Ricardo “Rick” A Salas of Inspire Health Alliance: How We Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy

A “CEOs Speak” Interview with Charlie Katz

Business leaders need to be aware of how their industries have changed during the pandemic and use that change to identify opportunities to respond to needs that have arisen. Some industries will have more options than others, but every industry needs to understand these needs and use their response as an opportunity for revamped growth.

Aspart of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ricardo A. Salas.

Ricardo A. Salas is a successful entrepreneur and business leader with over 30 years of experience developing and leading rapidly growing companies in health care, health information technology, manufacturing, and distribution businesses. Currently, he serves as managing partner of Inspire Health Alliance, a health care services company that works with health care providers to improve patient outcomes, lower costs and reduce risk via innovative care models and technology solutions. The company is focused on solving the country’s unmet demand for widely available, accurate, and affordable COVID-19 testing solutions that will help businesses, schools, and communities safely reopen.

In addition to his role with Inspire Health Alliance, Mr. Salas is CEO of U.S. Orthopedic Alliance (USOA), a management services organization that provides its physicians, group practices, ambulatory surgery centers, and specialty surgery hospitals with a full suite of services, including value-based care models, that drive growth and operational efficiencies.

Mr. Salas is recognized for his ability to seek, negotiate and form strategic partnerships with well-capitalized companies in multiple industries, which has earned him high regard from his peers. He also has a winning track record in assembling highly skilled technical teams with expertise in targeted disciplines.

He has held executive positions for MSI Healthcare, Inc., Advantum Health, Pediatric Health Alliance, and others.

Mr. Salas received his A.B. in Economics from Harvard University, where he remains active on various committees and boards.

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?

Mystory starts like many others and includes many people who supported me in pursuing my entrepreneurial aspirations. I was raised in a working-class family by my father, who was in the Navy, and my mother, a housekeeper at a nursing home. Their examples of working hard and encouragement from one of my high school teachers persuaded me to apply to several elite college. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to Harvard University. Those four years at Harvard were a great experience that allowed me to learn a lot about myself and the rest of the world. It also allowed me to meet many different people, including my college roommate, who has been my business partner for the last 35-plus years.

After college, I worked for Bain & Company, one of the top management consulting firms, for about a year before my business partner and I decided that we wanted to pursue building our own business. We were of the belief that opportunities existed to create stakeholder value by implementing various growth strategies. We started looking for companies that we could invest in and acquire. We were both only 23 years old at the time, so approaching business owners and convincing them that we could pull off this type of transaction wasn’t easy. Our strong work ethic paid off, and we were able to find our first acquisition, a small home hardware center in New Hampshire. Our achievements from this first venture allowed us to complete similar transactions that led to even more significant transactions until we built a track record of success, allowing us to be where we are today.

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?

I remember informing one of my mentors that we were entering the health care information technology field and, specifically, equipping physician practices with the latest technology. I was subsequently invited to a dinner hosted by my mentor with several physicians. Each doctor took the time to convey how horrible of an idea this was. I could have easily walked away having enjoyed a nice dinner, but also quite discouraged. When we started our business, we quickly focused on providing such a high level of service that we quickly grew to 400 clients in 20 states and many came through referrals. I often reflect back on that dinner as my motivation to focus on meeting the customers’ needs in intense, unique ways.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

Books have been an important part of my life. Reading allows us to grow mentally, emotionally, and psychologically by learning from those who have already been where we are trying to go. It’s always best to learn from the triumph and failures of others, even when blazing a new path.

Two books helped me in this way. The first is “Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors” by Michael Porterwhich lays out the principles for building a framework for analyzing where a company is and then developing a strategy for where it should go and create value while evolving.

The second book is “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen. Christensen suggests that companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership when they miss out on innovations because they refused to abandon traditional business practices. Innovation in your product or service can be powerful and enabling.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

When we initially started Inspire Health Alliance and its subsidiary Inspire Diagnostics, we received many questions about COVID-19. We felt it was our mission to give companies the tools to combat the pandemic.

We recognized a need for COVID testing and monitoring, so our solution was a range of COVID tests, both rapid and lab-based, and quality solutions for managing that information. It’s not only about knowing if a test is positive or negative or what is happening in your community or workforce. It’s also essential to have information gained from real-time data to proactively make decisions based on what is occurring within those populations, leading to changed behavior and adoption of COVID protocols. At Inspire, we take the time to understand how COVID is impacting a business, school or community and then design our services to best enable our customers to manage the health and safety of their environment.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

The number one principle for any business owner is never to expect things to be easy. Things will happen that are unexpected, and opportunities are going to come along that will require you to respond in a way that may be different from how your business is currently operating. You have to be ready to address those issues and capitalize on those opportunities as they arise. To expect and respond to either an issue or opportunity has always been one of our greatest strengths.

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?

Thankfully, I haven’t personally faced many stressors during the pandemic, but there were examples within our company of employees facing various challenges due to COVID. The examples that struck me the most were those employees who had an elderly relative overseas that contracted COVID, became ill, and passed away. The employees could not make the trip quickly enough to see their loved one before they passed.

I often think about the people who have had these personal experiences that have become a mark of the pandemic. As a company, we have limited capabilities to address these situations directly, but offering employees flexible personal leaves and support that they need to go through those situations is essential.

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?

Early in the spring, when schools wanted to restart athletic programs, we offered to provide these schools with COVID testing at no out-of-pocket costs to the parent or the student-athletes. Many schools were very interested in taking us up on our offer because they were eager to allow students to participate in sports, so we had a deluge of more than 100 schools within two weeks using our services. We responded by building up our workforce as quickly as possible, mobilizing as many staff as possible to the school sites, and asking our customers for a flexible working arrangement as we initiated these partnerships.

The initial phase of the implementation was a bit challenging, logistically speaking, but I think we did an excellent job, so overall it was a success. It wasn’t perfect, but I believe all of our customers would agree that they had a very positive experience.

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 believe there is a short- and long-term answer to this question. In the short term, we can test and vaccinate and do the necessary things to get the pandemic under control. We see evidence of that on a broad basis, at least in the United States.

When looking long-term, the thing that gives us hope is that there are exciting advances with testing technologies and diagnostic capabilities being developed due to the pandemic. We have learned a lot about how important it is for rapid results in point of care testing.

Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public, has envisioned building a new public health infrastructure to tackle any new pandemic. A “global immunological observatory,” as Mina calls it, would work like our weather forecasting system. It would allow us to rapidly observe how a virus is mutating and traveling worldwide, identify it, and respond accordingly.

The potential for systems and technology on the scale of a global immunological observatory should give us hope for what we as a global society are capable of accomplishing.

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?

The most significant opportunities that I see coming in a post-COVID economy are the advancement in testing more rapidly for almost any ailment and the ability to perform these tests in a patient’s home. These fully at-home rapid tests will be vital to stemming any future pandemics and will open up new opportunities for disease surveillance.

How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?

I believe the COVID pandemic, much like 9/11, will permanently change the way we travel. Over the last twenty years, we have all become accustomed to going through various security screening requirements as part of world travel, and I believe certain safety requirements will remain in place.

That doesn’t mean we will continue wearing masks in large gatherings and things of that nature. Still, I believe some health protocols will remain so that if someone has been exposed or infected by a virus or another pandemic occurs, our readiness to respond will be much more successful.

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?

Our goal at Inspire Diagnostics is to build out our platform’s testing capability to provide a much broader range of testing. So, beyond scaling COVID, we will also work on building testing for other respiratory viruses such as influenza and SARS. Again, this all goes back to creating new opportunities for future disease surveillance and testing to limit the effects of a future pandemic by increasing our readiness to respond as quickly as possible.

Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?

Business leaders need to be aware of how their industries have changed during the pandemic and use that change to identify opportunities to respond to needs that have arisen. Some industries will have more options than others, but every industry needs to understand these needs and use their response as an opportunity for revamped growth.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A good friend who coaches many successful executives often says, “We overestimate what can be done in two years, but underestimate what can be done in 10 years.” When starting a new business or launching a new initiative, I found this conceptually to be true. In the beginning, learning quickly and quickly modifying your business model is important. These early years might present a few unexpected challenges. Having the fortitude, discipline and determination in those early times though can yield great success in the longer term. That success can often exceed one’s initial expectation and, while it may take some time, can come sooner than 10 years as well.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Readers can follow the work we are doing around accurate and convenient COVID-19 testing by visiting our company website and they can connect with me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/rick-salas.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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