During his decade at the helm of one the nations largest healthcare group-purchasing organizations, Premier President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Norling, 62, has been a sometimes controversial figure who will leave an indelible mark on the business of healthcare, said industry professionals responding to last weeks announcement that Norling will step down from his post in June 2009.
I think hes going to be thoroughly missed, and that he played a great role in healthcare purchasing and advancing issues like value-based purchasing and patient safety, said Curtis Rooney, president of the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association, a Washington-based trade group.
Norlings announced retirement has been a while in the making and will allow the Charlotte, N.C.-based GPO, which generated roughly $30.1 billion in purchasing volume in 2007, a significant window of time to find a replacement, said Premier officials in a news release. The company has hired an executive search firm, but is also considering at least one current Premier executive for the leadership position, Norling said in an interview. Theres an internal candidate, Susan DeVore, whom the board has identified.
DeVore, 49, is the companys chief operating officer.
In another GPO management transition announced last week, Irving, Texas-based Novation appointed Jody Hatcher, formerly the companys senior vice president, as interim president. (See story, below.)
Norling became president and CEO of Premier in 1998, one year after joining the company as chief operating officer. His contemporaries describe him as a devoted healthcare professional whose previous experience as a hospital executivehe was president and CEO of Minneapolis Fairview Hospital and Healthcare System prior to joining Premiergave him significant insight into hospitals purchasing needs. He has championed those needs on Capitol Hill, industry professionals say.
I think he helped healthcare policy officials and vendors understand that group purchasing had to be understood through the scope of patient safety and quality, said Lee Perlman, president of GNYHA Ventures, the GPO for the Greater New York Hospital Association and a regional group-purchasing affiliate of Premier.
Todd Ebert, president and CEO of St. Louis-based GPO Amerinet, said that he has been impressed by Norlings collaborative management style. He was instrumental in working with other industry executives to create a code of conduct, and he has empowered his organization to run the business and work towards strategic goals.
But Norlings career has not been without controversy.
In 2002, Premier and its competitor Novation were targets of a congressional investigation into healthcare group-purchasing practices. The two companies GPO divisions were accused of locking out smaller healthcare-products vendors by awarding sole-source contracts to large vendors who, in some cases, offered personal enticements to GPO officials. Norling, in particular, was criticized for holding on to stock options in the pharmacy benefits management company Express Scripts after going to work for Premier.
Express Scripts was one of Premiers contracted vendors. Norling received the options while a board member for Express Scriptsa position he resigned before becoming a Premier executive. According to news reports, he earned nearly $4 million on the sale of those options in 2001.
But Mark McKenna, who was president and CEO of Novation at the time of the 2002 congressional investigation, said despite the controversy, Norling played a pivotal role in ushering in greater transparency into group-purchasing practices.
Rick in particular stepped up and took a leadership role in creating the Healthcare Group Purchasing Industry Initiative, which was set up to focus on business practices and create greater transparency, McKenna said.
Rooney agreed, saying Norling was one of the first purchasing industry executives to push for a group-purchasing code of conduct.
Norling said he sees a bright future for Premier. He said that the company is well-positioned for overseas growth through partnerships like its recently launched pay-for-performance demonstration project with the U.K.s National Health Service.