As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Alkire.
As the President and CEO, Mike Alkire oversees all corporate business units and sets the long-term strategy for a leading tech-enabled healthcare improvement company uniting 4,400 U.S. health systems and 225,000 other organizations. With integrated data and analytics, collaboratives, supply chain solutions, consulting and other services, Alkire leads Premier to play a critical role in the healthcare industry, collaborating with members and other customers to co-develop long-term innovations that improve care delivery and patient outcomes. Under Alkire’s leadership, Premier has been recognized as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere, one of the 200 Best Run Companies by Inc. Magazine and as a Top Company of Charlotte by LinkedIn.
Alkire also led Premier’s efforts to address public health and safety issues from the nationwide drug shortage problem, testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives regarding Premier research on shortages and gray market price gouging. This work contributed to the president and Congress taking action to investigate and correct the problem, resulting in two pieces of bipartisan legislation.
Prior to serving as President and CEO, Alkire was president of Premier Purchasing Partners, which offers group purchasing, supply chain and resource utilization services to hospitals and health systems. Premier remains among the top group purchasing organizations in the industry as the value of supplies purchased through its contracts has increased to more than $69 billion. Upon joining Premier in late 2003, Alkire worked closely with the Purchasing Partners team to develop and implement a three-year transformation plan designed to dramatically increase returns to shareholders while building stronger relationships with members and suppliers.
Alkire graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science from Indiana State University and an MBA from Indiana University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in Akron, Ohio. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer. As I got older, my family and I saw swimming as a pathway to other opportunities, like a college scholarship. That mission was accomplished when I received a swimming scholarship to Indiana State University in Terre Haute.
From my undergraduate degree it was on to an MBA at Indiana University in Bloomington. From an early age, I was always interested in computer science and technology as well as healthcare. I actively sought out jobs that would allow me to merge these areas of passion. I held a series of jobs in consulting that had me working with the biggest names in consumer food service, manufacturing and healthcare technology.
All those experiences are brought to bear in my role today as the President and CEO of Premier.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I was in business school, I had an internship at a major tire manufacturer. As part of the internship program, I was sent to a factory to get a better understanding for the supply chain. This was a huge, cavernous factory. The kinds of building that one can quite literally get lost in.
This factory happened to be one that wasn’t operating and had areas that were completely abandoned. That was where I found myself on one of my factory walks. I opened a door that closed behind me and could not open that door from the side I was now on.
The story obviously has a happy ending because I’ve lived to tell the tale, but this was humiliating and panic-inducing. Nobody would have heard the screams!
It may sound silly, but my biggest takeaway was around awareness. Be mindful of where you are and what you are doing. And — I don’t mean this metaphorically — please make sure the doors don’t lock behind you.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There are three books that I have continued to turn back to over the last few years:
- “Leaders Eat Last,” by Simon Sinek
- “Your Survival Instinct is Killing You,” by Marc Schoen
- “Prescence-Based Leadership: Complexity Practices for Clarity, Resilience, and Results That Matter,” by Doug Silsbee
It’s not that I find these books to offer new teachings — though they are all great — it is how they frame the concepts behind actions I am already taking. They all have articulated these concepts, practices and ideas in ways that allow me to consume them repeatedly. They have all helped me to simplify and codify my beliefs and practices.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
While I wasn’t the founder of Premier, its mission and vision have held steady and were a major force in brining me to the company almost twenty years ago. Our mission is to improve the health of communities. Our vision is to achieve this leading the transformation to high-quality, cost effective care.
Everyone who works at Premier is passionate about our mission and knows first-hand that our members are drawn to that passion.
Part of that passion stems from having team members across the country and a membership that is national in nature. Therefore, we are all receiving care from the hospitals and health systems we serve. Our interest in ensuring their success goes beyond the bottom line. That is what drives all of us each day.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I have always said that strong leaders put the needs of others ahead of their own. To this end, it is incumbent upon all of us to think about the difference we have the power to make in the lives of those we serve — be they customers, employees, stakeholders or the community at large.
In healthcare, I often think about this in the context of rural or underserved communities, traditionally lacking resources. To have truly coordinated care, you need data and technology solutions that many across the country do not have access to. We are always thinking about ways to expand access to technology to enable providers to deliver better care. Nobody should be left behind because of lack of access to technology.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has always been about “how do we continue to gather safely?” There was never going to be a scenario in which we couldn’t physically see each other in person. If that means being outside, with masks, six feet apart, that was how we’d do it.
So, we’ve gotten used to bundling up and eating outside in chilly weather. Never underestimate the human capacity to adapt to new scenarios. With the extent of human suffering we have seen — and many of us have experienced first-hand — my crises were miniscule inconveniences.
I have three children and have been fortunate to be able to stay connected with all three of them during the pandemic. I live in the greater Dallas area and have been able to meet my son who lives nearby for weekly dinners — always outside, even in the winter. I have another son who is in school out of state — we would do the same when he returned for breaks. My daughter lives in the Pacific Northwest. My job has afforded me the opportunity to go see her, which involves a quarantine period to ensure I am not a carrier. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to maintain those in-person connections throughout the pandemic.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
From where we sit within the healthcare ecosystem — working with more than 4,400 U.S. hospitals and health systems and 225,000 other providers — everyone at Premier has been in overdrive since February 2020.
Back then, we recognized that the public sector alone would not be able to solve the challenges associated with the pandemic. That is why we founded the COVID-19 Private Sector Supply Chain Coalition. The Coalition is a group of more than 20 private sector CEOs representing distributors, manufacturers and group purchasing organizations assembled across competitive boundaries. The Coalition held calls on a near daily basis with government agencies and The White House, providing early data and educating them on trends that informed how the federal government calculated product needs.
To put it simply, the work-related challenges we saw were the challenges that the country was facing as it dealt with an unprecedented health emergency. We did our best to be as nimble as possible to ensure our members were set up for success. This included a number of initiatives:
- Cutting-Edge Research: Premier captured more than 2.2M COVID+ patient encounters to build the most complete dataset in the industry. The PINC AI Applied Sciences team has submitted dozens of studies to peer-reviewed journals assessing COVID’s impact on children, co-morbidities that resulted in mortality, changing prescribing patterns, and clinical effects of COVID on pregnancy and heart patients.
- Tech-Enabling the Supply Chain: Premier used its data and AI-enabled technology to spot ordering spikes in real time, project impacts on the supply chain overall, and spot product runs and shortages before they occurred. This data was shared with government first responders, as well as manufacturers, distributors, etc., in 2020. In 2021, we took these efforts a step further, leading a pilot program with the government to give them direct access to Premier’s intelligence dashboard for rapid intervention. As a result, while COVID caseloads increased to match early waves, there were very few product shortages in 2021.
- Global Sourcing Strategy: Premier had established a global sourcing arm, through which members are saving 10–15% on commodity items likes masks and gowns. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, Premier used this strategy to secure 130 million masks and 50 million gowns at a time when no one else was able to meet demand.
- Domestic Manufacturing: The pandemic underscored the need for more homegrown access to medical devices and supplies — which Premier and I have been vocal on for more than a decade (I even testified on our dependence on foreign manufacturers before the House Energy and Commerce Committee). We pioneered a syndicated investment model for domestic and geographically diverse manufacturers to ensure a robust and resilient supply chain for essential products. The program pools capital from Premier and members to invest in domestic manufacturers that can supply shortage products, providing up-front liquidity needed to up production, as well as long-term buying commitments to incent innovation. We have since made investments in the domestic manufacturing of all three major PPE categories — masks, gloves and gowns.
- Guiding U.S. Vaccination Efforts: Premier worked closely with members and manufacturers to ensure access to appropriate freezing supplies, as well as smooth logistics for vaccines. By regularly connecting with members across the country, Premier has been able to offer a detailed view into successes and where opportunities for improvement exist.
- Preventing Drug Shortages: Premier’s ProvideGx® program ensures an adequate safety stock of medicines and protects supply, even as demand surged more than 150% during the pandemic. The ProvideGx model allows Premier to better align the market with long-term demand from health systems and committed, sustainable supply from high-quality manufacturers. The program also incents manufacturers to enter the market for shortage drugs, prioritizing U.S. manufacturing where possible. Premier has since expanded this program to include drugs such as propofol, antidepressants, antibiotics and heparin.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I have advised my family and loved ones to be mindful of their media intake throughout the pandemic. The best way to mitigate the potential fear is to avoid triggers.
So much of what we consume in media — social and traditional — is constructed in a way to generate a reaction. We need to be mindful of the reaction being sought and how we can best avoid falling into it. What we hear and see can have a tremendous impact on our emotions — fear, loneliness, anxiety. It is just so important that we keep those responses in check.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think we can expect our lives continue to be far more tech-enabled in the post-COVID economy. Every aspect of our lives has been up-ended by the pandemic and ensuing supply chain issues. Healthcare is no different.
We will continue to see a greater investment in ensuring that our healthcare ecosystem is using all the tools at its disposal to ensure that clinicians are practicing at the top of their license and providing the best possible patient care.
At Premier, we are working daily to advance our technology-enabled supply chain capabilities and expansion of our PINC AI platform to serve our members in adjacent markets and fulfill our mission to improve the health of communities.
I continue to see a plethora of opportunities to add value by helping to eliminate friction points and low value work.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
There are five key areas I think we are going to see changes in:
- We are going to see a stronger appreciation for families and important relationships in our lives.
- There will be a greater interest in balancing how we work and live our lives, using virtual means far more frequently than traveling.
- It won’t happen overnight, but I believe we are going to see our nation make a concerted effort to focus on building resiliency into our supply chain and increasing domestic production of critical products to protect our communities.
- We are going to see the widespread adoption of technology in a way we dreamed about but hadn’t thought we’d see in our lifetimes. This will happen in our personal and professional lives and in healthcare and beyond. From a healthcare perspective, we will see this impact how diseases/infections are tracked and managed. Eventually, we’ll also see a supply chain that is smarter and able to move faster to ensure bottlenecks are avoided.
- Some of the habits we have formed during the pandemic are going to be with us for years to come. For example, while I don’t think we are going to be wearing them all the time, I do think there are going to be scenarios in which we find ourselves putting masks on when it wouldn’t have occurred to us in the “before” times (for example, when flying). I also think many will continue to prefer to eat in outdoor settings going forward.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
In August 2021 we launched PINC AI, a platform that includes our benchmarking, analytics, reporting and clinical technologies. This technology backbone includes 20 years’ worth of cost, quality and operational data points gleaned from more than 45 percent of U.S. hospital discharges, as well as 812 million hospital outpatient and clinic encounters and 131 million physician office visits.
This is one of the areas we in which we see tremendous potential today and in the post-COVID world. To that end, PINC AI offerings help optimize performance in three main areas using advanced analytics to identify improvement opportunities, consulting services for clinical and operational design, and workflow solutions to hardwire sustainable change:
- Clinical intelligence solutions include current analytics, real-time clinical surveillance, AI-enabled clinical decision support, and performance improvement consulting and collaboratives designed to improve the quality, safety and overall outcomes delivered to patients. The company expects to extend this suite of solutions into adjacent markets by automating administrative tasks, such as documentation and coding support and prior authorization reviews, to enhance value for providers and payers. Also included is Premier Applied Sciences® for the development of research, real-world evidence and clinical trials innovation for medical device, diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies.
- Margin improvement solutions include current analytics, workforce management, integrated financial reporting, enterprise resource planning and consulting services to help lower total costs and improve provider operating margins by finding and eliminating unnecessary healthcare spend and inefficient tasks.
- Value-based care solutions include current analytics, benchmarking, physician enterprise technologies, consulting and collaboratives to help health systems implement effective models of care and succeed in new, value-based payment arrangements.
PINC AI is also the data and technology engine powering Contigo Health®, which connects technology-enabled, high-value provider networks to employer-sponsored health plans and Remitra™, our cloud-based solution to automate invoicing and payables between providers and suppliers. We see these as growth areas as they will also help remove friction points within the system.
We launched Remitra to help members and their suppliers leave paper transactions in the past. Developed by healthcare experts, for the healthcare industry, Remitra is pioneering better integration between providers and suppliers. Remitra offers a GPO and ERP-agnostic, cloud-based platform to integrate digital capabilities and streamline supply chain management, from procurement through to payment. The technology features a cohesive, end-to-end accounts payable and accounts receivable experience purpose-built for healthcare providers and suppliers.
Contigo is a clinically driven network of health systems collaborating with employers and their health plans to deliver the best care possible for their employees. It is powered by Premier’s member network, data and technology, and is focused on increasing engagement with employer health and wellness programs in the clinical setting. This includes empowering clinicians with information on employers’ existing ancillary benefits during the patient encounter, ensuring patients are aware of the resources available to better manage their health.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
There are three piece of advice I’d encourage everyone to keep I mind going forward. Some are more tactical, but all would be helpful in ensuring success:
- Make sure you have enough funding or savings to weather future storms. If you maintain that cushion, you’ll be that much better positioned when the headwinds arrive. And to be clear, the challenges don’t always present themselves in the form of a global pandemic.
- Take care of your people before, during and after any significant event. It’s so obvious, but colleagues who feel cared for and respected are more committed for the long term.
- Embrace empathetic leadership when dealing with all stakeholders, including employees, customers and investors. You need to understand and appreciate where those around you are coming from, why they may behave in certain ways and how they may be feeling. You can be successful without putting this into practice but your job is going to be much harder, less rewarding and probably not as fun.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are a few that come to mind:
- “Measure twice and cut once.”
Prepare, research and study before you make a decision. Deliberation and thoughtfulness are important to ensuring you make strong decisions.
- “Live life. Don’t plan for life.”
It may sound contradictory to the first life lesson quote, but people tend to forget that they are actually living their lives while they are planning. It is so important to get out there and take action and experience progress, which leads us to the third life lesson quote…
- “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.”
Again, while it may sort of fly in the face of the first quote, I am a believer that forward momentum builds on itself, creating growth. Perfection is lovely to aspire to, but at the end of the day, you just need to see your efforts progressing.
- “Always be charitable, especially when no one is paying attention.”
It’s important to give back in a variety of ways when you can. Seeking out those who are underserved and often forgotten is something my family and I are passionate about. Giving back when nobody is watching is incredibly powerful.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter. I also host the InsideOut podcast which can be found here: https://explore.premierinc.com/michael-alkire-podcast.