Business of Well-being

Why the CEO of Virgin Pulse Did Not Go to Med School

With a professional history steeped in corporate and consumer loyalty programs, Chris Boyce landed at Virgin Pulse in 2006 as the company's EVP, Product, Marketing and Business Development with his personal mission in tow-to help make a difference in people's lives by changing their behavior.

On a worldwide scale, of course.

Boyce, whose boss is Sir Richard Branson, founder of The Virgin Group, was one of the founders of UPromise, where the company helped people save for college. He told the staff at Corporate Wellness Magazine that this saving-for-college concept was his brainchild in business school.

He said he once thought about being a doctor, or a teacher, but always has been fascinated by great businesses. In this special interview with CWM, Boyce shares what he sees as the biggest trends happening in the world right now, the best advice he has ever received and clarifies his personal hero (he has more than one).

CWM: Thank you for talking with us today, Chris. Tell us a little bit how you got to Virgin Pulse.

Chris Boyce:

My pleasure. Before I came to Virgin Pulse, I was one of the founders of UPromise. I think education is a terribly important thing. We were very successful. We became the largest funder, that is, private funder, to help people save for college.

I have always thought, 'How can I get people to do things-to do good things-that they really want to do?' But life gets in the way. With a number of individuals in the health care space, Virgin came looking for me. That was about 10 years ago. It has been a fun ride ever since.

I thought about being a doctor or even a teacher, but I have always felt if I am going to work really hard, and the work gets done, I want to leave the world a better place. I want to figure out a way to get people to change their behavior to do that, too.

People told me then to go for a non-profit. They're fantastic-no doubt. But I would rather find a profitable business because if you can do that at a worldwide scale, and have a great business that does great things, and find a lot of other people who want to work there-there you go. I have been really fortunate, for the second time in my career.

CWM: How was the transition from one industry to another for you?

Chris Boyce:

The shift was an easy one. The answer here lies in what I was trying to do-what do you do to change behavior. So the transition was straightforward for me. We had a lot of like-minded people who worked really hard to give credence to try and figure this out, create an industry that answered the two questions, "Can you change people's behavior and change it in a way that is sustainable and does that make a difference for them? How do you measure that to a bottom line of a business?"

CWM: What are the biggest trends you see happening in the world right now?

Chris Boyce:

In the old wellness world, an employee would take an HRA [assessment], get some coaching and biometrics. Today, the industry is moving toward well-being. The standards of what that entails is shifting pretty hard. What does real engagement mean? I was with a client the other day and he said he wanted to see daily change, daily utilization.

We focused on that for a long time. So the first trend I see is a higher qualification around the types of data available. When people say engagement, it is clear what they mean. It means, how many people signed up, how often is a program or tool used-is it on a daily basis? This has become the standard.

The second standard is how does this translate to my own business and can I have a measure of that. How do I track the value? Is it safety that I can track if I'm measuring workers compensation claims? What is the medical risk shift taking place? We have been able to track that for a number of clients and prove it definitively.

The third trend involves what kind of engagement. At Virgin Pulse, when people have signed up for our program, they use is four times a day on average. That is proactive. That is interacting with our program. Ask yourselves: Can you engage? Can you measure? Can you leverage to drive utilization?

The fourth trend is that wellness is going global. Globally, everyone wants to see change. It is not about health care costs, it is about culture. There are two different markets: the United States market, which is highly driven out of health incentives, and the global market that is driven out of culture and productivity.

We are seeing a lot of transaction in the global marketplace from that perspective. Different parts of the world want different things in spite of the fact that everyone wants to see change.

Finally, the last trend we are seeing is the consumerization of all of this. Most HR applications are digitized. Goal setting is digitized. Sales pipelines associated with these trends are digitized.

People do not have to use it, but if there is not a consumer grade tool, or go right to their mobile devices, they won't use it. Wellness is becoming a consumer grade product.

The wellness industry has tremendous growth-tremendous-yet it requires a lot of research and development to build consumer proof points as well as building a great B2B. It takes a lot of investment pieces in order to make this work. Virgin Pulse is leading this category and will continue to pour R&D dollars into this.

CWM: A report shows that the more successful a wellness program is, the higher the company's stock price will rise if it is publicly-traded. Fact or fiction?

Chris Boyce:

(Laughing) How do you go from you taking a walk today, recording that walk, and at the closing bell the stock price just got better? That is a longer proof point. That one's hard.

CWM: What do you think people really want from this industry?

Chris Boyce:

People want some of the same things, such as drive health care costs down, like here in the United States. Incentives are very big in the United States. Yet do they work? There are a lot of bad strategies out there and some have followed good science. But they have to be plied in the right way and in the right context.

Internationally, incentives do not work. Employers are not really paying the health care bill, so they do not have that rising cost. Instead, they want to have a unified program with productive aspects coming out of it. Internationally, people do not begin their thought process thinking about why they need to be physically active. Here in the U.S., everything started in that vein.

CWM: Any surprises along the way?

Chris Boyce:

I have been surprised that people have not moved faster to get at their health. There has not been a lot of sophistication, so I am surprised at the lack of sophistication.

CWM: If an HR professional were sitting in your office right now, what would you say?

Chris Boyce:

The bottom line is there is real value in what you do, and that is not the same thing as not all wellness programs offer value. Human resources is a place where they really need high precision in delivery, and so you must build on that. But you do not build on that without taking some on the chin along the way.

It is the same thing with members and member support. Make sure people really do love and use it-all the way from a customer care standpoint, and all the way from a client value standpoint. Continue to partner with those people who show intuition. As Sir Richard Branson says, "Take care of your people and they will take care of your business."

We went from a start-up to this next year account for $100 million in software subscriptions. There are always challenges. Every day.

CWM: Who are your personal heroes?

Chris Boyce:

I love this question. My parents. They are great parents. They are 79 and they are still up skiing and invited me and my family to Utah. Taking care of themselves is important, and they have really lived great lives as a result. My Dad was in his late 50s when he ran his first marathon.

That really inspired me. My wife-she is my hero. She is one of the best people I know and is amazing at how much she gives. We have five daughters, and each one of those girls is my hero. I am often amazed at the signs of brilliance that I see in those girls. Employees are my heroes. I love the effort and the passion--their selflessness and how they want to contribute.

CWM: What do you want people to know?

Chris Boyce:

They should continue to believe that investing in wellness actually works for the individual and it has a bottom line impact on the business. Because HR professionals care about people instead of just employee benefits, these people can have a real impact on individuals' lives.

The proof of the value is there and it is getting better and better all the time. Also, I don't think insurers are going to be in a position to change productivity mindsets, so I am not sure that is the right place to land.

This wellness is a broader piece and we are really about changing people's lives and delivering on those numbers. Continue to look at vendors because they are there, and they are a great place to invest.

Chris Boyce is an accomplished technology entrepreneur who brings more than 20 years of consumer loyalty, enterprise and consumer software experience to Virgin Pulse. Chris' leadership has been instrumental in guiding Virgin Pulse's development of market-leading, technology-based products and services that help employers improve workforce health, boost employee engagement, and enhance corporate culture.

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