Transforming Healthcare via the Finance Function with Heather Dixon of Everside Health
“Keep true to yourself, and be authentic. Don't change yourself for an organization. Go find one that likes you just the way that you are. That’s the best piece of advice I could give.”
Establishing a leadership style and settling into the CFO role is a common challenge for finance leaders. And the past few years have added new hurdles to contend with, including a pandemic and a myriad of new tools and responsibilities for finance teams. Heather Dixon has been inside finance functions for three decades - leading her teams with a unique, authentic leadership style. She has worked in healthcare since 2017, and joined Everside Health as CFO to keep delivering greater impact via her finance team.
In this episode of the CFO Yeah! podcast, Heather explains how finance can transform healthcare, and how CFOs are growing into a new, transversal role within their organization.
Read on for insights into the impact of finance in healthcare companies, how to develop an authentic leadership style, and how to make the finance function more diverse and inclusive.
Reflections on three decades in finance
I’ve had quite a journey to get to Everside Health, which was partially intentional and partially not. I started where a good chunk of finance professionals do: with PwC, and spent about a decade working with them. Half of that time was spent in their Dallas office in Texas, and the other half in London. It was a lot of fun to travel around Europe, helping companies who were interested in entering or staying in the US capital markets.
After those 10 years, I decided to move into a company setting, to understand how different it is to be on the inside of an organization, rather than looking from the outside as a consultant or an auditor. I spent the first 10 years of that experience with American Express.
I had a phenomenal experience and really took that opportunity of being in a company for such a long time to make some moves around the finance organization, to get to know the different pieces of finance and really see what makes it tick. At the end of the decade, I had an excellent view of what a well run ship looks like from a finance perspective.
Then, I decided to really accelerate my career. The time felt right, from a personal and from a professional perspective.
Heather’s drive to join the healthcare industry
I moved into healthcare, for two main reasons.
First, I wanted to find an organization where I could really focus on making sure that the company culture was right for me. Health companies are about caring for others - you really empower people and keep them healthy. And that is just a piece of the culture that permeates throughout the organization. I was looking for a company where I could really be myself, be authentic, and have an impact.
Second, from an opportunity perspective, I was looking for an industry where there was a lot happening. I wanted to be part of some real strategic change as that industry transitioned. And there's a lot going on in the health industry.
Initially, I went to work for Aetna, which is one of the largest health insurance providers in the United States. I spent several years with them as their Chief Accounting Officer. They were acquired by CVS in the US, and I helped them go through that transaction and got to know the finance teams from both sides of the house. Then, I went to Walgreen Boots Alliance.
Today, I’m the CFO at Everside Health.
Everside Health’s goals and aspirations
Everside is a direct primary care provider as a first step. The goal is to reduce the total cost of providing healthcare. We’re very specifically targeting a certain segment of the US.
A significant portion - probably over a hundred million of Americans - receive their healthcare through their employer, and more specifically through a self-insured plan.
So the employers, in many cases, whether large or small, are self-insured for healthcare costs for their employee population. And it's very well documented that on average, the trend of healthcare budget, if nothing changes, goes up at a rate of somewhere between 6% and 8% per year, just by the nature of how the healthcare system works.
So, every company is looking at a pretty significant cost in their P&L when it comes to the healthcare benefits line. And they're seeing it go up every year, sometimes faster than their top line.
We’re helping them find a way to bring those costs down. And we help them take the cost out of the system, rather than out of the employee.
For us, it's a win-win-win. We're bringing the cost down for the clients. We’re providing excellent care for people who really need it, and keeping the population healthier. We're taking costs out of the overall healthcare system. And we're providing a great experience for physicians who are exhausted after a pandemic and are looking for the next phase of their career.
Collaborating with other functions to maximize impact
I think every company asks themselves, and every function within the company asks themselves, “how am I contributing to the overall goal of my organization?”
At Everside Health, we price every deal very specifically for an individual client, so that we make sure it is the right pricing from an Everside perspective.
That balance of looking for the ROI for the client’s needs and trying to really lower their healthcare costs, that's the goal of our business. And of course, that can't be done without the finance organization. So we’re an absolutely integral part of that and have a direct view on our impact.
From a process perspective, we achieve this through a lot of collaboration. I’m on the phone with both the sales team and the ops team at least three times a week! We talk about how we can put together a compelling return on investment for our clients and for us. So, we’re side by side with them on a daily basis, sometimes hourly.
And that’s necessary because we have many challenges. The pandemic certainly has affected the healthcare space. The population we serve is typically working class, and most people can't work from home. So, it's even more important that we keep them healthy and we keep them at work, and we need to provide them with the tools to do that.
On top of all of those things, you have a highly inflationary environment. You have interest rates rising, a war and supply chain issues. So it’s really important for the finance function to step in and work with other departments to address these issues.
Stepping up as a growth partner
I’ve been in finance for almost three decades now, and I’ve seen a few drastic changes happen.
The first thing is that the finance function is now deeply involved in the business. Long gone are the days where you could be sort of a “corporate CFO” who sits at the top of the house, looks at reports and numbers, and directs traffic from there.
Today, you need to step outside of the usual swim lanes, to cross over into territories which traditionally would not have fallen under your remit. That's because we’re working together very closely with other functions, making sure that we’re integrated. I have calls on a regular basis with marketing, ops, sales, all of the different departments. This helps me understand the different pieces of the business.
For marketing, for example, we need to focus on risk versus compliance versus operational. For instance, what are we allowed to talk about externally? Sometimes, our conversations are very focused on compliance. Sometimes, it's funding related and we need to figure out the ROI of specific campaigns. It crosses the gamut of several things, but it really is a partnership with each of those groups.
The CFO as shaper and gatekeeper of company culture
I think there are a couple of ways that finance leaders can help shape and maintain a healthy company culture.
The first one is coming back to the compliance topic. The CFO is typically seen as a partner in keeping things compliant, making sure that all the necessary requirements are met. And there are a couple ways you can go about that.
If the finance organization is a partner for its company, that's a very different tone than if it’s sort of policing what's being done.
What I've seen, historically speaking, is that if you have a culture of punishing people for getting it wrong, versus sitting with them and helping them get it right, what you end up with is people not telling you where they see gaps or potential gaps. And that can really be problematic if you don't find out until afterwards, because they're scared to tell you. So, finance plays a big role in setting the tone from that perspective.
The other thing is that finance touches pretty much every part of the organization. And it really is a conversation about how open you are, and how willing you are to partner and share that sets the tone.
Authenticity and the value in being yourself
When I’m asked about the nature of my leadership style, I would say it’s 100% authentic. What you see is what you get with me. I’m human-first, just trying to be as authentic as possible. Because in the end, we're all in this together.
That certainly comes back to the healthcare industry specifically. We’re people working together for a common purpose. Remembering that we’re individuals and people first is very important. I’m all about being yourself at work.
Besides, I believe when you go into a job interview, you should approach that conversation 100% as yourself. Because that is the self that you will be bringing to work every day, once you get there. And so if you try to mold yourself into what you think people want, versus just being who you are, chances are you're going to end up in the wrong place.
So, I try to encourage my team to be a hundred percent themselves every day. And they see 100% of me every day as well. Actually, that’s the best piece of advice I could give:
Keep true to yourself, and be authentic. Don't change yourself for an organization. Go find one that likes you just the way that you are.
Bringing more women to the leadership table
I think it's important to have women in all leadership roles, specifically in finance as well. My personal point of view is that the people who lead the company should be a representative sample of those that are your customers. Your leadership team should represent that - and all of your employee base as well.
I believe it's always important to have differing views around a table and thus, to have that diversity overall.
However, to get more women at the table, we need to make space for different types of personality, and decision making leadership styles. It's hard if you’re a working parent, or if you’ve other competing priorities, whether it's children or taking foreign language classes or whatever.
I think we need to open our minds a little bit. Women are still the primary caretakers in many aspects, and the pandemic sort of brought that back to life in a big way. But I think what the pandemic also did was showing us that we can still do it. We can work on our own terms and things still get done.
I do think we now have a natural growth in those positions. The women who are a few decades behind me now have a broader group to look ahead. And so just having that example, I think we will start to flourish as time passes. It’s all about reaching down, pulling women up and encouraging them along the way.
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