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Succeeding with a Focus on People

Roger Valine draws from his sociology background when setting strategy at technologically advanced VSP.

If you didn't know Roger Valine and observed him enjoying the solitude of a ride on his 1993 Heritage Softail Harley motorcycle, or reading Zen of Zelda (a picture book in which life lessons are presented by a 60-pound bulldog), you probably would be interested to learn that he is president and CEO of Vision Services Plan (VSP, Sacramento, CA, more than $700 million in assets). But then again, Valine would probably be just as interested in you. "Ever since I was a child I have always been fascinated by the many different personalities I was exposed to," explains Valine, who has a degree in sociology.

It is Valine's ability to apply his sociology training to business that has made him the successful leader of the technologically advanced carrier, which provides vision care coverage to 12.6 percent of the US population. Valine's strategy is simple: "When making a decision I try to put myself in the position of the person who may be impacted, whether it is an employee, client, VSP member, network doctor, or even a potential competitor," explains Valine, who has spent 11 of his 30-year VSP tenure in the role of CEO.

A result of Valine's methodology that focuses on "the behavior management process, to help people embrace and not fight change," is the creation of EyeFinity—a separate, for-profit start-up company that was founded by VSP in 2000. "Our private practice eye doctors are small business owners who in many cases are not on the leading edge of technology," explains Valine. "EyeFinity has been instrumental in connecting many of our doctors into the world of e-commerce." Currently, doctors using EyeFinity are processing thousands of electronic claims each month. According to the CEO, the impact on the business has been huge. "We've seen a reduction at VSP in the costs associated with the manual processing of claims," he relates. "We have been able to pass those savings along to our clients, while still maintaining strong reimbursements to our doctors."

Online ROI

VSP is also realizing ROI as a direct result of a dramatic 98 percent increase in traffic to its Web site ( from 2001 to 2002. According to Valine, the growth was due to the creation of many new benefits and more aggressive promotion, which has created greater awareness. He adds that 6.4 million people visited VSP's Web site in 2002, noting that every time a customer service call is avoided, $3.80 is saved. Additionally, notes Valine, the site's self-service capabilities are valuable because they allow the carrier to expand from its service hours to 24/7.

But Valine won't take all the credit. "Honestly, the best thing I've done is hire good, intelligent and hard-working people," he relates. One of those talented people—Steve Scott, vice president of information services—was named one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2003. IT talent is attracted to the carrier, which ranked 25th on Fortune's 2002 list of the 100 Best Companies To WorkFor, because of programs such as Friends of VSP and Real Life Benefits. Friends of VSP lets employees extend VSP's eyecare benefits to family and friends. Real Life Benefits allows employees to get special rates on services such as pet insurance, legal counsel and real estate loans.

"Our entire IT division is located in our headquarters," reports Valine. "Candidates know VSP is a very stable company and they find that they will enjoy many challenges, as we are working with leading-edge Internet technologies and programming languages."


Embracing Change

"The best thing I've done is hire good, intelligent and hard-working people," relates VSP's president/CEO, Roger Valine.

Background: Joined VSP as management trainee in 1973. Became VP of sales in '78. Named SVP/president of subsidiaries in '87. Named president/CEO in '92.

Recent Wins: - The creation of EyeFinity, a separate for-profit company aimed at e-claims.

- Reduced costs, expanded service through on-line self-service.

Hobbies: Fishing, hunting, golfing, riding his Harley. Last book read: "Execution--The Discipline of Getting Things Done," by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, Charles Burck.

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