NSM's Ballard: "No Plans for Retirement"

National Seating & Mobility (NSM) announced a new president - William C. "Bill" Mixon -- on July 22, but NSM CEO Mike Ballard made it clear in an interview with Mobility Management that he has no plans to step down from the complex rehab technology (CRT) business he founded.

In the July 29 interview that also included Mixon and VP of Marketing Bill Noelting, Ballard said, "I've got no plans for retirement now or any time in the future."

He added that bringing Mixon in to fill what had been Ballard's role as president was simply a necessity caused by NSM's growth and size, as well as the overall complexity of today's CRT business.

With more than 80 branch offices and counting across the United States, NSM is one of the industry's largest CRT providers.

"This industry, complex rehab, is complex from top to bottom," Ballard pointed out. "Like in the pediatric area: Our RTS's [rehab technology suppliers] have got three or four or five people they have to satisfy on every transaction, whether it's the therapist or the patient, the parents, the school teacher, the caregivers. It's very complex. Combine that with what has happened with payors and funding and what's going on in the manufacturing world with new chairs and new technology. It's complex at the clinical level, at the branch level, but it's also complex in billing and collections."

Ballard said he's known for a long time that the nature of CRT does not lend itself to "generic aspects of business that you can acquire and bring into this industry." Therefore, Ballard said he's always understood that needing to bring in someone like Mixon would be necessary at some stage of NSM's history.

"As we've grown larger, I've always retained the title of president knowing that someday, I'm going to have a president that will eventually succeed me as CEO down the road," Ballard said. "So we've deliberately made moves over the years and organized ourselves to be able to do this. This is not just an idea that I came up with at the end of the bedpost. Long term, the next CEO of this company is going to be Bill Mixon."

Mixon's career experience has largely been in the acute care segment of healthcare, and both Mixon and Ballard said the new president would be spending a great amount of time to learn the CRT industry.

An example of a more immediate change in the wake of Mixon's hiring, Ballard said, is that NSM COO Sandi Neiman will now report to Mixon rather than to Ballard. But Ballard added that the company is not rushing to make additional changes just because Mixon's tenure has begun.

"We're not in a hurry," Ballard said. "We've got the luxury of taking a long time, as long as it needs before he starts making changes. We're not thinking of organizational changes as much as working our process."

Ultimately, Ballard said Mixon would take over day-to-day operations at NSM,

which would free Ballard up to work on other CRT aspects, including payor education and CRT advocacy at state and federal levels.

"I make it akin to building a great railroad," Ballard said. "I like to be in the field. I like to scout the land, survey it, figure out where we're going to lay the new tracks, where we're going to build the town, where the water towers go, lease the land, get the thing built. Bill's job is going to be to run the railroad, tweak the maintenance department, etc. That's the best analogy that I can give.

"I'll be spending more time -- and it's requiring a lot more time -- in government relations, which I've always spearheaded, and business development. As we become larger, we're dealing with certain processes and policies -- some of them I made up 22 years ago. Our infrastructure, if you will, will need to be retooled so we have an air frame that will be able to go to higher altitudes as we get larger."

Ballard described the addition of Mixon as another step toward the continuing objective to maintain quality service at NSM.

"We've always thought we had the very best clinical team in the industry or at least making a conscientious effort to be the very best," he said. "I want to have the best technical crew, the best customer service. I want to be the best in all disciplines, all the boxes that you've got to check, or at least we're leaving it all out on the field trying to be the very best. That requires more talent and energy and expertise and experience at the top. Bill fits that.

"We did an exhaustive search, we weren't in a hurry. It's something we've been thinking about for quite some time."

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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