Workforce.com

CEO Is a Product of Diversity

February 21, 2002

Barry Schuer is one of the few blind CEOs in the world. He says thatblindness shapes his approach to managing and recruiting at The Oath. "I’m aproduct of diversity," he says. "My success is built on the philosophy ofhiring people that don’t fit into corporate culture, because I didn’t fit."For Schuer, diversity is not about the way people look. It’s about respondingto people’s needs in a way that allows them to work to their fullestpotential.

Medium Company
Name:TheOath
Location:NewOrleans & Birmingham, Alabama
Business:HMO
Employees:800

So the diversity programming at The Oath focuses on services that arecustomized to fit the personal needs of employees and clients. Schuer’sfeelings about diversity shape the services and relationships the company offersto everyone. "Different people have different health-care requirements, fromthe physicians they use to the kinds of benefits they find most helpful." Hesays most large HMOs provide one-size-fits-all care that doesn’t take intoconsideration the needs of clients. His company creates packages for people whohave unique needs.

As part of its EAP package, the company offers Kinnamon Associates’pastoral network. The service links users to certified mental-healthprofessionals who also have pastoral credentials. It helps employees findmental-health professionals who share their faith. They might be deacons,rabbis, priests, or imams. "We want to give people a network they arecomfortable with, and a lot of people want faith-based medicine," Schuer says."People need a network to deal with their emotional needs, and the pastoralnetwork is a solution."

Other elements of the company’s EAP are designed to promote diversitywithin the organization, and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. Aconflict-resolution program allows employees to bring complaints to seniormanagers, executives, and even the CEO if they feel they aren’t being fairlyheard, says Peggy Matheson, director of HR.


"The more different views you bring together, the better the organization is."

The employees know that they can speak their minds without retaliation, andthey are encouraged to take care of their personal needs, with the support ofthe organization, Schuer says. For example, a senior executive recently wasunder extreme personal and professional stress and wasn’t performing well atwork. Instead of punishing him, Schuer gave the man a month off with pay to "gethis life back in order."

Schuer admits it was a risky approach, but thinks it was the best way tomaximize that employee’s productivity. It’s an example of his nontraditionalmanagement style, which he believes creates a corporate atmosphere in whichdiversity flourishes. There is little corporate hierarchy at the company, andSchuer regularly promotes people to senior positions if they show promise.

To make sure that attitude is reflected throughout the organization, managerstake diversity training to help them work more effectively and to promote keypositions equally.

The company also stresses education. Matheson says employees are urged totake advantage of the $2,000

annual tuition-reimbursement program from the day they start work because thefirm wants them to be prepared for the future.

"The only thing you can be accused of here is not taking initiative,"Schuer says. He holds monthly employee meetings in which he expects everyone toask questions and state their opinions. "The more different views you bringtogether, the better the organization is."

The HR department also seeks interns from local high schools. Representativesfrom the company speak at schools, and Matheson works with high schoolcounselors to match promising students with the right mentors. "We want toreach out to students who might be afraid to apply for these positions or whodon’t know that they exist," she says. "We go to them to make them feelcomfortable."

Workforce, February 2002, p. 68 -- Subscribe Now!