NSM’s Bill Mixon: Reinventing the Business of CRT
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Mar 17, 2022
In February, National Seating & Mobility (NSM) held its annual Symposium virtually for the second consecutive year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
NSM CEO Bill Mixon
While CEO Bill Mixon referred to it as a “two-dimensional Symposium,” NSM had fun with the format. Mixon delivered his keynote on a Tonight Show-style set, cheered on by “bandleader” David Pietrzak, Vice President Supply Chain & Vendor Management, dressed to the nines.
The setup was, perhaps, indicative of how NSM has changed over the last few years to become, as Mixon said, more flexible — and to have fun with the virtual format, even if meeting online wasn’t NSM’s first choice.
“This is our second virtual Symposium, so I think we’re getting better at it,” Mixon said of the event, which offered continuing education courses plus an exhibit hall in addition to team meetings, networking, and company celebrations. The event’s main goals, he added, were “catching up on the state of the business; recognizing our successes; discussing where we are and where we’re going as an organization; and planning for the year ahead. Then there are the standard [activities]: education from [manufacturers] and colleagues, and most important, recognizing employees for outstanding performance with our annual awards ceremony.”
Symposium bandleader David Pietrzak
Overall, Mixon said the virtual event did its job: “I think we accomplished all of our objectives. We’ve gotten really good feedback from the team. We’ve gotten very good feedback from our manufacturing partners, whose positive comments about the Symposium are equally important. So, I think it was successful. It was a hit.”
Mixon acknowledged some advantages to having a virtual event, including greater company-wide exposure. “Typically, our ATPs and leadership attend the Symposium, but with a virtual format we are able to share all content with all employees,” he said. “We have gotten really good feedback that this provides more insight and inclusivity.”
While the virtual format has worked well — and Mixon indicated NSM will continue to offer a virtual attendance option at future events — he was emphatic about what the 2023 Symposium will be like.
“We are fully committed to an in-person Symposium next year,” he said. “We’re going to figure out how to do that. Even if we must adhere to some safety protocols, we’re doing it.”
Learning Flexibility from the Pandemic
Mixon used his opening keynote address to interview Ann Mahaffey, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Isaac Rodriguez, Senior VP of Field Operations. True to the Symposium’s theme — It Starts with Us — Mixon, Mahaffey and Rodriguez discussed how NSM plans to move forward.
“COVID has made us rethink what we do [and make] changes to our operations,” Mixon said. “Absolutely, I think those changes make us a better business — like the one I highlighted, that all 2,500 employees get to experience [the Symposium]. That’s a good thing. We are going to continue to embrace those changes.”
Mixon, Mahaffey and Rodriguez discussed building what NSM is calling the “Workplace of the Future,” a program that studies employment trends, invites feedback from within NSM, and collaborates to achieve goals ranging from improved training and onboarding to greater scheduling flexibility for employees.
Mixon said NSM has heard loud and clear the need for a workplace evolution.
“We are going to continue to embrace this notion of a progressive workplace,” he said. “The concept back in the day — which wasn’t all that long ago… 2019, right? — was you came to work from 9 to 5. You came to the office. We used to stare at those Polycom [conference room phones] and do conference calls.
“We now have enhanced all kinds of best-in-class progressive workplace strategies. We are today more flexible as an employer than we were two and a half to three years ago, and that flexibility is going to continue to evolve. We are looking at four-day work weeks. We’re looking at all kinds of ways that we can have a more flexible relationship with our employee population to allow them to do their good work, but also allow them to have enhanced levels of work-life balance.”
During the Symposium keynote, Mahaffey said today’s younger employees seek much more than a stable paycheck, and Mixon affirmed NSM has taken those desires to heart.
“Our impact on all things social, environmental, etc., is part of our brand,” Mixon said. “How we are perceived in the marketplace and how younger people in particular perceive their employer really influences the degree to which they feel good about working with a particular employer. Younger folks don’t have the mindset that perhaps we have had, where you stay at a company for a decade or two. They’re much more flexible, frankly. Their office is their PC, so they can shift from point A to point B very efficiently. Part of this whole notion of being progressive is we’re embracing how we impact the environment and how we impact social causes.”
What’s Important to Incoming Employees
While previous generations of workers measured career satisfaction by salaries and promotions, Mixon said newer generations want employers to be socially responsible as well. He pointed out NSM’s vehicle fleet as one opportunity for the company to demonstrate its commitment to the planet’s future. “We have a program to make our vehicles more efficient. That’s going to result in 8- to 10-percent [improved] fuel efficiency in our fleet, and we have 1,000 fleet vehicles. So that’s really quite significant.
“We want to do good work, we want to do the right thing. To use the fleet example, we want to be socially conscious around the amount of fuel that we use and be cognizant of our carbon footprint. And that in turn ends up being good business. That’s the great thing about this kind of thinking.”
As for welcoming new team members, Rodriguez discussed the importance of onboarding and training, including giving new team members time and support while learning their new jobs. Inadequate training and onboarding, Rodriguez added, are among the top reasons that new employees leave… a trend that is considered more and more acceptable among workers.
“It used to be that if you looked at somebody’s résumé and they changed jobs every three years, you might say, ‘You’re a job jumper,’” Mixon said. “That used to be a negative connotation. It’s not really that way, for younger folks in particular. We like to think of ourselves as the employer of choice in the CRT industry, so we have an obligation to listen, to talk to our employees, and to understand: What are the things that help them feel good about working for NSM? What are the things that are going to allow us to effectively retain them? We are proud of the fact that we have best-in-class employee retention at NSM. And that kind of more progressive approach to thinking about our workforce is going to serve us well in this new post-pandemic world.”
This more holistic model of job satisfaction is here to stay, Mixon added.
“It’s obviously not just NSM, and it’s not just the [Complex Rehab Technology] world. People are rethinking their relationships with their employers. This is really changing the world that we live in, and this is going to be a differentiator between companies in the future. There are going to be those companies that embrace these ideas and adapt and thrive, and there are going to be companies that try to hang on to preexisting approaches to leadership and employee engagement, and they’re going to struggle because of it.”
30 Years & Evolving
NSM is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year… but during the Symposium, Mixon referenced a book by Marshall Goldsmith called, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful.
“We’ve got to constantly evolve,” Mixon explained. “Organizations have to engage in continuous improvement to continue to be successful over time. It’s been a fantastic 30-year run. We’ve served over 2.4 million clients. Over half of those have been in the last five to six years. And in another five to six years, that number will be almost doubled.
“We have got to constantly try to adapt and change and listen. And, in the context of ‘what got us here won’t get us there,’ we embrace continuous improvement, and that will over time make us a better company. If you’re not adapting and changing, you’re probably going backwards.”
Mixon said NSM will embrace new technologies, business efficiencies, and workplace models, such as recruiting part-time employees. “The tools and the systems and the technologies that we have today in the business that we serve our clients with, many did not exist in the business six, seven, eight years ago. And they allow us to be a better provider of the services we provide. They allow us to be a better employer, and we have to constantly rethink how we can be best in class. It’s a constant quest for continuous improvement.
“We have several people in [our] business who specialize in what we refer to as operational excellence. And their job really is to identify opportunities for improvement in the business, people process and technology, and help us investigate those opportunities. If we believe in the opportunity, we invest in it, and then we follow it through to fruition. We have a team of professionals that do nothing but focus on continuous improvement inside of the business.”
In the immediate future, Mixon acknowledged the strain that the pandemic continues to put on CRT: “Supply chain has been a real issue for the industry. But I think we feel very positive about our strategy, the mission of the business, our people and our teams and the growth that we’ve enjoyed even during the pandemic.
“I think we’ve weathered the storm well. We’re bigger and stronger than we’ve ever been. We’re up to 197 locations in North America, including 23 locations in Canada, and we continue to expand in areas where clients need better access to mobility solutions. Our home access division is also growing, and we expect to be in 1,000 Home Depot stores by the end of 2022. Our teams are strong, and we have good alignment in the business, and we’ve learned. We’re taking the best of what the pandemic has taught us to adapt and reinvent the business.”