Dixon Thayer Featured

11:40am EDT May 23, 2006
Some people do crossword puzzles for recreation, others prefer reading pulp novels.

Dixon Thayer, however, doesn’t have any interest in either pastime. Instead, his passions are helping organizations navigate change and guiding them to reach their full potential.

Thayer, now CEO of I-trax, has spent his career guiding organizations through tough times and helping them to realize their maximum potential. He’s held positions and engineered major change at companies including Ford Motor Co., Kimberly Clark Corp. and Scott Paper Co., as well as operated his own consulting practices.

I-trax, a business that provides wellness, disease management and on-site services that improve overall health while reducing the cost of care, posted 2005 revenue of $116 million. Thayer took the CEO job in early 2005 after serving on the I-trax board beginning in 2003.

Thayer maintains that the key to success for organizations is to focus constantly on how they can deliver more for less. An inefficient health care industry, Thayer believes, offers plenty of opportunity for companies such as I-trax to make an impact on costs - and earn lots of cash in the process.

Smart Business spoke with Thayer bout the value of never being satisfied and why CEOs need to make sure they are replaceable.

Adopt an attitude of positive dissatisfaction. My leadership style is positive dissatisfaction. I’ve got a lot of positive energy and passion and enthusiasm for the business. Whatever business I’m in, I’m just there, and if you don’t have a passion for it, don’t be in it.

Also, it’s based on that belief that we can and we have to do it better for less every day. The rigor of making sure that you do it better for less every day is to always be sure how sharp you are with your core competencies and how you’re not going to draw your resources off your core competencies to noncore cost structures.

Create a “no excuses" environment. One of the mantras I’m always going after with people is the right people in the right jobs, skilled and motivated with clear expectations, working as a team in a no excuses culture. When I say no excuses, I don’t mean you have no excuse for taking that risk and failing at it.

It’s just the opposite. You have no excuse for complacency, and you have no excuse for trying something and then not raising your hand for help when you need it at the right time. That’s one that drives looking for qualities that are experimental, as long as they’re willing to experiment above the waterline, as opposed to below, not defensive, fact based versus anecdotal.

It all gets encapsulated back in that description of people that also express or demonstrate a positive dissatisfaction in what they’ve done in the past.

Don’t try to be Superman. One of the things I learned at Kimberly Clark and one that I think is powerful and that I’ve used since is that the CEO cannot be the everything person. The CEO is not Superman.

In fact, if you are a person that tries to do it all, you will build an organization that delegates up, and that’s a bad thing. You’ll get pecked to death by a thousand ducks. So for me, you really have to get the right people in the right jobs. You really have to reject the instinct to do it yourself. If you don’t, you have not created a self-driving company.

If you get the right people in the right jobs and challenge and stimulate them the right way, working as a team, they’ll really create a better vision than some singular person sitting at the helm. It’s really getting the right people in the right room and asking the right questions that creates the strongest vision.

Strive to be replaceable. In a publicly traded company, the most important job of the CEO is to be replaceable. You have to have strong succession in a company for it to really survive because how do you really attract the best if they don’t get the opportunity to demonstrate their skills to be CEO?

So you really have to create the process, get the right people, cajole and coach and be positively dissatisfied every day.

Set a course early. You have, as a CEO, about 100 days to set the course. After that, the cement starts to dry, and you better be in your implementation stages.

Organizations really like a reason to change what they’re doing. They look for that moment and it’s got to be a catalytic moment, and having the change at the top is one of those moments.

The first advice I’d give is right now you have the personification of giving your organization a reason to change, so you better be clear about what you want them to change to and enthusiastically get them started on that rail in the first 100 days.

Demand the right things. At the leadership level, especially the CEO level, it all comes down to people. And you should never compromise.

You should provide structure and reward for doing the right thing, but if you’re not getting the right thing, don’t compromise. If you’re not getting the right thing or the right contribution from those people, it’s always difficult and challenging.

I always say, give someone the delegation to get something done. If they’re not getting it done the right way, then tell them how you would do it. If they’re still not getting it done, then you’ve got to assess whether you’ve got the right person to get it done.

Stimulate people. My role is to create a stimulating environment to attract and keep the best people. But I’m going to underscore the word stimulating.

We’ve had a lot of debates about this. Is it to create the most attractive or the most comfortable or this or that? I believe really good people are attracted by the most stimulating environments and it doesn’t always mean they’re the easiest environments.

I’ve got to be able to make sure that environment’s right to get the best and keep them.

Navigate the apparent paradoxes. Let’s talk about the three paradoxes that CEOs or companies face. One is cost vs. quality, the other one is speed vs. accuracy and the other is short term results vs. future results, where do you place your investments.

I’ve seen corporations get totally paralyzed by not being able to navigate those paradoxes. By definition, a paradox is something that is apparently in contradiction but may not be. And when you go after cost vs. quality, the CEO really needs to help the organization to navigate to see how they can achieve both.

How to reach: I-trax Inc., www.i-trax.com