CHARLES BROWN, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF LIFELABS - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
Charles Brown, President and CEO of LifeLabs Medical Laboratory has been selected by the Judges of World Biz Magazine's Annual Awards to be a recipient of the Top 100 CEOs in Innovation Award 2022. This selection follows a stringent process that evaluated over 40,000 nominees to select the exclusive list of 100 winners. Charles Brown will appear in the Top 10 of the 100 winners.
Charles Brown is President and CEO of LifeLabs Medical Laboratory, a leading Canadian-owned company that has been serving the healthcare needs of Canadians for more than 50 years. Each year LifeLabs performs approximately 120 million laboratory tests to help diagnose, treat, monitor and prevent diseases for millions of Canadians.
Charles is committed to the optimization of service delivery to provide better outcomes for customers, patients, medical professionals and the broader healthcare system. Since joining LifeLabs in 2018, he has worked to evolve LifeLabs into a commercially driven organization that brings customer-centred value to market. By showcasing the possibility of delivering value-based outcomes, Charles empowers his employees to make a difference and facilitate innovative change. During COVID-19, Charles’ leadership empowered the team to quickly pivot and adapt to respond to the pandemic by providing essential COVID-19 testing, while maintaining full operation of lab testing and diagnostic work.
Charles was named one of the Top 25 Biotechnology CEOs by the Healthcare Technology Report in 2021 and 2022. Charles was also nominated in 2022 by an external research team to receive the prestigious ‘Top Industry Leader’ award from Life Sciences Voice, being recognized amongst a list of distinguished leaders from BioPharma, BioTech, and related sectors.
"Leadership is about selflessness. It’s not about you. As the President and CEO, my role is to support my leadership team and keep things moving along by removing barriers and getting out of the way. It is important to trust your team and their expertise because being a leader is not about knowing everything and doing it all on your own; it is about working together and helping one another. It’s especially rewarding seeing employees succeed after giving them the space and support they need to succeed."
Tell us about your leadership style.
CB - Leadership is about selflessness. It’s not about you. As the President and CEO, my role is to support my leadership team and keep things moving along by removing barriers and getting out of the way. It is important to trust your team and their expertise because being a leader is not about knowing everything and doing it all on your own; it is about working together and helping one another. It’s especially rewarding seeing employees succeed after giving them the space and support they need to succeed.
From my years of experience in a leadership role, I learned that humble people are great listeners and being a leader requires a lot of listening. A humble leader is also more approachable and builds authentic relationships easily based on trust, as result.
You have overseen LifeLabs’ evolution into a “commercially driven organization that brings customer-centred value to market” - what are the origins of your vision of customer-centricity?
CB - From an early age, I realized that if you provide the experience your customers want, they respond to you better. Most of my career was involved in technology and retail industries, which has helped me fuel my curiosity and pursuit of prioritizing the customer. This is an essential element in the healthcare industry. More than ever, advancements in technology are tied to the customer experience. At LifeLabs, we are looking at all aspects of our business to improve on this and we are modernizing our own information technology to ensure we have the capacity to grow and safeguard our customers’ data.
"Each year, LifeLabs perform approximately 120 million laboratory tests to help diagnose, treat, monitor and prevent diseases for Canadians. The customer is as the centre of our operations and the driving force behind our pursuit of excellence. We are committed to empowering healthier lives of Canadians."
LifeLabs is a proudly 100% Canadian-owned company that has been serving the healthcare needs of Canadians for more than 50 years. Share some insight into this special role that LifeLabs plays in Canadian healthcare.
CB - LifeLabs started off as a small lab in BC in the 1950s and a lab in ON in the 1960s by a group of entrepreneurs from IBM with a vision of providing business and systems support to healthcare professionals. Fifty years later, we have now grown to be Canada’s largest lab provider. Each year, LifeLabs perform approximately 120 million laboratory tests to help diagnose, treat, monitor and prevent diseases for Canadians.
The customer is as the centre of our operations and the driving force behind our pursuit of excellence. We are committed to empowering healthier lives of Canadians. Behind every lab requisition, sample being tested and business decision to invest in technology, there is an individual and their family counting on us. They motivate us every day to deliver that high quality, accurate service our customers depend on each day that also fuels our culture of continuous improvement so we can achieve excellence.
Share with us some of LifeLabs’ recent investments in advanced technologies for healthcare.
CB - Innovation is imperative during these unprecedented times to adapt to the ever-changing healthcare needs of Canadians. LifeLabs is constantly seeking opportunities to reconsider past traditions and to develop creative approaches to meet and exceed the requirements of our new reality. Some areas that we have evolved include an electronic ordering system for lab testing to replace requisitions and improving our customer portal so customers access their test results easier and make informed decisions to guide their healthcare journey.
During the pandemic, we implemented “FlyClear”, a pre-departure and on-arrival testing service to support airlines and countries that requires proof of COVID-19 clearance, and “WorkClear”, a customized screening and consulting program designed to help organizations in Canada manage and reduce the risk of a COVID-19 transmission within the workplace.
Partnerships with the community has helped us improve the customer experience as well. We recently partnered with the Stellat’en First Nation, Village of Fraser Lake, the First Nations Health Authority (FHNA), the Rural Coordination Centre of BC (RCCbc), University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) to investigate how drone technology can be used to improve healthcare for rural and remote First Nations communities. New technologies such as drones can present opportunities to deliver health services closer to home, improving accessibility to certain medical support for people in remote and rural communities.
What are some of the valuable lessons you have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic?
CB - The past two years of the pandemic have given us many lessons that we can leverage into the future. We used this tactic during the SARS outbreak in 2003, which prompted us to create a pandemic plan. Because of this reflection, we were able to immediately respond to COVID-19 when it was officially declared a pandemic. We ensured our frontline employees had full personal protection equipment at the start and procured a good level of inventory of PPE stock.
The pandemic truly tested our organization and team’s resilience and agility. We learned to adapt to a constant evolving situation, while being customer focused. We had to be more innovative and come up with new processes and technology advancement to adapt to the situation. Our employees continued to provide quality care to customers despite managing their own struggles of the pandemic.
Having visible leadership during a crisis proved to be vital. We prioritized communication, and at times over-communicated, to our staff ensuring they were aware of updates, goals, and the direction the organization was headed. On a personal level, I believe showing appreciation is essential. I have personally reached out and thanked employees prior to COVID-19 but showing my appreciation during times of uncertainty was even more important.
"LifeLabs’ core mission is to be a valued healthcare partner for Canadians, providing reliable service and trusted results. We are focused on empowering the healthier version of the lives of Canadians. We want to make diagnostic insights accessible, so our customers are empowered to make choices to live their best lives."
“Caring” is highlighted as one of LifeLabs’ core values. Tell us how this is incorporated in your business.
CB - LifeLabs’ core mission is to be a valued healthcare partner for Canadians, providing reliable service and trusted results. We are focused on empowering the healthier version of the lives of Canadians. We want to make diagnostic insights accessible, so our customers are empowered to make choices to live their best lives.
Internally as an organization, we encourage our employees to live by the value of “caring” by supporting incredible organizations in communities across Canada. Our Employee Giving Program supports any employee who donates, fundraises, or volunteers for a Canadian Registered Charity or Non-Profit Organization. LifeLabs matches up to $200 a year per employee.
We also focus our impact on sustainability. With the rising concerns of climate change, we launched a new ozone water treatment system for labs in BC to help keep the environment clean. The water treatment system reduces the impact of our operations by removing contamination from wastewater generated in our labs before it re-enters the public waterworks
How have you created an equitable and inclusive environment for your team at LifeLabs?
CB - Creating an equitable and inclusive environment where our employees feel safe and empowered to bring their whole selves to work is pivotal to our culture, how we serve our communities, and how we show up as leaders. In 2020, we initiated our Stronger Together @ LifeLabs diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program. It’s grounded in our vision of ensuring all individuals – no matter their race, gender, beliefs, preferences, age, abilities, and etc. – feel accepted, respected, and valued at LifeLabs. Our team members responded with passion and commitment. We now have a DEI Council and Employee Resource Groups working to drive education, awareness and inclusive practices. We know that this is a journey and we are committed to learning, listening and creating a safe space for discussions so that we can all grow and respond in a meaningful and impactful way.
"Now more than ever, the success of a business depends on the combination of technology and customer experience. It is crucial for the healthcare industry to recognize this and put customers at the heart of everything they do. This momentum of change will hopefully continue to push innovation and technology forward for healthcare."
What are some of the biggest challenges your industry is facing?
CB - Historically, healthcare faces numerous regulatory obstacles and barriers. Oddly enough, COVID-19 gave us a chance to take on new challenges and think outside of the box. The pandemic challenged our mindset to be more agile and encouraged more collaboration internally within our organization and externally with the healthcare industry and other industries in the world. Now more than ever, the success of a business depends on the combination of technology and customer experience. It is crucial for the healthcare industry to recognize this and put customers at the heart of everything they do. This momentum of change will hopefully continue to push innovation and technology forward for healthcare.
LifeLabs has received many awards recently, including - Top 25 Biotech CEOs” for the second consecutive year, Top 100 of Canada’s Best Employers of 2022 by Forbes, and “Top Industry Leader” award from Life Sciences Voice. What do these recognitions mean to you?
CB - It has been an such an honour to be recognized. It has been a great motivator to see the hard work of our team be appreciated by our industry and the community. Our team shows up every day embodying our values, while continuously supporting our customers and the healthcare community. These awards are testaments to their contribution and resiliency in responding to so much uncertainty these past two years. It such a privilege to work with everyone at LifeLabs and I look forward to what we will achieve together in the future.
LifeLabs is Canada’s leading provider of laboratory diagnostic information and digital health connectivity systems, enabling patients and health care practitioners to diagnose, treat, monitor, and prevent disease. We support 20 million patient visits annually and conduct over 100 million laboratory tests through leading edge technologies and our 6,000 talented and dedicated employees. We are a committed innovator in supporting Canadians to live healthier lives, operating Canada’s first commercial genetics lab, and the country’s largest online patient portal, with more than 5 million Canadians receiving their results online. LifeLabs is 100% Canadian owned by OMERS Infrastructure, the infrastructure investment manager of one of Canada’s largest defined benefit pension plans.
Learn more at lifelabs.com