Bellwether League, Inc.Hall of Fame for Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership inducts 10 as it celebrates a decade of service
Latest Future Famers, top Supply Chain departments, retiring Board members also recognized

SCHAUMBURG, IL (November 11, 2017) – Bellwether League Inc. inducted 10 healthcare supply chain industry innovators, leaders and pioneers into the Bellwether Class of 2017 for their noteworthy contributions and performance. They joined 86 honorees inducted since Bellwether League’s founding 10 years ago.

Bellwether League inducted the newest class on Monday, October 16, during its 10th Annual Bellwether Induction Dinner Event at The Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago-Downtown Magnificent Mile, and then closed the evening at the adjacent Bellwether Meeting House & Eatery.

The group represented all five of Bellwether League’s targeted industry segments – provider supply chain management, supplier, group purchasing organization, consultant and education and media – with the majority spanning two to three of those segments throughout their careers, along with one from the government sector.

The Bellwether Class of 2017 inductees included Sara Bird, James R. Francis, Jamie C. Kowalski, Hiram M. Lake, James W. Oliver, Kristine S. Russell, Dudley Sisak, Craig R. Smith, William V.S. Thorne and Dwight Winstead.

Bellwether League also honored its Future Famers Class of 2017 and the first two organizational honorees of the “Dean S. Ammer Award for Supply Chain Excellence.”

Bellwether League Chairman Nick Gaich defined Bellwethers as professionals who “consistently inspire others to greater heights, challenge the status quo on behalf of advancing care, conceive, and more importantly, engage in innovative healthcare practices. It’s really a matter of identifying individuals who throughout their career purposefully matched their passion to serve others with an unwavering intention to succeed.”

Gaich noted that the Bellwether Class of 2017, inspired by the 86 Bellwethers who preceded them, “not only left an indelible footprint of supply chain contributions, but they also continue to inspire and motivate us all to advance our thinking and to test our resolve to offer nothing less than the best of who we are as supply chain professionals.”

Gaich concluded his opening remarks by committing Bellwether League to the pursuit of honoring supply chain excellence in healthcare and pledging to recognize professionals that demonstrate greatness borne from “passion aligned with purpose, fueled by an unwavering sense of direction and commitment.”

Each of the Bellwether Class of 2017 honorees and their designees expressed appreciation and humility for being recognized, thanking colleagues, peers, team members and family for their ongoing encouragement and support throughout their careers. To read what they said, visit the Media page on BellwetherLeague.org.

Bellwether Class of 2017

Bellwether Class of 2017

Caption: Standing (left to right):Anand Joshi, M.D., for William V.S. Thorne (1865-1920), James W. Oliver, Jamie C. Kowalski, Dwight Winstead, Sara Bird, James R. Francis and Kristine S. Russell. Not pictured: Hiram M. Lake (1925-2016), Craig Smith and William V.S. Thorne (1865-1920).


Sara "Sally" Bird recalled an extensive logistical learning experience in helping to support troops with medical materiel during the first Gulf War when she served as Deputy Director of the Department of Defense’s Medical Supply Chain. During that time she oversaw the “meticulous purchase and storage” of $650 million in medical stocks stored at six locations throughout the United States, Europe and Korea.

“We thought we had adequately planned for the worst, and we thought we were ready for any eventuality. Like so many good military plans, ours did not survive its first encounter with reality,” Bird shared.

With the hundreds of thousands troops deployed to the region the medical orders “began to cascade in through an endless array of ordering channels,” she said. “Within hours we knew we had a problem. The military clinicians were not ordering the stock that we had so carefully positioned.” During the next six months, Bird’s team worked day and night to purchase and deliver 92 percent of the demands received.

“All of our diligent planning and investment in static stocks covered only 8 percent of the orders,” she lamented. “Our static stocks were a monument to logistics stupidity. And I was one of the prominent and proud owners of that monument.”

After the war, a small Department of Defense team explored ways to revamp its logistical operations, opting to migrate to a commercial sector distribution model involving frequent low-unit-of-measure deliveries and IT-driven logistics systems. Bird spent much of the 1990s spearheading the DoD’s medical supply transition to a commercial “just-in-time” distribution system using prime vendors from the traditional depot storage model they historically managed.

The DoD worked with prime vendors “to support the U.S. warfighter every day and in every crisis. What we proved is that we could harness the logistics prowess of the U.S. commercial sector to support the seemingly unique needs of the Department of Defense and provide logistics response faster, better and way cheaper,” Bird said.

During the next five years, delivery response time plunged to the next day from 30 days in the U.S., and to 5 days from 60 days overseas, according to Bird. The DoD’s investment in static stock dropped to less than $100 million from $650 million of medical items they were unable to find in the commercial sector. Through electronic commerce, the DoD’s medical supply chain grew to $7 billion in sales in 2016 from $1 million in 1992, she continued. The DoD cut its government workforce in half but maintained average delivery times of one day, maintaining a consistent customer accommodation rate that exceeds 99 percent and the lowest distribution fees of the entire medical industry, all of which helped shape the medical supply chain into “the DoD poster child of continuous process improvement” that earned government and industry innovations awards and the Office of Management and Budget declaring the department the “best in class” across the federal sector, Bird said.

“In the logistics business, you’re either running at the front of the pack or you’re following hopelessly behind,” she said. “If you’re at the front, you can see the future of ahead of you and make adjustments. If you’re running behind, your view never changes. All you will ever see is the butt end of those pulling ahead of you.”

Induction Ceremony: Sara "Sally" Bird

James R. Francis, Chair, Supply Chain Division, Mayo Clinic, drew laughter from the audience when he told them his wife burst into tears when he shared the news of his October induction into the Hall of Fame. “I thought that was pretty sweet that she was touched by this,” Francis said. “I found out those were not tears of joy and celebration. She was actually concerned that I was going to retire and be home full-time.” After assuring her he had no intention of retiring, Francis said she expressed excitement at the honor and relief.

Francis reflected on his 33-year career to date, the majority of those years spent leading complex supply chain organizations for such providers as Christian Health Services, BJC HealthCare and Mayo Clinic.

“I learned a long time ago that healthcare takes a community, and you are that community,” he said to his colleagues among the provider, supplier, group purchasing and consultant industry segments, all of whom helped him and mentored him along the way. He singled out Fred Brown, President and CEO of Christian Health Services who, as part of his mentoring strategy, invited Francis, fresh out of graduate school, to attend anything Brown attended. From Brown, Francis said he learned about the business of healthcare and leadership.

Brown later became President and CEO of BJC HealthCare, a St. Louis-based integrated delivery network that merged the Barnes, Jewish and Christian Health organizations. In 1993, Brown invited Francis to lead BJC’s material services organization, which “despite my initial reluctance, turned out to be a pretty good gig,” Francis quipped.

While at BJC, Francis met with consultant Tom Hughes (Bellwether Class of 2012), who led the Strategic Marketplace Initiative (SMI), and taught him about strategic supply chain operations as well as piqued his interest in filling the open Supply Chain executive office at Mayo Clinic. Francis admitted that Hughes still provides him with “wickedly good advice, a fair share of idea-ers (sic), counsel and encouragement and an occasional kick in the pants that only Tom can deliver in his gentle Bostonian way.”

Francis also hailed Mayo Clinic’s Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Bolton and CFO Kedrick Adkins for allowing him “the independence to run the supply chain in the manner that I deemed best for the organization,” as well as his colleagues in the Supply Chain Division for working together to support Mayo Clinic’s success. He singled out Mary Larson, his administrative assistant for 17 years, “who has kept our ship – and me – running smoothly,” to a wave of applause.

Through his mentoring, he expressed faith in the next generation of supply chain professionals, characterizing them as “educated and well-informed, global in their thinking and excited to take it all on.” He offered several mores as he closed: “Education is a continuous event in this industry, trust is harder to earn and easily lost and integrity is something you can never compromise.”

Induction Ceremony: James R. Francis

Veteran consultant Jamie C. Kowalski positioned his honoree status alongside, if not behind, those of his fellow honorees in the 2017 class, reflecting on a 45-year-and-counting supply chain career that spanned executive roles in hospitals, distributors, a group purchasing organization and also consulting.

Kowalski admitted he felt a bit “disoriented” standing behind the podium to accept one of Bellwether League’s beacon awards as an honoree instead of giving them to others as Co-Founder, Founding Chairman, and lifetime Board Member of Bellwether League. “It never occurred to me that someday, any day, ever, I would be on the other end of that transaction,” he insisted.

He thanked a “plethora” of people for his career, starting with his late parents who shaped his judgment and work ethic, his wife Mary “who supported me from Day 1 of my career, virtually single-handedly raised our three sons and ran our household since I began the traveling phase of my career a few weeks after our oldest son was born.” He joked that he would return from his business trips still wearing his name tags so that his sons knew who was coming through the door. He also thanked his sons and their wives for their influence and support.

Kowalski traced his interest in supply chain and foundational experience to his childhood morning paper route and those companies that gave him part-time jobs while he attended school. Those jobs involved stocking shelves in pharmacies, picking orders in a dairy plant warehouse and driving their trucks to retail outlets.

After college he joined a local hospital as a “financial counselor,” which he described as a bill collector, but hospital executives were planning for a replacement facility and called for a new concept at that time called “materials management” to be integrated into facility design and operations. Kowalski migrated to that position and remained in supply chain ever since.

Kowalski also thanked consulting firm business partner Jim Dickow (Bellwether Class of 2013) and the staff at Kowalski-Dickow Associates for helping approximately 1,500 hospital clients during their decades together. He credited their hospital clients for giving them the opportunity to learn different things. “Every time we were at a client we learned more, and we brought that knowledge forward to the next client,” he said. The professional associations and societies and industry trade publications contributed to that ongoing education process, too, he added.

Kowalski thanked the corporations who sponsor and support supply chain education and performance initiatives, including Bellwether League, with funding, and “especially those that did so before we had anything to show them,” he noted. “They came up with it because they thought it was a good idea, and it made sense, and it was about time. Without them we would not have the strength we have today.” He further recognized the current, past and founding Board Members who volunteered much of their time to develop Bellwether League into what it is today after 10 years of service, he added.

Kowalski saluted all those who paved his career path as helping him fulfill his life and career goal to “leave the world a little bit better off than it was when I arrived.”

Induction Ceremony: Jamie C. Kowalski

Larry Lake, son of the late Hiram M. Lake, told the audience that if his father were here he would be very interested in hearing all of their stories. Lake recounted his father sharing with him his strategy for managing and saving hospital office time with visiting suppliers. He did not exhibit any photographs depicting his missions work and life in New Guinea, which would have invited lengthy conversations and taken him away from providing service to clinicians and patients.

As young children, Lake and his sister traveled with their parents to the mission field in New Guinea where they spent 8 years with 8 other families working with the natives. Their father had previously worked with such companies as IBM and General Electric as a buyer of electronic parts and liked to build and construct things carefully and thoroughly, according to Lake.

“But then he and my mom felt the call of the Lord to go to go to New Guinea to work with a culture that had been discovered only 17 years before [in 1938],” Lake said. In what was assumed to be an uninhabited section of New Guinea lived some 150,000 people who were not aware of the rest of the world, he added.

Lake shared some harrowing experiences from the mission field, one involving a “very angry” local leader recruited fellow natives to burn down the grass shack in which the Lakes lived at the end of an airstrip. As the group moved through the forest late one night, Hiram Lake was aware of rumors they were being targeted so he hatched an escape plan that involved dismantling part of the back wall of the house to give them safe passage should a fire start. If they left out the front door they likely would have met a phalanx of natives armed with spears and arrows as was their custom, Lake said.

Lake did say his father enjoyed sharing their family stories with colleagues at the hospital in which they worked, specifically regaling them with tales of cannibal feasts and pig feasts during lunch time, he indicated.

Hiram Lake might say that “confronting angry warriors who were wielding spears and negotiating with them was actually very good training for working with vendors,” his son joked in what drew much laughter from the audience. Still, he said that many of the natives had appreciated what the missionary families had brought to them.

“Dad and mom were very instrumental in teaching the written language to that culture because before we had gotten there they had never written their language down,” he said. The missionary families also translated the Bible into their language. By the time they left around 1965, a small but dedicated group of Christians continued the work, which has grown to thousands today, Lake estimated.

His father used those experiences to help him in his hospital supply chain work back in the United States and would be “very thankful” for what he learned from his colleagues in the healthcare supply chain,” Lake concluded.

Induction Ceremony:
Larry Lake for Hiram M. Lake

James W. Oliver referenced his upcoming retirement in March 2018 after 28 years at Yankee Alliance, and called his Bellwether recognition the highest honor he could ever hope to receive.

Oliver reflected on a career that started when he was a management engineering student in Boston, looking for a co-op job. Newly married, he volunteered at the Massachusetts Hospital Association where worked on a project that involved collecting data in the emergency room at Beth Israel Hospital. The assignment led to a long, productive and rewarding career in healthcare supply chain at a number of New England hospitals and purchasing groups where he met and regularly interacted with at least a dozen future Bellwethers who mentored him along the way. He called the members of that august group “industry legends.”

Oliver encouraged the audience to provide and serve as mentors “to give young people a chance and help them see the opportunities available for a career in the healthcare supply chain,” he said. “We desperately need them to continue the great work that’s being done.”

Oliver also challenged the industry to embrace a “total-cost-in-use” mindset based on using data and data analytics tools to move beyond just price to how products are utilized. “Saving a dollar on a box of gloves is great, but it really doesn’t matter if the facility uses twice as many as its peers,” he added to audience applause.

Induction Ceremony: James W. Oliver

Kristine S. Russell called her induction a wonderful honor that reflects the passion she has for healthcare supply chain operations and the important role it plays in the industry. She said that one of her primary publications, Healthcare Purchasing News, remains committed to telling success stories about processes and all the accomplishments Supply Chain contributes to finance, operations and patient care delivery.

“I do hope that on a continuing basis I can help to bring together the clinical lab market, the healthcare IT, the revenue cycle management area and all of the other silos,” Russell said. “We just can’t seem to crack the barriers to bring us all together.”  

Induction Ceremony: Kristine S. Russell

Ted Almon (Bellwether Class of 2010) accepted the beacon award for Dudley Sisak, who was traveling overseas, and called him a true leader. He said that “Dudley was deeply touched by this recognition, humbled, in fact. His first reaction was that he didn’t feel worthy of such an honor and to be part of such a group. He certainly is worthy because he’s been a pioneer and not a settler as he liked to describe himself. He’s made enormous contributions to many organizations, and I’m personally grateful for the many contributions he’s made to our company over the last 18 years.”

Sisak presided over “a period of tremendous growth, devised innovative systems that drove down the costs of our little piece of the supply chain. We worked forward in the supply chain until that last 100 yards and helped many hospitals to improve processes as well,” Almon added.

Induction Ceremony:
Ted Almon for Dudley Sisak

Craig Smith marveled at all of the Bellwethers inducted before him who served as teachers, advisers and mentors to him over the years as he progressed through his career, and expressed appreciation for customers who attended the Bellwether event.

“I’ve always been fortunate to have someone that has looked over my shoulder,” Smith said. “One has been my lovely wife Cynthia, [as well as] many people who in my career gave me an extra word of advice, steered me in a certain direction,” Smith said.

He highlighted fondly the opportunities he had in working with supply chain education programs at the University of Colorado and University of Southern California. “One of the startling thing I find about students is they’re very tied into data analytics and information, which obviously is something that is very key for our healthcare industry,” he said. “The more transparent we can be, the more information we can share, the better off we’re all going to be and the patients in the long run will be.

“One thing I’ve noticed that they seem to be lacking is the personal part of our business,” Smith continued. “As I was growing up it was always about collaboration. It was always trying to do something better for healthcare, to move things along better. If there’s something I could encourage you to do it’s to be a mentor or an adviser or a teacher to a young person coming up through supply chain. They certainly understand the data. They understand operations. But there’s still very much a people part of our business that we can help these people understand as they move up in their organizations.”

Induction Ceremony: Craig Smith

Anand Joshi, M.D., Vice President of Supply Chain and Strategic Sourcing at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, accepted the beacon award for William V.S. Thorne, who founded what would become the nation’s first group purchasing organization more than a century ago while Thorne worked as an executive at Presbyterian Hospital.

Joshi indicated how inspiring it was to learn about Thorne and his accomplishments as well as those of his fellow Bellwethers being inducted. He admitted that few most likely have heard of Thorne or knew of him so he visited with the hospital archivist to verify Thorne’s legacy. Joshi quoted from some historical texts found in the more than 200-year-old hospital’s archive that described Thorne as “‘a vigilant and original administrator. He founded the Hospital Bureau of Standards and Supplies, which materially reduced costs, and he devised a standardized accounting system of leading hospitals throughout the country.’”

Joshi further noted that the GPOs represented at the event would not exist if it hadn’t been for Thorne and what this “legend” did for the industry. “And if you think about the GL and the accounting systems used by hospitals throughout the industry, they were borne by this visionary leader from more than 100 years ago,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that the problems and challenges that we’re dealing with today are really just true for today,” he noted. “But the reality is that more than 100 years ago William Thorne was struggling with standardization and the cost of supplies."

Induction Ceremony:
Anand Joshi, MD, for William V.S. Thorne

Dwight Winstead revealed to the audience that he never kept a résumé during his 40-year career because he’d never been fired or lost a job and the successive companies who recruited him never requested he provide one. Winstead credited his wife for keeping track of his occupational progress and providing those background details to Bellwether League’s Board of Directors to use as consideration for his honoree nomination.

Winstead congratulated his Bellwether classmates and those who were inducted in previous classes, singling out the late Mark McKenna (Bellwether Class of 2010), who he hired at VHA in 1987. He also recognized the materials management professionals and nurses at VHA hospitals as “truly the heroes in the 1980s that made it all happen” amid a rapidly changing industry.

He lauded four key employers for moving him forward: He thanked Ochsner Hospital for recruiting him into healthcare supply chain management, called the VHA executive who hired him (John Doyle) “one of the most creative minds I’ve ever had the chance to work with,” credited Cardinal Health Founder and CEO Bob Walter for helping him convert to and learn the difference between percentage points (from the GPO world) and basis points (from the distributor world) as a business model, and cited CareFusion largely for exposure to technology and fluidity in mergers and acquisitions.

Winstead referenced fellow Bellwether Sara Bird’s earlier observation that “you need a precipitating event to create change.”

As an example, Winstead recalled the news of hospital chain HCA determining whether to merge with distributor American Hospital Supply, which was VHA’s sole distributor back in the mid-to-late 1980s. He recounted a dinner conversation with then VHA President Don Arnwine, who characterized the HCA-AHS deal with VHA buying product from them “is somewhat like Canada and Mexico getting together and selling tacos to the United States.”

In response, VHA created its own “virtual” distribution arm in the form of VHA Supply Co., which subcontracted service to a number of regional distributors and helped usher in an era of growth among medical/surgical supply distributors as well as an increased emphasis on committed purchasing contracts and private labeling.

“We had much skepticism as to whether the models would work or not,” but [publisher] Bill McKnight (Bellwether Class of 2009) wrote an editorial calling the move  a “bold initiative,” crediting VHA for having the “audacity to get into the distribution business through a virtual model,” but closed his prose on a cautiously optimistic note.

“If you look at what all of you are doing in healthcare and the supply chain now,” Winstead said, “it’s so much better than it was when I came up through the business.”

Induction Ceremony: Dwight Winstead

Future Famers honored

Future Famers Class of 2017

Standing (left to right): Mark Growcott, Ph.D., Karen Kresnik, R.N., and Ben Cahoy. Not pictured: Derek Havens and Christy Crestin.

Bellwether League also honored its 2017 class of Future Famers for supply chain professionals who demonstrate innovative achievements early in their careers that contribute to service excellence.

The current class of Future Famers included:

Ammer Award honorees recognized

Gaich explained that the Dean S. Ammer Award for Supply Chain Excellence recognizes the supply chain operations of healthcare provider organizations seeking to assess their operational performance. Organizations applying for Ammer Award recognition complete an extensive survey, and if they qualify for the top-tier Ammer Level 4 or 5 status then they undergo a comprehensive on-site consultative assessment, interview and validation of their submitted application by selected members of Bellwether League’s Board of Directors. These third-party industry survey teams provide expert observations and recommendations in eight major categories, ranging from leadership, culture and vision to strategic planning and operational execution, according to Gaich.

Supply Chain executives from Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, LA, received their 2016 award for achieving Ammer Level 4 status, and Supply Chain executives from Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, received their 2017 award for achieving Ammer Level 5 status, which represents the highest level in the category.

Bellwether League named the award after its first honoree in the Bellwether Class of 2008 as a tribute to his enduring contributions to the educator’s healthcare supply chain development.

Looking to 2018

Bellwether League also marked the retirement of two Board members, Michael Louviere and John W. Strong. Louviere, (Bellwether Class of 2010), System Vice President, Supply Chain, Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, LA, served for six years on the Board, including four years as chairman of the Sponsorship committee. Strong, (Bellwether Class of 2011),Principal, John Strong LLC, Fontana, WI, also served for six years on the Board, including two years as chairman of the Education committee.

About Bellwether League

Bellwether League’s Board of Directors, a veteran group of industry advocates, selects deceased, retired and currently active professionals with a minimum of 25 years of exemplary service and leadership performance in supply chain operations that meet its criteria to be publicly recognized. Honorees demonstrate their qualifications by advancing the profession through work experience and performance and active participation in professional organizations and their communities. Future Famers represent supply chain professionals early in their healthcare careers who do not yet qualify for Bellwether consideration, but have contributed to the healthcare supply chain profession in a meaningful way.

To date, Bellwether League has honored 96 innovators, leaders and pioneers in healthcare supply chain management in five distinct categories: Education & Media, Supply Chain Management, Group Purchasing, Supplier and Consulting Services. Bellwether League also has recognized 17 Future Famers to date.

Launched in late July 2007 by a group of influential veterans in the healthcare supply chain industry, Bellwether League is a 501(c) (6) not-for-profit corporation that identifies and honors men and women who have demonstrated significant leadership in, influence on and contributions to the supply chain from healthcare providers, healthcare product manufacturers and distributors, group purchasing organizations, consulting firms, educational institutions and media outlets.

Bellwether League currently is funded by four Founding/Platinum Sponsors – Halyard Health, Owens & Minor, Premier Purchasing Partners and Vizient – and a host of additional sponsors.

The 2017-2018 Board of Directors of Bellwether League Inc. includes a veteran group of industry advocates:

The 2016-2017 Board of Directors of Bellwether League Inc. includes a veteran group of industry advocates:

For more information on how to become a sustaining or corporate sponsor or to nominate Honoree and Future Famer candidates visit BellwetherLeague.org.

Pictures of the Bellwether and Future Famers Classes of 2017 are available on request.