A life lived with purpose
By Cami Boehme
Ron Labrum, Photo by David Joel
For Ron Labrum, recipient of this year's Distinguished Executive Alumnus Award, the ultimate measuring stick of his life will not be his academic pursuits, his business success in multiple organizations or even recognition such as this latest honor. Mr. Labrum's motivation and drive are a little closer to home.
“My job is what I do, it’s not who I am,” he said. Referring to his wife, four sons and one daughter, he added, “If they look at what I do, and still like their husband and dad, I’ve done a good job.”
With the career and influence Mr. Labrum has had since graduating from USU in business administration in 1982, it’s no wonder he is in good standing with his family. He is certainly well respected and admired among those he has worked closely with in his 28-year career in the medical device and healthcare industry.
“Ron is well known in the healthcare community,” said Brik Eyre (’88, finance) who has known Mr. Labrum as a colleague and employee for 20 years. “He’s very well respected and he’s very knowledgeable. Besides that, he’s just a great individual to work with.”
Mr. Labrum attributes both his personal achievement and the success of the organizations he has led to the relationships he built during his career, first with mentors who helped him early on, and now with his employees, customers, suppliers and colleagues.
“You have to create an environment where people feel they are trusted and wanted,” he said. “That’s a motivator for them to do bigger and better things. This comes down to relationships and communication.”
Mr. Eyre, currently the general manager of BioPharma Solutions, a business unit of Baxter Healthcare, said he remembers a time early in his career when he challenged Mr. Labrum regarding a business decision during a meeting. He later worried about what the response would be to his passionate expression of disagreement, wondering if he had damaged his career. Instead, Mr. Labrum told him “the day you stop challenging me is the day I don’t need you anymore.”
“Ron sets very high expectations, but he is always very, very fair,” Mr. Eyre said. “He hires people that he trusts, communicates well, makes sure you understand what’s expected and then allows you to be successful while giving you enough leeway to grow and develop.”
Mr. Labrum helps the people he works with focus on who they are serving, not just the product they are creating. He said this gives greater meaning to everyone’s work.
“We make sure people understand where we’re headed and make sure they understand how they can contribute to that success. You’re working for somebody other than yourself,” he said. “That motivates people.”
Mr. Labrum is now president and chief executive officer of Fenwal, Inc., a global leader in products and technologies that support and improve blood collection and transfusion medicine. He was previously chairman and chief executive officer of Cardinal Health’s $70 billion Healthcare Supply Chain Services segment.
Photo by David Joel
In a very technical industry that involves dealing with products that help save lives, Mr. Labrum emphasizes the importance of understanding and respecting every individual, organization and resource needed to create value. Integrating all the moving parts of a complex product, including the end user, the blood donor, the hospital, regulatory control, science and direct and indirect market influences and others, is something he finds very challenging at times but ultimately rewarding and enjoyable.
“There is vibrancy in our business where you really can see how a product impacts a patient,” he said. “Ultimately, the patient might be you, or your family, so there’s a very personal aspect of what we do in healthcare that I have always been grateful for in my career.”
And how does he deal with the challenges of a complex and ever changing industry?
“You know, it’s all about focus,” he said. “You have to understand markets, understand your customer, and then take whatever resources are available and combine them in a way that can’t be touched.”
Success involves working collaboratively and interdependently with all aspects of his organization, both internally and externally, a concept he has learned from well-known author and Huntsman School Professor Stephen R. Covey.
Today, Mr. Labrum enjoys mentoring employees, recruiting new talent and helping others find their own unique way to lead. This is only appropriate, since he says his own career path has been helped through many mentors who taught him the value and need for hard work. His mentors taught him three things he has found invaluable in his career and continues to practice today.
1) KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER
“Develop meaningful relationships. Understand that they allow you to work. You must become an essential resouce they trust.”
2) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH REALLY GOOD PEOPLE
“I’ve heard a lot of people say that if you subordinate your ego too much, you get run over. In reality, you have to step aside and let others lead.”
3) GIVE FEEDBACK EARLY AND OFTEN
With his mentors: “Sometimes feedback was good and sometimes it was not, but communication was always open and helped me grow.”
Mr. Labrum encourages students to fully engage with their academic experience and get involved outside the classroom.
Photo by David Joel
“It’s not just about what you’re learning, it’s about how you interact with people, the questions you ask and how you go about practicing principles of trust and leadership,” he said. “It’s about what you do as an individual or an organization to stay in the game longer than any of your competition.”
Mr. Labrum’s interaction with individuals has helped him fill a need in the market, beginning with his first job while still in college for American Hospital Supply Company, taking him through leadership positions with Baxter Healthcare, Allegiance Corporation and and Cardinal Health. In addition to his position at Fenwal, Mr. Labrum is on the board of trustees for the National Blood Foundation, is a director of BCU , an Illinois-based national credit union; is a director of PDS Biotechnology, a drug-development company and serves on the executive board of the Northeast Illinois Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
“Ron is an excellent choice for this honor. He exemplifies a leader who lives and works with a sense of purpose,” Dean Douglas D. Anderson said. “Ron has had an extraordinary career in which he has enriched lives, mentored many people and created value in every sense of the word. His unwavering dedication to family, deeply rooted principles, service and hard work has been a foundation for his professional life. He is an excellent model for Huntsman students.”
Mr. Labrum said he is honored to receive the Distinguished Executive Alumnus Award and is humbled by the recognition.
“There’s nothing magic about what I do,” he said. “I’ve had some wonderful mentors. They were all great people who gave me numerous opportunities to grow. As I’ve been given greater responsibility throughout my career, I’ve tried to return this favor. Throw in a little luck, a wonderful family and here I am.”