Leading 3,200 employees in the ever-changing diagnostics industry

“One of the best attributes that a leader can develop is the ability to choose the right person for the right job at the right time,” says Dave Dexter, CEO of Sonora Quest Laboratories.

With 16 years as the leader of a company with over 3,200 employees, Dave Dexter’s advice on leadership and building a high performance team is some of the best in the business. In this exclusive Slone Partners interview, he discusses the importance of work-life balance, how to communicate your company culture at all levels, and why perspective is the key to making decisions in a constantly changing healthcare space.

Slone Partners: There are over 3,200 employees at Sonora Quest Laboratories and Laboratory Sciences of Arizona. With a company that large, how do you motivate and lead at every level?

Dave Dexter: It’s all about values, focus, and alignment. It starts every August with the off site development of the strategic plan by our Senior Leadership Team, which culminates in a draft business plan, The RoadMap. This plan goes to our Leadership Team (which are the 250 leaders across our integrated laboratory network) for their review and input. It comes back to the SLT for review/approval, before it is provided to our board of directors for review/approval. The business plan must state what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to measure outcomes, because you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

The SLT then presents The RoadMap to our Leadership Team off site to prepare them to present the business plan to their employees. Every employee receives the business plan as part of our waterfall communications. We also have a Share the Vision team of high performing employees that develop 5-6 objectives that align directly with The RoadMap and provide financial incentives for achievement of objectives. The Share the Vision team presents their incentive plan directly to the board of directors for review/approval.

At this point, we now have clear deliverables, focus, and metrics in place to align the entire organization from the board to senior leadership team to leadership team to employees; in effect, everyone is rowing on an oar to drive the success of the company. This is how you drive a values based high performance culture.

Slone Partners: Over the past 16 years you have been renowned as a first class leader. What is your recipe to keep your team members productive, motivated, and focused on their professional development?

Dave Dexter: One of the best attributes that a leader can develop is the ability to choose the right person for the right job at the right time. I surround myself with very smart high performance leaders, and I meld them into a high performance team, because I believe that the collective sum performance of the team is much stronger than the individual talents and performance. That starts with living our company values: quality, integrity, collaboration, accountability, and compassion. That’s not hype with me. That’s a clear expectation because our values guide our decisions, behaviors, and actions in the workplace, and externally, they directly determine and define our reputation as a company.

I give every member of our senior team clear expectations and the resources to do their jobs. I emphasize the importance of working as a team and constructive dissent to arrive at decisions, and then I get the hell out of their way. Their time is their own, and I expect them to use it wisely because I want them to have work/life balance and most of all, perspective. You can’t solve complex problems without perspective. My management philosophy is simple, “It’s not how many hits you get; it’s how many runs you score.” It’s all about focus to achieve the desired results. You’d be amazed at how this level of empowerment energizes our senior team, and just as important, it actually makes it fun.

I also require every SLT member and myself to lead a major charitable event and/or participate on a charitable board because it’s important to give back to the communities in which we work and live. It’s the right thing to do, it’s an essential part of our executive development, and it supports our company reputation.

Slone Partners: Is the constantly changing diagnostics testing market stimulating for you as a leader?

Dave Dexter: Absolutely! I often tell our leadership that any competent manager can manage in business per usual, but true leadership is required when confronted with massive healthcare industry change that is truly transformational, even disruptive. This is your golden opportunity as a leader to embrace change and innovation, and to collaboratively seek solutions that lead our company to success in the new era of healthcare reform. This is an exciting time with countless challenges, but I know that transformational change also creates new business opportunities; companies that are innovative and agile with strong change management leaders will seize the moment to drive future success.

Slone Partners: It is well known in the industry that you are passionate about your work at Sonora Quest. Outside of your professional sphere, what feeds your passion?

Dave Dexter: I love the outdoors, especially fishing, hunting, and golf. I preach work/life balance to my team, but my wife, Ruth, would be first to say that my passion for work and life are often inseparable. At this point in my career and life, I want to make a difference for others, and I believe that I can. Whether it’s supporting charitable organizations, mentoring other CEO’s (I currently mentor two), or guiding our grandkids, it’s important to make a difference for others.

Slone Partners: If you could give professional advice to your 30-year-old self, what would it be?

Dave Dexter: Early in my career, I wasn’t a good listener. Fortunately, my CEO at the time pulled me aside and told me that even though I was right most of the time, I would never succeed as a leader if I didn’t take the time to listen to others and dissenting points of view. That was a pearl of wisdom for me. What he didn’t give me was perspective; I had to learn the importance of perspective through acquisitions, mergers, and integrations, which was career survival under constant fire. I learned quickly that to succeed where others fail, you need to put complex problems into perspective; otherwise, it can eat you alive with stress. I’ve led a number of business turnarounds in my career, and I can tell you first hand, they’re not for the faint of heart. But, if you have everything in perspective, you can attain an inner calm and confidence to lead others.

What can we expect from Sonora Quest in the future?

Dave Dexter: We’re not just a diagnostic testing company; we’re an information company. We realize that our data can change the way care providers manage population health. There are no secrets in the lab industry or healthcare, for that matter. Success is all about the people, culture, focus, and execution to obtain superior results. In the future, however, we must augment our value proposition with data analytics to support chronic disease management and population health, which we are doing right now. Data analytics must be actionable, which means providing intuitive real time data analytic visualizations that care coordinators can use to manage population health effectively. Today, we have patient centric information systems that support population health and data analytics, which has positioned us for success in the changing healthcare world. We now serve the entire continuum of healthcare including inpatient (inclusive of academic and research), outpatient, outreach, and direct to consumer testing. We intend to use it as a competitive advantage.

About Dave Dexter

David A. Dexter is the president and chief executive officer of Sonora Quest Laboratories, a joint venture between Banner Health and Quest Diagnostics, part of the nation’s largest integrated laboratory system with approximately 3,000 employees serving more than 23,000 patients every day throughout Arizona. He assumed the role in December 1999.

As CEO, Dexter leads an executive leadership team focused on Sonora Quest Laboratories’ vision to be recognized as the trusted leader in diagnostic testing and information service. Under his leadership,
Sonora Quest Laboratories has supported the needs of the entire healthcare community by serving as the market share leader in clinical laboratory testing in Arizona, performing more than 57 million diagnostic tests per year.

Dexter has over 16 years of leadership experience. As a Certified Six Sigma Green Belt and an active member of the community, he is the recipient of a number of industry and corporate leadership awards:

  • 2008 Arizona Corporate Excellence Awards, CEO of the Year
  • 2009 Phoenix Business Journal, 25 Most Admired CEOs and top Level Executives
  • 2014 G2 Intelligence, Public Service National Leadership Award for Business Innovation and Creativity
  • 2015 Southwest Alliance for Excellence, 2015 Leadership Award

Outside of Sonora Quest Laboratories, Dexter serves on the board for various health and business institutions, including: the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arizona Diabetes Coalition, Arizona Health-e Connection, Health Information Network of Arizona, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the National Leadership Council for eHealth Initiative.

In Slone Partners’ newsletter, we interview thought leaders from top companies to provide expert advice to leaders in the diagnostics, clinical trials, contract research, healthcare information technology, life science tools, and laboratory testing industries. Subscribe on our Newsletters page.