Executive Education

Getting Into the Wellness Industry Was the Healthiest Decision I Ever Made

I had spent more than 15 years leading a multibillion-dollar tech company when I had an epiphany that left me with very little satisfaction in what I was contributing to the world.

This lack of fulfillment I felt had nothing to do with tangible contributions to our products or services. It was something more abstract to me — the health and wellbeing of our 4,000-plus employees.

Our company, myself included, was laser-beam focused on a few key things: customers, partners, and working capital.

Not unlike other companies of our size, numbers were the name of the game, and that’s how I’d operated for my entire career.

I never gave my money-focused mindset a second thought until a dear friend at our company found himself dealing with a severe health condition.

My colleague suffered from a double brain aneurysm and treating that required serious medical attention and multiple surgeries. Thankfully, he lived through this experience, but the money he had to farm out to pay the medical bills was mindboggling.

It was astounding to me that even with all the money our company spent on health insurance for our employees, a medical emergency like this could leave an and employee (and company) with a substantial financial burden.

Something needed to change.

I started thinking about our healthcare system and the fact that poor health costs employers $576 billion every year. I realized that they provide a reactive solution, not a proactive one. I, on the other hand, wanted to get to the root of the issue and understand and help change the habits and behaviors that left people battling with poor health. To me, the answer was preventative care.

For example, high blood pressure and smoking are major contributors to brain aneurysms. That’s not to say that I know for certain my friend’s medical condition could have been prevented if he had stopped smoking, changed his diet, lowered his blood pressure and become more active, but habits and behaviors do play a large part in our personal health.

After realizing this, I started to look at my responsibility as a CEO with a fresh perspective.

I discovered we could do a lot more to help keep our workforce healthy. Sure, we provided the standard dental, vision, and primary health insurance, but we didn’t have any sort of wellness program that created a culture of health. On the contrary, things like stress, lack of exercise, and poor diet were the norm in our work environment. Unfortunately, many other companies have the same issue.

I was running a huge company, my focus solely on financial metrics, and I was neglecting my employees’ most basic and most important asset — their health.

Not long after realizing this, we sold the company and I got involved with a small health and wellness startup, first as an investor, and then as the CEO.

Since joining this company, now eight years ago, I’ve made it my mission to help other companies provide their employees with the wellness programs they desperately need and deserve. Programs that provide a foundation for long-term health through education, giving them the tools to take control of their healthcare and eliminating damaging habits and stress.

The more I learn about and examine the realities of our corporate health in the U.S., the more value I place on changing the mindset and behaviors of the workforce.

Our clients reveal that 65% percent of employees rate their health as good or excellent; however, 70% of those employees exhibit behaviors that make that long-term good health extremely unlikely.

Meaning, there’s a huge disconnect between how healthy people feel today, and understanding the behaviors that could put their health at risk tomorrow.

You can tell a smoker to stop smoking, but unless they recognize the consequences of their actions until they internalize how smoking today could affect them 10 years from now, they won’t quit. In fact, many smokers know that it is bad for them, but elect to smoke as a lifestyle choice. Therefore, the employer needs not only to educate them, but to help motivate them to quit smoking and to provide the support to help them achieve this goal.

Ironically, by helping companies deliver wellness programs, improving the outlook for their employees, and providing opportunities for their current and long-term health, I’ve secured my own wellness too.

I’ve long since left behind the capital-motivated mindset that I lived with for so many years. These days, I wake up every morning feeling proud of my new career and its intrinsic good value. I set out to have a positive effect on corporate health in America, and I ended up saving myself along the way.

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David Ashworth
David Ashworth is a seasoned CEO with over 30 years of heading local, regional and global businesses – from start-ups to $4 billion companies. He has held management positions in organizations in Europe, Asia and the United States.. David holds a BA in business administration from Lady Spencer Churchill College in Oxford, England, and has attended INSEAD Business School and the Stanford Executive Program.