Q&A: New BroadReach Group CEO on what it takes to lead

BroadReach’s new group CEO, Chris LeGrand, discusses UHC and the roles of strong leadership and Fourth Industrial Revolution technology. Photo by: BroadReach

BARCELONA — To achieve universal health coverage, strong leadership is vital, according to Chris LeGrand, new group CEO for the data-driven, technology-enabled BroadReach Group and former president of DAI Global Health and CEO of Futures Group.

“It's when humans come together, find a common cause, and work together to make a difference that you have something really powerful.”

— Chris LeGrand, group CEO, BroadReach Group

“My philosophy is that everything starts and ends with leadership, that nothing actually happens without it,” said LeGrand, who has taken over from co-founders Dr. John Sargent and Dr. Ernest Darkoh as they transition into new roles. “Leaders are the source of all results in an organization, good or bad. They cause things to happen that weren’t just going to happen anyway.”

Speaking to Devex, LeGrand — who is currently based in North Carolina and is splitting his time between his U.S. home and BroadReach’s South African headquarters and its various global offices — discussed how BroadReach can be a leader in pushing for UHC, what he plans to bring to the leadership role, and the lessons he has for other development leaders.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

As the incoming CEO, what do you see as the current challenges and opportunities that BroadReach faces?

I have a good vantage point — pun intended — because I am looking at how BroadReach is operated, and is operating, from an outsider's perspective. This is week one, so the caveat is that I might have a slightly different view 60 days from now.

But what I see industrywide is a continuing donor fatigue, and I think that is a challenge BroadReach faces too. We're at a point where donors are tired of funding traditional disease-specific programs but haven't yet really been able to make the argument effectively for shifting or increasing funding to things like health systems, noncommunicable diseases, and — critically — primary health care.

Another aspect I've seen is we may have unwittingly lulled emerging market governments into a false economy, where things that add value — such as software and other technologies — are free. But we know economically that to create anything of value, there is an input cost — cost to develop and cost to maintain. This dynamic causes problems with long-term sustainability. For example, open-source — while it has been good in the short-term in getting technologies out and making them widely available — my view is this is not sustainable. Maintenance, effective deployment, and continual innovation needed to realize technology’s promise is not a one-off cost. Long-term, I think we have to deal with that in development to help create sustainability.

On the flip side of that, there's an opportunity for organizations like BroadReach to create new value. Technology, the power of data, including integrating data across the whole health ecosystem creates an amazing opportunity to transform health care globally to deliver affordable, accessible, high-quality health care for a fraction of what it was before.

How can BroadReach contribute to making UHC a reality?

If you look at UHC and delivering primary health care in a broad way, it is in desperate need of innovative approaches and technologies. The sorts of resources that have been put into disease-specific topics have meant primary health care has continued to be starved, frankly. I have seen this firsthand in places like Nigeria. But technologies like the Vantage platform, which BroadReach implements, provides effective decision support tools for clinicians, researchers, hospitals, health administrators, public health professionals, and consumers themselves.

I think BroadReach also has a distinct value-add to integrate private sector health care into an ecosystem approach. Particularly in primary health care, we really need the private sector as a partner at the table.

Living here in North Carolina, I don't tend to think of the world so much as developed and developing countries or international versus domestic. I tend to think of all of us as global but focused around how that gets delivered locally.

What is your view on the role of Fourth Industrial Revolution technology in transforming health care and providing access to all?

Technology is increasingly ubiquitous. By putting these sorts of tools in the hands of consumers, there is an opportunity is to really democratize the use of technology and the use of data in a people-centered way, in a way that people can actually be educated, have information at their fingertips, or tools empowering them to make better decisions about how to live healthier, happier lives. It involves meeting people where they are, not building these things and saying “come and get them.” It's actually building tools, techniques, and technologies to reach people where and how they live and work.

You recently published a book, “The Complete Business Leader: A Framework for Impact in Work and Life.” What lessons from this and other positions will you bring into your new role to help you contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Empowering action. Changing lives.

The BroadReach Group is a group of social-impact companies focused on improving the health and well-being of populations around the world. Founded in 2003 by Dr. John Sargent and Dr. Ernest Darkoh, the group has evolved into three independent and distinct businesses: BroadReach Consulting, Vantage Technologies, and BroadReach Healthcare. BroadReach supports clients and unlocks their data through Vantage technology to better deliver and manage large-scale health care programs in underserved communities.

I'm on a journey, continuously learning. What I hope to bring to BroadReach is the full extent of what I have learned: the good and bad, the mistakes I've made, and the successes I've had as a leader. The book is a framework I developed that has seven dimensions of leadership, which I call “being the complete business leader.” The reality, though, is you're actually never complete, so that's the whole paradox of the framework. Of those seven dimensions, the foundation is what I call individual wisdom or being self-aware. I hope I can bring all of that to BroadReach, which includes being curious, continuously learning, knowing that I don't have all of the answers, being courageous, making hard decisions when I have to make hard decisions — even if I don't like them — and being responsible. I want to be able to be my best self and ultimately leave anything that I touch better than I found it.

What are your three tips for other aspiring leaders within the development sector?

I don't think anybody's ever done learning and growing. And I think at the point you think you've arrived, you definitely haven't.

For younger leaders, I almost always tell them to try a lot of different things, resist the temptation to be boxed in, and if you have uncertain paths, just pick a path and go. There's almost no irreversible decisions in life, particularly early on.

Whether it's a 25-year-old leader or a 50-year-old leader, I always say: Choose a purpose, a reason for what you're doing that's creating value in the world. It's not about leadership skills per se, but finding something that you want to do that makes a difference and being intentional about creating value and then pursuing it with great passion and determination. I might say, “Ask yourself every day: ‘What am I doing to create value in the world today?’”

Is there anything specific that you think the development community should know about your plan as you go into your new role?

One of the things that I have learned in my own journey is that it's not so much individual organizations that are key — it's actually the human beings that reside in those organizations. It's when humans come together, find a common cause, and work together to make a difference that you have something really powerful. Organizations are important, but they're really the vessels through which human beings actually make a difference.

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