By Tom Still
LA CROSSE – Don Weber doesn’t fit the profile of a typical CEO. He grew up on a dairy farm east of La Crosse, was wounded while serving as a Marine in Vietnam and once lost his home to foreclosure when an early business venture went bankrupt.
While schooled in the ways of the business world through hard knocks, Weber’s name isn’t followed by acronyms such as Ph.D., J.D. or MBA. But he makes up for any lack of credentials through his passion for the work of Logistics Health Inc., a company that has grown from 12 workers in September 2001 to 720 full-time equivalent employees today.
It is an entrepreneurial success story that shows how a tech-based company can start – and grow – in a Midwestern river town that may strike outsiders as being off the national radar screen.
Logistics Health Inc. is a product of Weber’s vision that the health needs of American military personnel, especially National Guard and Reserve members who must be quickly ready for active duty, would be better served by privatizing health care services before those servicemen and women are called up and after they return.
It was a vision framed by his experiences as a veteran but intensified over time by his observations about the physical readiness of the nation’s “citizen soldiers.” Speaking last week at a board meeting of the Wisconsin Technology Council in La Crosse, Weber said ensuring that military personnel are “medically ready” is vital not only to the nation, but to the service personnel and their families.
“These people are putting their lives on the line for us. We owe it to them to make sure they’re medically ready to serve, and that they have the support they need when they come back,” Weber said.
About 85 percent of the business at Logistics Health Inc. is built around working with federal agencies. It deals with the Department of Defense to ensure that soldiers receive necessary physical examinations, vaccinations, health profiling and other services. It also works with other federal agencies on homeland security issues, such as preparing for bioterrorism attacks. Logistics Health provides inoculation services, clinical studies and focus groups to help national, state and local authorities prepare for attacks they all hope will never come.
Working through about 25,000 medical and dental providers, Logistics Health manages a variety of services and data, including the handling and transportation of sensitive vaccines and biologics, which are drugs derived from biotechnology processes.
Logistics Health marshals such resources quickly. Weber said the company’s employees recently organized 98,000 health services – from vaccinations to dental work to behavioral assessments – in one weekend nationwide. The “logistics” in Logistics Health can revolve around managing massive amounts of data and just-in-time air delivery of medical supplies.
At 700-plus employees and two shining buildings on the Mississippi River waterfront in downtown La Crosse, it would be tempting to believe most of the growth at Logistics Health is past. Not so, according to Weber. The company’s revenues are projected to grow from $108 million in 2008 to $155 million in 2009, it is planning another major building and it may reach 3,000 employees by 2014.
“Ninety percent of those jobs will be here (La Crosse),” Weber said.
Logistics Health employees earn an average of $54,000 per year, he said, and 41 percent are graduates of four-year colleges or technical colleges in the La Crosse area. “We’re keeping a lot of young talent here,” Weber said, while attracting other key personnel – especially in the management team – from across the nation.
One member of that management team is former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who joined Logistics Health as president not long after resigning as secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Some might say the Logistics Health story is rooted in a clever response to post-9/11 spending on defense and homeland security. That’s correct – to a degree. But it’s also a story about one man’s drive to serve American military personnel and to grow a successful business close to home. Don Weber has done both.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.