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A conversation with Andy Eckert

April 1, 2011
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-In-Chief
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In his first interview, CRC Health Group's new CEO looks forward to his work with the nation's largest addiction treatment provider.
The CEO of CRC Health: R. Andrew “Andy” Eckert. Photo by Jim Nagareda, Nagareda Studio (San Jose, Calif.)

At the time of our interview in March, R. Andrew “Andy” Eckert, 49, had been at the helm of CRC Health Group for exactly 60 days, much of which has been spent on the road, visiting many of CRC Health's 140 locations across the United States. So, his thoughts are, necessarily, evolving.

But it's already clear that although his experience does not include past work in behavioral health, he brings a sophisticated knowledge of the business and healthcare worlds in which CRC Health Group operates. After earning a BS degree in industrial engineering and later, an MBA from Stanford University, Eckert joined ADAC Laboratories, a small maker of imaging and nuclear medicine equipment, as controller in 1989. Just eight years-and a few leaps of growth later-Eckert was named CEO. The company's success attracted an acquisition offer from Philips, which was accepted in December 2000.

Shortly thereafter, in early 2002, Andy joined Docent, a $25 million enterprise software company that, as CEO, he later merged with another company to form SumTotal Systems. Under Eckert's leadership as CEO, this maker of e-learning systems quickly grew into a $100 million concern.

Despite his success in the software business, Eckert said that he “had an itch to get back into healthcare.” In 2005, that itch led him to Eclipsys, a developer and marketer of EMR, billing, and ancillary departmental software systems for some of the world's largest healthcare organizations. As CEO at Eclipsys, Andy cemented relationships with senior health system executives while executing a major repositioning and restructuring of the company. During his time at Eclipsys, the company grew by about 40 percent, adding some $150 million in annual revenue.

After Eclipsys moved its headquarters to Atlanta in 2008, Eckert felt the pull of family and business ties to Silicon Valley, and so departed the company to join a private equity firm in 2009. It was there that, in the fall of 2010, he heard about CRC Health Group and began the process that led to his selection as CEO in December 2010. His work began on Jan. 3, 2011.

Q. What drew you to CRC Health?

A. I will tell you-it's funny-addiction treatment just doesn't jump out at you naturally as a field that you should get into, and I don't have any personal experience with treatment and recovery, though there has been experience in my extended family.

A few years ago, before I knew anything about CRC, my wife and I decided to look into programs that could help our son, who was having a weight problem. “Looking back, he's changed his life. He's a totally different kid-very confident, very athletic, well situated socially. When I was alerted to the opportunity at CRC Health, I looked up the company, and, lo and behold, they, or rather we, owned Wellspring.”

I like being in the healthcare business. I always have. I stumbled into it originally, but I've found working in healthcare to be more gratifying personally.

Q. You stumbled into healthcare? Tell us about that.

A. I got into healthcare initially because I needed a job. It was with this little company-ADAC Laboratories-in San Jose. I found that I really enjoyed it. ADAC was developing and building imaging equipment which was used in cancer diagnosis and treatment. At the time, our PET (positron emitting tomography) scanners were the best in the world for identifying metastatic disease. It was very interesting work and ultimately, I worked my way to the CEO spot. The business grew as well and ultimately, was acquired by Philips and became part of what is today Philips Medical Systems.

Q. What have you been up to so far at CRC?

A. I spent my first month here traveling around and meeting our people-three or four solid weeks-in Pennsylvania, California, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Washington, and more. I've had meetings and lunches with a lot of patients and with a lot of our people on the ground-doctors, nurses, therapists and others. And, I've learned a lot.

Recently, I've been meeting a lot with the management team-trying to work through our 2011 objectives, thinking about how we want to manage the company and where are the places that we can improve in the near term.

Q. What's your biggest challenge at CRC Health's largest business segment-the Recovery Division?

A. We all know that there's a big unfilled need for chemical dependency treatment. General Barry McCaffrey (former head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and longtime CRC board member) reminded me of that the first time I met him. He asked, ‘How many people do you treat a day at CRC?’ I told him, ‘About 30,000.’ Then he asked, ‘How many people in this country do you think need our help?’ When I told him that I didn't know, he replied, ‘15 million.’ That really sunk in.

So, for me, the big question is: How do we reach those families in need? We provide an important and a great service-one that I'd like to think is the best available. But how do we prove that? And, how do we reach all of the people out there that need our help?

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