As the challenges of pandemic living continue to take a mental and physical toll, MOBE’s healthcare services are more relevant now than ever before. Chris Cronin, Chief Executive Officer at MOBE, shares how his company’s mission empowers a diverse group of people to achieve better health through continued innovation.
Founded in 2014, MOBE is committed to improving people’s lives. Spend a day in their (new, beautifully appointed) office, and you’ll see firsthand how the people supporting operations live out the company’s mantra – “guiding people to better health and more happiness.” While the world looks different and there’s undoubtedly less bustle in the office than before the pandemic hit, the friendly demeanor is palpable, despite masked smiles. Walk around, and you’ll see thoughtful touches and a commitment to health is everywhere – plenty of light pouring into the office, outdoor spaces for breaks and a little vitamin D, and a top-notch fitness center to promote the healthiest version of yourself.
MOBE partners with insurance companies and employers to provide guided health solutions to customers and employees. Through one-to-one guidance on lifestyle, medication, and healthcare choices, MOBE makes personalized healthcare a reality.
We spent a day with some of the MOBE team and caught up with Chris Cronin.
Did you grow up in Minnesota?
Yes, I grew up in the Twin Cities as one of five children. My mother was from Iowa, and my father was from Chicago. I probably had more Iowa in me as a kid than Chicago: we were constantly outside playing, building forts, fishing… and we always had a pet of some variety. At one point, my brother and I shared a room, along with about 25 finches. My parents came from relatively modest beginnings, and both placed a tremendous value on two things: working hard and showing up. These were firmly impressed upon me watching my father navigate a demanding career, raising a bunch of kids, and losing his wife at a young age (I was 13). Now, as a father of four with an incredible partner helping to raise them – I don’t know how my dad did it.
Tell us about your first job and time in college.
I have had a job ever since I can remember. I mowed lawns, babysat, and delivered the New Brighton Bulletin. I enjoyed helping people.
After high school, I attended a small liberal arts college and studied French and Accounting. I nearly majored in French, by accident -- I kept enjoying it, so I kept taking more classes. I am a big believer in a liberal arts education – I am still very close with a group of guys from college, and not one of us is practicing our undergraduate major.
How would you describe your career path?
I like to think my career path has (thus far) three chapters: the first was in financial consulting as an auditor and then in the M&A, Fraud Investigation and Litigation Support arm of Arthur Andersen. The second chapter was in the Strategy, Marketing, and Commercial side of the medical device industry. The third chapter is with MOBE. In 2012, I was at a crossroads with what I wanted to do in my career. At the time, my father, a very healthy man, was suddenly diagnosed with a terminal disease and was given 6-12 months to live. I was also reading True North by Bill George – the intersection of these two things had a significant impact on my career path. I intentionally sought out roles that aligned with my values and what I enjoy doing.
How did you get your start at MOBE?
I was living in Switzerland on an expatriate assignment. Everything was going well. I was enjoying my job and marveling at watching my four kids navigate life in a country where very little was familiar. We were back for a couple of weeks during the summer, and I bumped into a mentor of mine, and a MOBE Board Member, at Young Joni, an excellent Minneapolis restaurant. He asked me to see him in his office about a potential opportunity. I mentioned life was good, and it probably wasn’t the right time. But I agreed to meet. When I got home, my wife will tell you I was shaking.
I told her this is my dream job.
I joined as COO for four reasons: I believe in what we do (Eat, Move, Sleep, Smile); how we do it (we don’t make money unless people get healthier and happier); who I do it with (our culture is unique and the team is incredible) and what they asked me to do (to take on responsibility for functions that gifted me the opportunity to broaden my experiences).
COVID’S LASTING IMPACT
How have you shifted in response to COVID? What does the ‘new normal’ look like at MOBE?
COVID-19 has shifted the landscape for every family, community, and business. In this new reality, people find different ways to function professionally – and encounter new challenges to their health and well-being personally. Our engagement numbers have climbed during this period. People have had to adapt to cooking more meals at home, exercising without access to a gym, and maintaining their emotional health while being secluded. Fortunately, these are precisely the areas MOBE focuses on and what we do best. Knowing that our customers are in some of the most afflicted areas (New Jersey, Chicago, Seattle), we extended our services to our participants’ friends and family. We hope we can help as many people struggling during these times as possible.
As for ways of working, we are HITRUST certified, which has enabled us to continue operating remotely in compliance with HIPAA requirements - this has meant that we’ve been able to continue to serve MOBE participants with limited to no impact. We are also fortunate that people come to MOBE because they are passionate about our mission, making it easier to keep all of the plates in the air when you suddenly have to become your kids’ social universe and teacher overnight.
"I hope that there is a silver lining to this difficult period – that as people have had to slow down to learn new skills around cooking and moving, these new habits will continue and help us get a lot healthier and happier."
How do you believe COVID will impact the healthcare industry in the future?
I think this pandemic will continue to change many industries materially in the months and years ahead. I’m not sure exactly how that plays out. Still, I have to imagine that with unemployment at the highest level since the Great Depression, there is pressure to revisit how healthcare is accessed and delivered in this country, plus how we can ensure the breadth and effectiveness of that access. Widespread stay-at-home orders forced a massive number of people to get comfortable communicating with their healthcare providers in different ways – and there’s no turning back. Receiving care remotely and digitally became the “new normal,” which has underscored our collective focus on patient satisfaction – and meeting people where they are.
Our new COVID-19 and post-COVID reality, along with increased demand for information transparency, will continue to pressure outcomes-related payment – whether to the medical device manufacturer, the physician, or other players in the health arena like MOBE.
I hope that there is a silver lining to this difficult period – that as people have had to slow down to learn new skills around cooking and moving, these new habits will continue and help us get a lot healthier and happier.
What lessons have you learned in your current role?
I have never been a micromanager, I don’t believe, but this role, more than any other, has demonstrated the importance of surrounding yourself with really smart people and getting out of their way. The team behind MOBE is very talented, and I am fortunate to work alongside strong leadership.
What do your priorities look like over the next few years?
Our mission and business model mandate that we help all our participants – empowering a diverse group of people, with a wide range of concerns and challenges, to achieve better health – and this will require continued innovation. In the past 18 months, we launched an app, stood up our own pharmacy program, and introduced a
Last year we opened our Innovation Center in Reno, Nevada, to accelerate these efforts. One of our top priorities is to continue advancing new solutions that help people engage with MOBE when, where, and how they want to make impactful progress toward their health goals.
At MOBE, we work with a “hidden” population in healthcare – the 5% of people who account for 20% of healthcare costs. Today, we help these people through personalized support with one-to-one guidance on lifestyle, medication, and health care choices. Looking to the future, we are applying learnings from our current work to serve new populations, leveraging our analytics and data science competency with our unique humanistic approach to helping people. Our customers ask us to serve new populations; we want to find those that our solution is best suited and most likely to help.
A third key priority is to expand with self-insured employers. Our founder, Mark Evenstad, was a self-insured employer and saw firsthand how some people are struggling to get healthier and happier despite being in and out of doctors’ offices every other week and taking several medications. Seeing this challenge was part of the inspiration behind starting MOBE. The people MOBE serves aren’t having trouble accessing the system – in fact, they’re accessing healthcare more than most people. They need different, more personalized support to see improved health outcomes – and that’s where MOBE comes in.
Across your career, how have you seen the relationship between business and technology progress?
Throughout my career, the relationship between business and technology has transformed massively. I remember when I was an auditor at Arthur Andersen lugging these enormous audit files across downtown Minneapolis. Very little was done electronically. Today, I don’t have a single file in my office – I don’t think you could find a pen either.
As consumer preferences have changed, digital health solutions have become mainstream. We embed technology in how we serve our participants. Capabilities like online scheduling, biometric monitoring, and health tracking applications allow us to interact with participants in new, engaging ways and demonstrate through metrics how our program helps our participants make progress in their health journey. Today, when a potential participant opens a welcome email and indicates an area of interest, we can immediately respond with resources based on their interests.
What’s the dynamic like at MOBE?
We have a strong IT backbone at MOBE, which goes hand-in-hand with privacy and security – both are critical in our business. We believe that technology enables our business and should flex to meet our stakeholders’ and participants’ needs. From early on, we invested in building a robust architecture to ensure the safety of our customers’ information. This has really mandated the close collaboration and integration of IT with, and within, the business function. As we continue to build out new solutions, IT has to be on the ground floor and closely integrated, which is part of the reason we recently hired our first Chief Digital Officer, Meg Rush, who has a long history in this industry.
Are there factors that help make communication between business and IT successful at MOBE?
The technology function needs to deliver solutions for real business needs. To do this, we actively engage as a joint team to understand the business and leverage agile processes to prioritize work, identify solution alternatives, and iterate on new capabilities. The business prioritizes new features and functionality, develops a collaborative roadmap, and negotiates a delivery schedule. Collectively, the business and IT team partner to evolve our solutions.
Currently, we have a large effort underway to build out our future architecture that underpins our business. This work is required to ensure we can scale our business in line with growth projections. This work started with grounding ourselves in various stakeholders’ needs through a project to identify areas of opportunity for data sharing, integration and net new capability needs based on our business strategies (spearheaded by Concord!). As we move forward, we review the plan periodically to adjust to new learnings and business opportunities.
Any advice for companies struggling in this area?
View the IT members of the organization as critical enablers to the business. Make sure IT has a seat at the leadership table. Look to them for solutions, innovation, and new ideas, like new technology to enhance business performance – AI, voice technologies, cloud computing. Involve them early and engage them as solution partners, not a transactional service organization.
What advice would you offer to someone managing through times of transition, like so many are right now?
Overcommunicate. In the Fall of 2018, we launched three new strategies. We hosted a number of company-wide meetings to introduce them. Subsequently, we talked about them at quarterly Town Halls -- but not every day. As a result of us slowing down communications after the initial discussions, one strategy failed to gain momentum.
Now, fast forward to last winter, when we pivoted to four key initiatives that we affectionately call “The Big Four.” We are talking about these every day across the organization – and they are gaining momentum. Amid uncertainty around COVID-19, we made it our mission to lean into communicating even more. We are hosting company-wide Town Halls every other Friday. From the beginning, we’ve been clear they are not mandatory – but we continue to have almost the entire organization attending.
Where do you personally turn for advice on professional matters?
I have been lucky to have some great mentors throughout my career. In 2012 when I was at a career crossroads, my boss at the time, Brian Urke, who has since passed away after a battle with cancer, asked me, “Who is on your Board of Directors?” I stammered and asked him what he meant, and he said, “People you can go to, that you trust, for candid advice at any time.” I have since been intentional about identifying a Board and, when I do, I explain the concept and formally ask the individual if they are willing to be on my Board. Today I have four incredible leaders on my Board.
What is the number one takeaway from your career thus far?
Surround yourself with people you trust, admire, and enjoy being around – and do what you love, and you’ll be successful. I guess that’s two.