Sunday, January 21, 2018
Business

High-tech Xcenda hires smart workers and pays them well

PALM HARBOR

Pay at Xcenda runs from $40,000 a year well into six figures including quarterly performance bonuses.

More than half the 245 person staff works from home.

The mission: make a case that persuades health insurance providers to pay for new drugs that work and help patients feel better.

"I've worked jobs all over the country, and I just pinch myself that I'm working where," said Justin Merritt, a 37-year-old software developer, "It's more than great benefits. I feel valued by a team of very smart, down-to-earth people with alphabet titles after their name."

Staffed by doctors, pharmacists, health policy experts, statistical analysts and medical communications specialists, Xcenda is a fast- growing consulting business that is picky about hiring, holds high expectations for its employees and is willing to pay to keep them.

"We look for excellence and teamwork from people who really enjoy working in a group," said Amy Grogg, Xcenda president who works from home in Chattanooga by teleconferencing, traveling to the companies three offices across the Southeast and visiting pharmaceutical and biotech maker clients.

Countryside High School graduate and pharmaceutical scientist Robert Mauch launched Xcenda in 1994, hiring his pharmacist sister Chrissy Flemister as employee No. 2 a year later. It's grown ever since, especially after drug distribution giant AmeriSource Bergen, the 27th largest company on the Fortune 500, bought Xcenda in 2007. Mauch advanced to senior vice president of the Philadelphia-based parent company's biggest division, which distributes 20 percent of all pharmaceutical and biotech drugs sold in the United States.

Xcenda plays a critical role for AmeriSource customers. Its teams go to work when the FDA gives a bio-tech or pharmaceutical manufacturer the green light for a new drug. Xcenda conducts patient surveys, researches the competition, tracks therapy results and uses economic modeling to persuade physicians to prescribe it and health insurers to pay for it.

For a hypertension drug, for instance, Xcenda developed more effective prescribing instructions for doctors and patients that increased dosage adherence from 40 percent to 70 percent. That helped double the insurers willing to cover the therapy.

Solutions can be anything from figuring out how to get more heart patients to take an ace inhibitor and beta blocker in one pill with a single co-pay to finding better paperwork coding so insurers pay faster.

It's a creative and collaborative workplace in which multi-discipline team leadership roles constantly shift as the work evolves and the drug rolls out.

Xcenda even wrote a mobile app as a sales tool for pharmaceutical detail sales people to make on-the-spot financial projections at physicians offices.

It's a collegial environment that can mean long hours to meet short deadlines. Merritt has pulled some overnighters, but got flex time back.

"It's an all hands-on-deck atmosphere," said Nancy Young, 47-year-old client services director. "Everybody pitches in and there are no power plays. Anybody can ask anybody anything — right up to the top."

The company helps new arrivals fit in.

Pharmacy school interns find their office door plastered with "congratulations" banners the day they are hired full-time. Newcomer introductions are part of monthly office birthday and anniversary coffee and cake celebrations. About half the 63 people who work at the Palm Harbor headquarters joined a company Toastmasters chapter that develops confidence in public speaking while telling personal stories to co-workers.

Office events can be elaborate. The company celebrates the Indian new year with take out food or dishes brought from home by its dozen employees of Indian heritage. Employees bring their costumed kids to work for Halloween Trick or Treating day in offices festooned with fog machines, fake spider webs and hanging bats.

Baseball outings are frequent, bowling nights are competitive and the annual chili cookoff rivalries — pitting crockpot concoctions from up to 20 self-styled chefs — get intense.

"People start talking smack about two weeks out and it just builds," said Jay Jackson, a vice president. "We are randomly broken into teams for just about everything —east side of the building against the west, men versus the women and so on — so we get very competitive. It's not about the prizes. It's about bragging rights."

Indeed, when the Palm Harbor office asked employees to contribute for a food bank they were urged to buy extra so they could issue a challenge to the Charlotte office to top the effort.

"The company is about proving value and improving patient access to effective pharmaceuticals," said Susan Maue, senior vice president of operations. "But we have fun, too."

Kathy Bauernschmidt had retired from a pharmaceutical job when she answered an ad for someone with 10 years executive secretary experience in a health care environment.

"I figured I'd stay two years because I really just needed the health benefits," she said. "That was seven years ago, and I'm not leaving."

Staff Writer Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.

 
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