Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

CEO Lorna Taylor has a clear vision for Premier Eye Care

Growing up in Oregon, Lorna Taylor saw firsthand the merger of the social and commercial in what she calls her “very entrepreneurial little family.” Her father was a minister, and her mother taught kindergarten. Her father hunted and fished to put meat on the table. They bought a calf every year or two to raise on a nearby farm. When her dad retired from the ministry, they moved to Los Angeles, where he and Taylor’s mother ran a media consulting company.

Taylor was more than a spectator. At age 7, she and her younger sister sold greeting cards and jewelry door to door under their mother’s supervision. When old enough, Taylor worked at the local grocery store. She picked beans and strawberries to pay for summer camp. “It was really important to mom that we learned the value of a dollar,” Taylor says.

With that background, the non-linear trajectory of her life begins to make sense. She says she’s not a religious person and is unaffiliated with any religious denomination, but she attended a theological seminary for graduate school. She studied social ethics, not theology.

And for 20 years, she has built and led managed care company Premier Eye Care, which manages medical and routine vision care, including medical review, authorization and payment, for 2.7 million Floridians, through Medicaid and Medicare plans and private insurance plans, including Humana, WellCare and Simply Healthcare.

Premier, which also manages vision care for another 287,743 outside of Florida, is on Florida Trend’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Florida for the second consecutive year.

In a competitive field, Premier stands out for the range of plans it works for. Notably, it also handles claims beyond routine exams and eyewear, including medical treatments like cataract surgery, corneal transplants, eye pharmaceuticals and the like — which many plans handle in-house through their own medical plans. The company is in 11 states (soon to be 15) and has grown from $54 million in 2013 revenue to a projected $75 million in 2015.

Premier’s executive offices are in the Tampa Bay region, where Taylor lives. The bulk of the company’s 80 employees work in Delray Beach and Honolulu.

Owned by Boca Raton husband and wife ophthalmologists Alan Aker and Ann Kasten Aker, the private company launched in 1994 under Taylor, who had consulted for the Akers on improving their practice.

Taylor took the role of acting executive director and intended only to do the due diligence and help hire a leadership team. “Things happen that are a surprise,” Taylor says. “I really just threw myself into it because it was so much fun.”

Two critical ideas shaped Taylor’s thinking in building a company that employs people from call-center temps to doctors. A follower of quality guru Edward Deming, Taylor believes high performance in a knowledge-based economy comes from intrinsic motivators such as ownership, creativity and meaning rather than bonuses, titles and pay. Premier pays well, she says, to get the best talent and also to remove money from the table as an issue. (Premier pays entry-level workers $15 per hour and values their total compensation, including benefits and vacation, at $42,000 per year.) But success, she says, requires valuing leadership over management, continuous feedback rather than annual reviews, and employee self-direction.

The other idea, from her time at Princeton Theological Seminary, an institution separate from the namesake Ivy League school from which it sprang 200 years ago, is the triple bottom line: People, planet, profit.

New York-based industry firm Jobson Optical Research says nearly 70% of consumers use insurance for eye care and eye wear.

Premier, she says, is “highly profitable,” though she declines to reveal numbers. The other two P’s in the bottom line require different metrics than dollars. Carpet tiles at the company’s main workplace are made from recycled tires. Premier reports seven of 10 employees are women, a ratio that also holds for leadership positions. For its employees, it provides 11,000 pounds of free fruits and vegetables in the break room each year. For St. Valentine’s Day, employees got Fitbit wireless wrist bands to allow them to monitor their activity levels. From then to June, employees walked a total of 22,000 miles.

“The atmosphere is what makes it great. They’re very concerned about your input. They’re constantly asking you, how could we help you do your job better? It’s like a community. They’ve showed us some of the donations that they’ve given out over this past year. I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m humbled.’ ”

Ron Pierre, Senior medical surgical specialist/team leader

The company has financially supported sending medical supplies to Haiti, building a playground at a domestic violence shelter and providing eye care for the poor. The company went paperless four years ago and provides financial incentives for employees to car pool and use mass transit. Employees donated 4.25 gallons of blood this year.

“I find it a real benefit for me in coming to work every day knowing the company supports reaching out to the community,” says Randy Goodhope.

One effort to raise money for shoes for the poor made for a memorable night for Randy Goodhope, who is on a workplace team that manages Premier’s national network of providers, and is co-coordinator of its community service committee. “I find it a real benefit for me in coming to work every day knowing the company supports reaching out to the community. I left that night thinking, wow, what a cool thing that I was there with my team members and we’re all supporting this effort and the company wants us to do that,” he says. Workers are encouraged to take a day a year on company time to volunteer in the community.

Taylor, 57, says the community work creates a sense of loyalty to the company. She reported that from last year’s Best Companies survey, employee satisfaction came in at 97% and engagement at 100%. Turnover, even for the company’s 30 call-center jobs, is well-below industry norms.

Taylor sees the low rate as extraordinary given how tedious Premier’s work can be. Managed care is a highly regulated and audited industry — Premier participates in about 50 audits a year by various agencies and health plans — and compliance with health plan and government program rules must be perfect.

From the Survey
Florida Trend asked participating companies to fill out a survey highlighting their benefits. Here are some of Premier Eye Care’s answers:

» 100% of medical, dental and vision premiums for employees/less than 25% for dependents

» 9 paid holidays

» 10 days paid time off

» 40 hours annual training

» $1,200 for each employee to use for “wellness” services

» No defined benefit pension, no profit sharing, no 401(k) match

» No HRA, HSA or FSA

Shari Basye, vice president of operations, says the company spends a lot of time on hiring to find self-directed people who fit Premier’s culture. The company then invests the time to acclimate newcomers to the business. The average orientation is 16 hours. “We check with them after like three weeks to see how it’s going, to see how they fit. A lot of them are coming from more structured environments, and they love it,” Basye says.

The goal is for each worker to become so acquainted with the job’s demands and plan rules that they’re experts. As experts, they’re then empowered to tell the company how both their tasks and the overall company can work better. They manage their work as they see fit.

A group of motivated, creative experts will turn in high performance and improve company processes, Taylor says. “This is not hippy-dippy, touchy-feely. It’s highly professional, highly organized,” she says.

It certainly is helping the company grow. In November, Premier will move into new offices in Boca Raton with space to accommodate projected growth to 150 employees in two years. The Affordable Care Act has added people to health care plan rolls, who then are contracted to Premier for eye care coverage. Medicaid, though a low-revenue business, “is just exploding” because of the ACA, she says.

Taylor says she loves making money, but she clearly loves the social side too. She relates asking a relatively new worker at a holiday party how she liked the new job. The worker told her, “I just love the purpose.”

Says Taylor, “What a great thing to say. And what a great thing to feel.”

“They really cultivate the intrinsic motivation that certain people kind of have naturally, that person who wants to do better, not just for the good of their career but for the organization.
In other companies I’ve worked for, it’s just get it done, get it done, get it done. But what happens is, if you just get into that routine of just getting it done, you don’t have the long-term picture of what you do today may impact what happens tomorrow. That’s what they take into consideration here, tomorrow, tomorrow. Let’s think about tomorrow.”

Michael Aguirre, Director/medical economics and reporting