Being Customer Centric By Investing in Employees with Gordon Vanscoy at PantherX
Companies that want to grow understand the need for investing in employees. Leaders of these companies make the hard decision to put money and time into skills training that lift their employees to a new level. One mistake that is common, not investing beyond just new skills. Gordon Vanscoy is today’s guest. He is the CEO of Panther Speciality Pharmacy, #31 on the 2018 Inc 5000 list. Gordon shares why investing in employees is necessary. He also gives reasons why it is more than just new skills. Investing in employees is required if you want predictable growth in the long run.
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Gordon Vanscoy: The Transcript
Target Audience: With more than three decades of executive experience creating and developing successful medical and pharmaceutical service business ventures, Dr. Vanscoy is a leader in the health care industry, an innovator in specialty pharmacy (SP), and a pioneer in the field of Rare Pharmacy. He is the founding Chairman and CEO of PANTHERx, The Rare Disease SP®, and RareMed Solutions.
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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Gordon Vanscoy: [00:00]
My role is to support my employees who then can deliver for my patients. I don’t have a direct fee to those patients. Those employees do. So if you think you think I’m not taking care and developing and nurturing those employees. If you think that that is something you can forgo, you never get the results you’re looking for. So yes, our employees are number one, but their number one to serve our primary objective, which is our patients.
Gene Hammett: [00:32]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insights from the founders and the CEOs, but the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: [00:49]
Thanks for tuning in here too. Growth think tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that, it’s going to GeneHammett.com/Worksheet so you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episodes. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can, you can tune in to the date that means the most to you.
Gene Hammett: [01:32]
Growth, growth takes a lot of different things, but we know that growth inside your organization takes the right people and them growing with the right skills and the right attention to detail to take care of the customers. Today we’re going to talk about creating a customer-centric of business, but through the growth and investment in your employees, I wanted to reach out to a company that really is investing at many different levels and it really has some complexity to it so that we can see exactly what is possible as you’re continuing to grow your businesses. Cause I hear a lot of leaders want to complain about not having the right people. They’re not getting the right skills out of college. But inside the interview, we’re going to talk about some of the things you can do with your local colleges, whether it be community colleges or bigger universities. And we could also talk about, how do you make those things work together so that the company comes together to really treat the customer with the highest level of customer service possible. Our guest today is Gordon Vanscoy. He is a CEO at Panther specialty pharmacy. So they create the way for people with specialty diseases or rare diseases to get their medications. They work with a really elite kind of diseases. The ones that only have, you know, a few thousand, maybe 10,000 of patients, they’re not working on the bigger diseases. They really work to create the kind of customer-centric experience and it takes the employees to do that. So in today’s interview, we talk about how do you invest in them so that you can really create employees that want to do the work. And really create the level of growth that you’re accustomed to in your company. Here’s the interview with Gordon.
Gene Hammett: [03:12]
Gordon Vanscoy: [03:13]
I’m doing great. Thank you for the opportunity.
Gene Hammett: [03:16]
Well, I’m happy to have you here at Growth Think Tank where we talk about some of the challenges that we have as leaders and growing companies fast. I want to give you a chance to bring us all up to speed on your company. So why did you start Panther?
Gordon Vanscoy: [03:30]
Panther was an opportunity for me to really reinvent pharmacy. I’ve been involved in pharmacy for a long time and was involved with the very first specialty pharmacy long time ago. And I saw it go from a very patient-centric approach with a white glove approach, but it suddenly became all those efficiency-based and more of a mailer type approach to the market. And back when Panther first started, there were rumblings in the market of things happening in the orphan drug space, and it was a real ideal opportunity to start a new specialty pharmacy focusing in on that niche of rare, devastating conditions.
Gene Hammett: [04:21]
Well I know that’s gotta be something that you’re proud of because we had talked before last week when we were really getting to know each other. You guys really work on some diseases that really, you can’t find drugs anywhere else but, but you guys did that correct?
Gordon Vanscoy: [04:35]
That’s very correct. And that’s kind of how we’ve changed the model. Instead of focusing on the big disease States that everyone does, really the emerging new drugs that are coming out are focused towards very small populations. And in fact, it’s almost three-quarters of drugs and the FDA pipeline are really targeted to those rare diseases. So Panther is all about looking at orphan drugs, which target less than populations of less than 200,000 or ultra-orphan States, which are populations of less than 2000 people.
Gene Hammett: [05:17]
Well, when you think about the challenges of drawing a company this fast and you have such a limited, a set of kind of people you’re serving is that helps you grow fast.
Gordon Vanscoy: [05:30]
What’s helped because we ended up in a situation where we are either exclusive with the manufacturer that has this life-saving drug. So the only place that a patient can get it is from Panther or we’re in a limited distribution network where it’s only we’re one of two or three options. So even though there may be a few patients, we have robust information on the population in. So, you know, we go very deep on patients and again, we’re very focused on providing service that no one else does or can.
Gene Hammett: [06:07]
I want to bring us up to speed together on, you know, the company you grew at, an astronomical pace and 2018 number 49 on the inc list, how many employees did you have?
Gordon Vanscoy: [06:18]
Oh, we have today over 200.
Gene Hammett: [06:21]
And you really believe in order to get there and investing in your employees. So, you know, why do you put such an effort and time and money into developing employees right now?
Gordon Vanscoy: [06:32]
You know, employees are, you know, I liken it to a car in a race. You know, if you don’t take care of, you know, your car and your engine and all the parts you’ll never have an opportunity to win the race. And our race is basically serving our patients and helping them achieve their goals and their goals. Sometimes our lives sometimes are dramatic improvements in their lives and now they finally have hope. Where many these disease States there’s only about 500 treatments out there for rare diseases and there are about 7,000 rare diseases. These people finally have the opportunity to see light at the end of the tunnel. And Panther is the conduit for bringing that light.
Gene Hammett: [07:18]
When you think of some of the specific strategies that you’ve used to really develop employees, can you walk us through some of the things that you’ve done that you feel like moving the needle for the company?
Gordon Vanscoy: [07:29]
Yeah. Part of it is recognizing two things. One, make sure you put your company in a place where you can recruit employees that match the business. And we located in Pittsburgh because of Pittsburgh is an incredible place for two things. One is education and two is healthcare. And that’s really what Panther is all about. So we’re able to recruit and there are other specialty pharmacies and healthcare providers in Pittsburgh. The second thing is the strategy is when we look at our employees what is, we’ve got to make sure that we select the appropriate employees and to recognize the uniqueness of that employee base, that employee base. We do have a lot of millennials and some Genz’s. So managing that you meet a group of people takes its own strategies. But to start off, you know, we have to do an assessment of kind of what is the culture we’re dealing with and what improvements can we make. So we go through painstaking efforts to actually keep our finger on the pulse of what is the culture of Panther all about.
Gene Hammett: [08:43]
I want to get specific to some of the types of training you’re doing. Cause I would imagine you’ve got, you know, very technical skills coming in doing pharmaceutical questions and service. Is that correct?
Gordon Vanscoy: [08:56]
Yeah, that’s very correct.
Gene Hammett: [08:58]
And you’ve also got just basic customer service skills and you’ve got, you know, logistics people and you’ve got all this stuff that may not be an as high level of knowledge of the drugs, but still, they need levels of training. So do you have like a core foundation training that you offer to employees to get them up to speed?
Gordon Vanscoy: [09:17]
We do. You know, we have a, you know, a process when all employees come on board, you know, they’re put through an introduction to Panther. However, you know, it doesn’t end there. You know, some of our professional associates and they’re all professionals that I’m talking about, pharmacists, nurses, and doctors. Honestly, they’re the easiest group of people to recruit from since there are so many schools that are located nearby. It’s when we get to the mid and lower levels that we’ve got to train our own. So some of the strategies that we’ve adopted are one, we’ve developed something called Panther university, which beyond the initial introduction to the company and discussion on culture and policies, procedures we actually train people. And give them career paths to actually stay with the company and grow with the company. So we call it Panther University. The second thing is, is, you know, we’ve started the process of working with local community colleges in offering training courses in specific job functions that it doesn’t take us internally to develop them, but they need certain skill sets, let’s say certain financial skillset, certain customer service skillsets, things that community colleges can help us do. And plus it provides us a pool of people at the end of that. So that’s the second thing we’ve done. The third thing we’ve done is actually work with specific career tracks for these individuals.
Gordon Vanscoy: [10:56]
It’s so difficult to not only recruit in this environment, in this great economy that we have to get the right people, but it’s so important to retain those people because turnover causes turmoil in all organizations. So we’ve got to keep people knowingly happy in what they’re doing. But once they have that aspiration to move up in the organization, you have to give them tracks. And that’s what we out now talking about a higher-end professional. We’ve created some, we’ve created fellowships that actually allow individuals to devote an entire year of their lives to rotate throughout the organization and develop a very broad skill set. So the fellowships are something new and very unique to Panther in specialty pharmacy. The second and final component of that, we’ve created a master’s program in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh called a master in pharmacy business administration where we help the university. I’m also on faculty there to actually create a program that develops our future leaders. And we have been part of that program actually. I’ve been part of the inception of that program, but we supply individuals from our staff to be students in that program every year since the beginning.
Gene Hammett: [12:25]
You just rattled off a whole plethora of ways that which are investing into your employees. And I bet there are some leaders out there listening in right now going, wow, that’s a huge investment. Was this intentional or is this just necessary in the technical nature of your field? Or is it just something that you believe that will create the longterm ROI that you know works for your business?
Gordon Vanscoy: [12:49]
I think it’s both. You know, actually, when I got in the Panther, I came out of retirement to work with three former students. And the reason why I came out of retirement is, you know, I saw this business opportunity, but I saw three young professionals that I could see grow and develop. And that’s what Panther’s all about. And that’s why I got back into the business was now we have over 200 people that not only we put food on their table and I look out the window and sees, you know, all the cars our parking lots virginity but now I see the opportunity to really give people opportunities that they never have. And that’s so self-satisfying and rewarding. But also from a business perspective, it’s one where it keeps Happel happy employees. And if you’ve got happy employees that spend a lot of their life at work they’re the deliver care to those patients like no one else. And that’s why we’re rated number one in patient satisfaction among specialty pharmacies.
Gene Hammett: [13:57]
I’m smiling because I do a lot of work with companies and fast-growth companies in the inc list. There’s a number that I’ve shared many times before. I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you, Gordon, but when I talked to these Inc leaders, I asked the leaders, like yourself, what’s more important? Your employees or your customers? No, I know you’re in a life or death situation. What would you say to the answer to that?
Gordon Vanscoy: [14:21]
Me as kind of responsible for the organization, my role is to support my employees who then can deliver for my patients. I don’t have a direct feed to those patients. Those employees do. So if you think you think I’m not, I’m taking care of and developing and nurturing those employees. If you think that is something you can forego, you never get the results you’re looking for. So yes, our employees are number one but they’re number one to serve our primary objective, which is our patients.
Let’s pause for a second. Gorgeous. Talked about employee first and now. I know I created this big question behind this, but let me give you the context for that big question. After hundreds and hundreds of interviews with fast growth leaders from the Inc 5,000, these leaders are growing at astronomical pace compared to their peers. I wanted to ask one question to each one of them. It took me a while to figure out what that one question was, but here it is. As a leader, what’s more important, your employees or your customers? I smile when I say that too because it really is a huge question and it really does tell you a lot about the kind of company. I’m not saying for you to answer this question based on what you think it is. I want you to answer the question honestly and truly on how you invest. If you manage the company based on customer service and the sales of everything, then you probably are more customer-centric. I get it. Marketing and sales and customer service. Very important to serve the customer, but most fast-growing leaders, in fact, 94.1% of the hundreds that I’ve interviewed have said that it’s employee first and even in a business like a Panther, a specialty pharmacy where it’s life and death, it’s still employee first. So I want you to think about that. This is one of the key areas I work with teams and leaders on how do you create that real employee-first mentality, but also how do you extend it? How do you get people to take real ownership of their work? If you have any questions about that, make sure you reach out to me. Now back to the interview.
Gene Hammett: [16:28]
I love this because so many people I think get that a little bit twisted cause it does take both to run a successful business, a group of employees that are engaged in their work and we have, you know, happy customers. But you’ve got to really, as a leader, because that’s the trick of this is the leader’s responsibility is to pour into the people, develop the people so that the people want to take care of the customers. And that’s what you’ve seen. And even in your business, which is life or death and other businesses, it’s the same way. When you think about investing in people and you, have you learned anything like mistakes in this journey of like maybe over-investing or over caring into people?
Gordon Vanscoy: [17:10]
Yeah. You know, we’ve had some, we call them growth challenges. When you grow so fast you’re going to make mistakes and mistakes. We’re okay as long as you can learn from them. Right? So, you know, some of the things we’ve learned are one, as you grow, you want to know what you don’t know. Okay, and to do that you hire experienced people. But the one thing we’ve learned is it’s not just about experience. You want to hire experienced people that fit and finding that fit is as important, if not more important than you’re hiring. So to preserve culture in the organization, you know, we’ve got two dimensions we’re dealing with and that’s both, you know, the skill set that the person brings, but also, if that person has been in a job for 10 or 20 years elsewhere and they bring that culture with them, you know, it really could be toxic to what we’ve developed, this young disruptive, innovative culture. So number one we found is don’t just hire experience, hire experience that fits where it’s adapted. And two, you know, we want to hire people. We thought to hire from the top you know, was a critical part of the organization. But as we grew, we realized that some of the most important hires are the first level of management. And at first you start overlooking that and you know, this first level of management is the managers of the people who deliver the care. It’s not a top-down approach that’s most effective. You’ve got to look layers in your organization and make sure that you know, management isn’t, you know, from your office management occurs, you know, at the level of the patient.
Go ahead. Just talked about finding fit. Really what he’s talking about there is the culture. Finding people who are not necessarily just has the experience or the skills to do the job, but they’re a fit for what you’re trying to build. That’s much more important than the skills. So everything that’s listed on the resume is only this much importance. Whereas everything that not in the resume about how they see the world, about the values that they hold as individuals is much more important. Why do I say that? Because so many leaders just like you listening in here, see the value of the values of the company and they want to have people that are aligned with those values because that will allow them to align together and not create the kind of silos or happen when you have individual teams that just aren’t working well together. Now, this isn’t about diversity per se, but there is, there is a necessary need for diversity and gender and ethnicity and the political views and in many other aspects, but values reach into the core of who you are. You want to make sure you’re aligned together. And if you have that, you have a really good chance to have an employee first organization. Remember that 94.1% number really is important to fast-growing companies to be employee first of back to the interview.
Gene Hammett: [20:28]
That’s really a wise thing to focus on there for just a moment. Like that first level manager that are managing the customer service and sales, any kind of anyone in sales is such a critical function because if you get that wrong, you’re going to lose that retention number. So you’ve got to get that right. Because the old adage is people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.
Gordon Vanscoy: [20:49]
Absolutely. Right. Absolutely. And you know it’s fascinating. We’re at a real advantage because, you know, with the millennials and the genZs, they’re looking for a company with a curve. It has a real social it can contribute to society. And we’re fortunate that we directly touch these patients in a manner where a lot of the decisions we make, a lot of the care we provide have a direct impact on their lives or their families. So we have this lofty social responsibility. We’re lucky in that and we’re able to attract people. But if you still don’t train people or provide management tools or training tools, it’s lost. So we’ve realized that and yeah, we made mistakes along the way, but you know, that’s the beauty of working in a privately held company. We can constantly do gut checks, change on the fly modify and we’re not constrained by our structure.
Gene Hammett: [21:52]
When you think about your journey as a leader, how do you keep pace with the level of growth that your company has so that you are able to create the next level of emerging leaders inside the company?
Gordon Vanscoy: [22:05]
You know, we’ve created a few things. It’s interesting. One, as you grow, you realize that silos develop. And so we’ve tried to rekindle that in a concept we call one Panther. And it’s a concept that we use throughout our organization about that if people work effectively together or within their groups, we can get synergies and that one person’s efforts can be magnified by the work of the team. And so my work is to continually make Panther feel like a family, a home. And as we add people on, it’s not growth or adding another division or adding another facility. It’s about just extending our family. So one Panther is really important. The other thing, interestingly, from a marketing side to the external environment that actually translate it to the internal environment is we went through a rebranding exercise to bring into clear focus exactly what Panther is which is a focus on rare and devastating diseases and providing, it’s also about our employees understanding that and making the link to what they do. So that’s an important thing for us. So, yeah, we’ve come up with some of those items. But as a leader, my goal and strategies to deal with that are to try to again, to try to look at what our objectives and create an environment that people are happy to come to work and are happy and fulfilled when they walk out the door. Oh, it’s a really great place to see.
Gene Hammett: [23:56]
Well, beautiful. And it’s a great place to end this because when our employees are happy, they come in creative and engaged and they really are able to be resilient no matter what and they’re connected to the mission. I really appreciate you sharing your, your journey here with us on growth think tank. So Gordon, thanks for being here.
Gordon Vanscoy: [24:16]
Thank you very much. Keep up the great work.
Gene Hammett: [24:18]
Well, I just loved talking to him about all the different ways that they’re investing in their employees really is a complex kind of view, but it really is important to know that you have to invest in your employees because otherwise they will stay and their skills won’t develop or they will leave. And your retention numbers will really take a huge hit. So investing the right way and figuring out what the right mix is for your employees will really create the kind of longterm company that you know is necessary to compete at the next level of your business, whatever that may be. Gordon talked about reaching $1 billion. It really is impressive to know that that’s where they are, but it really is a great way to think about this business and about who you are as a leader. We talk about a lot of different things inside there, so it makes you make sure you are making some action steps about how you’re investing in your employees and really look at the importance of doing that. And then make sure you create the plan that works for everybody in the organization. As always, lead with courage. I’ll see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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