Outline Their Strategies For 2019

We debriefed CEOs grappling with the threat of disruption, a dearth of ready talent and other pressing challenges of the day about their strategies for 2019. Here’s what they had to say.

Learning to Learn

Vicki Holt, CEO, Protolabs

Digital is the DNA of this Maple Plain, Minnesota-based company that produces rapid custom prototypes and low-volume parts for manufacturers but is seeking ways to keep Protolabs at the forefront of a rapidly changing market.

“We’ve created the new role of chief learning officer, which we’re in the process of filling. It’s going to allow us to make sure we’re developing the right curricula, as employees help to determine what they need to stay on top to be effective.

“It’s a very strategic role, because this person has to be able to work with each of the members of the senior-leadership team, and to make sure we’ve got the right eyes and ears out there for the latest technologies in software and IoT, and to make sure our employees stay at the leading edge of where they need to be.”

Enabling Mobile Healthcare Professionals

Nick Westfall, CEO, Vitas Healthcare

Based in Miami, the company has 12,000 employees in 47 locations across the country, caring for 18,000 hospice patients on any given day. This requires an ever-expanding ability to communicate on a mobile basis.

“In 2016 we realized our future depended on retaining high-quality caregivers and allowing them to be physically present at the bedside with patients and families. But to be able to do that while improving our employees’ overall experience, we needed to make a multi-year investment in digitizing our workforce.

“Since then we’ve deployed mobile devices to our field staff. We developed a proprietary mobile-admissions app so our people could do more personal interaction and not be at their laptop, typing. We created the industry’s first mobile platform for full management of prescription orders. And we enacted emergency-messaging capabilities so we can get in touch with our employees and they can let us know if they are OK or need help, which really came in handy when wildfires and hurricanes have come through.

“All of this differentiates us from other hospice companies that are all trying to source the best people. Whatever we can to do create a more attractive employment offering, that’s what we’re going to do, and a lot of it starts with these pieces of digitization and benefits that come to employees because of them.”

Staffing a Data Analytic Push

Tom Linebarger, CEO, Cummins

Engineers comprise about half the workforce of the Columbus, Indiana-based leader in diesel engines. Now the company is harnessing data produced by onboard computers to improve its products and become more valuable to customers.

“We’re increasingly using big-data analytics and deploying that across our engineering, for more wisely designing and improving our products. Half our people are engineers, and in understanding information and IT, broadly speaking, our folks are reasonably sophisticated. But big-data analytics isn’t what we all learned in school, and now we’re doing wide-scale deployment with it.

“Our people are in the acceptance phase. Our leaders accept that we need to use big-data analytics, and there’s a relatively strong core of people who know how to use it. Everyone knows we’re going to do it and understands that it needs to be done, but we have work to do.

“So in 2019 our large-scale quality-improvement plan will deploy a number of pilots with analytics. We just finished a big one with our heavy-duty engine group and now we’re moving it across several other engine groups, in our operating plan to push out deployment in engineering over the next three to five years.”

Bringing Lean to the News Business        

Chris Ripley, CEO, Sinclair Broadcast Group

America’s largest TV-station operator has more than 8,400 employees providing local news across the U.S. Based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, its ongoing digitization covers news gathering, production, marketing and sales.

“We’re always seeking to reduce the amount of human intervention that’s needed. We’re taking lean-manufacturing, kaizen principles and applying them to every step that occurs in a newsroom: How do you reduce non-value added steps so that production flows to multiple outputs and platforms, not just to a [TV] newscast?

“And on our marketing and sales side, we’re also going through a step-by-step: What does a salesperson or marketing consultant do every single day? How do we either digitize it, if it’s not digitized, or automate it to make it more efficient? We’ve switched our whole ERP system to be cloud-based and just rolled out a brand new CRM.

“We’re giving the sales force the ability to work while mobile so they can be out of the office more. And we’re giving them a bunch of new products to sell, not just spot TV ads, but also Adwords, social sites, our web site and over-the-top targeted advertising not just on our air but on other people’s products as well.”

Differentiating with a Human Touch

Ira Robbins, President and CEO, Valley National Bank

The regional bank holding company headquartered in Wayne, New Jersey, has witnessed a revolution waged by “fintech” startups that provide quick online mortgage application and approval, fighting back with Valley’s people.

“We’ve applied fintech to the pain points and gone totally paperless in our residential-mortgage operation, and we’ve cut our approval time down by one-third compared with a year and a half ago. We used to have four or five people looking at each loan; now it’s an automated process. Updates are now totally transparent to customers, on their phones.

“But we understand how our customers want to interact with us, not just how a fintech company says they want to interact with the industry. So we can also layer relationships in with tech to provide a wonderful experience.

“We train our people and spend a lot of time making sure our relationship managers ask the right questions. If you’re asking the right questions, specific to each individual situation, then you’re providing a solution that fintech isn’t going to want to go after because they pursue commoditization. If you provide qualified, talented people and ask the right questions, and overlay that with fintech, this is an opportunity for us.”


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