Entrepreneur of the Year: Rebecca Shanahan uses law background to grow health care

June 23, 2017| CATEGORIES: Press Feature

Avella CEO Rebecca Shanahan featured in article by Phoenix Business Journal highlighting her win as a 2017 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. 

Being a lawyer in a medical realm was no easy task, yet Rebecca Shanahan was able to rise as CEO of Avella Specialty Pharmacy. 

She began as a general counsel of hospital systems in Indianapolis. She soon advanced to the position of senior vice president of Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where she created practice management systems. “Most doctors are not interested in having a lawyer tell them how to run their practice, but that was a big part of my job — providing resources to help doctors build their practices,” Shanahan said. Though things were challenging at times, Shanahan said working in Indianapolis strengthened her business development and legal strategy skills. Following her work in Indiana, Shanahan became executive vice president of the University of Chicago Health Care department. She focused on health care finances and driving the economic model to aid doctors.

Shanahan then was promoted to be the organization’s executive vice president of strategic initiative and head of the specialty pharmacy. “I like to learn new things, and this role allowed me to learn about the health care system and specialty pharmacies while wearing multiple hats,” said Shanahan. Shanahan was then recruited by Oncology Therapeutics Network and learned about the holistic treatment of patients.

“Working with OTN allowed me to develop and implement a system that not only helped patients but doctors as well,” said Shanahan. Following her work with OTN and a brief stint in Canada, Shanahan was appointed to the board, and later made CEO, of Phoenix-based Avella. Over three years, Shanahan grew Avella from $85 million to $500 million in sales. Since then Avella has tripled its top line growth and reduced costs of operation by 65 percent.

Avella acts as a liaison between patients, health care providers and, mostly, specialty doctors to create affordable plans for patients requiring specialty medications and therapies. “Forty-six percent of employer sponsored health care plans have large deductibles, … (so) being able to help patients get access to therapy they can afford is really rewarding,” Shanahan said. The system Avella has implemented resulted in approximately a 93 percent adherents and compliance rate for patients on medication and/or in therapy. Though Avella is a successful billion-dollar company, Shanahan said it has had similar challenges any high growth company has.

Shanahan referenced the difficulty of maintaining constant growth while also balancing the shifting infrastructure needs. One example Shanahan gave was when a customer-care representative underestimated the number of new patients Avella would be taking on by 8,000. “It was like trying to change a bus tire while the bus was full of people,” Shanahan said, “but we had implemented systems to increase efficiency and were able to change our approach and turnover the backlog in only three months.”

Shanahan attributed this success to Avella’s entrepreneurship mentality. “I’ve had an amazing career,” said Shanahan. “Work and life always give you surprises, but it’s less about the barrier and more about being resilient, finding a way around that barrier and then to just keep swimming.”

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Full Print Article (Dever Business Journal)

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