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and then this happened…Jeffrey Bayer

School Days

Ramsey High School, University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce, and UAB program in urban development. 

What People Don’t Know

“I dropped out of college, went back after a semester, graduated and headed to Stowe, Vermont to be a ski bum.” After cutting his long hair and buying a suit, Bayer’s next act was Hyatt Hotel Corporation’s first-ever national executive training program.

Summit Design

Inspired by a mountain town in Italy. “I immediately thought how a series of modern-day villages might fit the challenging topography at The Summit site.”

Real Estate

Working for Hyatt Corporation in Houston, Texas, “I was introduced to a booming real estate economy and saw all the creativity utilized in the process, and thought you can create whatever the mind can conceive.” He founded Bayer Properties in 1983 after 10 years as partner in Birmingham’s Metropolitan Properties. 

Mentoring

“Banker Stan Mackin agreed to talk with me long ago. It meant so much that he would take the time to meet with such a young person. I made the decision to make myself available if young people ask for my time—and I do.”

First Project

Avon Place, a historic rehab which paved the way for the development of the Lakeview neighborhood.

Bettering Birmingham

The Bayer Properties portfolio includes Cahaba Village (Whole Foods), The Pizitz, Uptown, The Summit and more.

Perfect Birmingham Evening

“The symphony or Red Mountain Theatre, dinner around Five Points or at The Summit—and, always, being with my family.”

Caring and Sharing

The Bayers offer support to Temple Emanu-El, UAB’s Visual Arts Center, Red Mountain Theatre Company, and the Community Foundation among others. As of recent, Violins of Hope.

The Family File

Met wife Gail, a Dallas native, during the Texas years; two daughters and four grandchildren. Avid skiers and fly fishers.

Next Up

Helping his Dallas daughter and son-in-law build a development firm; redeveloping portions of The Summit. 

Alabama Sawyer

By taking fallen urban trees and turning them into modern, high-design furniture and other wood products, Alabama Sawyer—founded in 2016 by Cliff Spencer, Leigh Spencer, and Bruce Lanier—fills a valuable niche in the movement toward sustainability and environmental stewardship. It saves these trees from ending up in landfills, creating waste and releasing carbon into the environment as they rot.

The Spencers (who are husband and wife) and Lanier believe in that mission wholeheartedly. But Cliff is quick to point out that “good for the environment” is not Alabama Sawyer’s strongest business value proposition. “We talk about what we do from an economical point of view, a resourceful point of view,” he says. “Instead of seeing a fallen tree as something that gets thrown away, we recognize it as a resource, create the infrastructure to make use of it, and create a valuable product.

“That in turn creates an economic engine that’s valuable for the city, the state and the whole country.”

To grasp the business’ mission, it’s important to distinguish between trees that are specifically grown and harvested for large-scale manufacturing and the urban trees that Alabama Sawyer essentially rescues from becoming refuse. These are the trees found in neighborhoods, parks, or lining city streets—beloved for the shade, privacy and natural beauty they provide. But when these trees are felled by storms, cut down because they’re dangerously close to buildings or power lines, or just reach the end of their natural lifespan, there is no system in place to preserve them. Alabama Sawyer networks with tree services and other collaborators to take these trees before they’re chopped up and shipped away, then dries them and stores them, continually working to build up an inventory of raw material.

Currently, the largest portion of Alabama Sawyer’s sales come from commercial contracts, including orders for large conference tables, counter tops, and shelving. Cliff says business owners today want more than traditional, cookie-cutter workspaces, and Alabama Sawyer offers a way to provide office components that tell stories and add character.

“Tastes have totally changed, and work habits have totally changed,” he says. “We come in to be able to offer unique materials and beautiful, sleek, thoughtful design to create the elements that make these workplaces unique interesting and innovative.”

Another segment of their business comes includes smaller boutique items like ice buckets, breakfast-in-bed trays, and cutting boards. They also occasionally do projects that Leigh calls “concierge work,” including making wood flooring for two homes out of trees from the homeowners’ own backyards or neighborhoods.

The owners say that along with powerful word of mouth publicity and a healthy dose of hustle, Alabama Sawyer owes much of its success to a local culture that appreciates home-grown products and history. “Someone can build a brand around anything,” says Lanier, “but in this case it’s not really just building a brand around the notion of doing nice, custom furniture and great products. It’s an honest narrative about stewardship, design and sense of place.”

The Power of Innovation

Baked into the culture of innovation at Alabama Power Company is the element of surprise.

The notion of the powerful electrical utility sharply focused on innovation might surprise most people, according to Mark Crosswhite, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Alabama Power Company, which provides electricity to more than 1.4 million customers across the state. But the innovative spirit is alive and well, Crosswhite says.

“Most people don’t think of an electric utility as particularly innovative because we’ve always been here,” Crosswhite says. “But we are seeing such a change in the kind of products that people want, the kind of devices that are available, that spirit of innovation is driving much of our thinking here at the company.”

Right now, among the biggest questions at the power company is “how can we better serve our customers by taking advantage of technology,” Crosswhite says.

“One of the things we’ve done here at the company to jump-start that idea, to create that kind of culture, is a competition we had a year or so ago called Spark. The basis behind the Spark competition was to get employees to come up with ideas. They are closer to the customers. They’re the ones having the day-to-day interface with customers. So we asked, what can we do to be more effective, to bring to market products that customers want? We had 150 ideas submitted and we’re working through those right now to see which ones are the most viable,” Crosswhite says.

“Technology changes everything so rapidly. It presents opportunities for us to serve our customers better and provide new opportunities,” he says. When you look past the present-day electrical utility into the history of Alabama Power, you see that innovation and an embrace of new technology is the essence of their origin story.

“Innovation is really our origin. We are a technology company and we were founded on the basis of technology when we were first formed a hundred and twelve years ago. Our predecessors started building dams across the state to provide electrical power to our customers. Of course, at the time we didn’t have any customers so we had to create the electricity and then create a market for it. The idea of innovation runs through our company from the very beginning,” Crosswhite says.

Today the essence of that innovation is focused on smart home technology and electric vehicles, innovations that will transform our lives in the years to come.

Take for example, the Smart Neighborhood recently created at Ross Bridge.

Smart Neighborhood is a state-of-the-art community of 62 high-performance homes featuring advanced smart systems and appliances, connected to a community-scale microgrid. Performance data and energy use gathered from the homes’ innovative features will provide insight into how neighborhoods of the future will function, and which programs and services can provide energy solutions for Alabama Power customers.

The project is a partnership with homebuilder Signature Homes, researchers at Alabama Power’s parent Southern Company and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, along with other technology vendors. Signature Homes is overseeing the construction and sale of the homes at the Reynolds Landing community. All 62 homes have sold.

The Alabama project features the Southeast’s first community-scale microgrid. It is comprised of solar panels, battery energy storage and a natural gas generator that supplements power from the existing electric grid.

Each home in the Smart Neighborhood is built with emerging energy-efficient building features, and equipped with leading-edge technology, including a high-efficiency heat pump, an intelligence home comfort system with an Infinity Touch thermostat, voice-activated security, smart locks, cameras, interconnected appliances, triple-pane windows, LED lighting and more.

“It is how homes of the future will function,” Crosswhite says.

The other major technological change underway is the race into electric cars, a development that will have a huge impact on electric utilities. In many ways, the infrastructure needs that the rise of electric vehicles will uncover echo the very beginnings of Alabama Power’s drive to electrify the state in the early years of the last century.

“Tesla revolutionized it, but now we’re seeing most if not all of the automobile manufacturers coming out with electric vehicles. To get off the ground, we’re going to need infrastructure across the states that would have charging stations. So when you stop at a restaurant to eat, we’re going to have infrastructure developed to take care of charging your vehicle. We’ll need to have charger facilities located along the interstate at various locations for people to charge up,” Crosswhite says.

“But we also know that most people will charge electric vehicles at home overnight, and so we have developed some services and pricing that will allow customers to plug their cars in overnight in a very, very cost effective way to fuel those cars.”

In smart housing and electric cars, Alabama Power can “act as an aggregator for all these types of developments,” he says.

Another initiative of the power company that can be traced to the very beginnings of the utility is economic development. “Economic development goes back to the very beginning of our company in part because we knew we had to bring business in in order to develop electricity,” Crosswhite says.

“We are seeing a lot of activity right now, a lot of positive activity in economic development. Businesses and industries are looking at the state, and so we feel good about that. How many fish can we land will be the big question. We have strong communities across the state and an elected leadership that is very committed to bringing new businesses to the state, as well as keeping the business we already have here prosperous. That’s an important part of economic development. We have a great group of leaders who want the state to succeed,” Crosswhite says.

But there are challenges, particularly in the realm of education and workforce development. “In the next four to five years, two-thirds of jobs are going to need post-secondary education. Will we be able to fill these high-tech sophisticated jobs? Right now, we are falling behind and that’s something that we take very seriously,” he says.

“We have been working very closely with our two-year college system across the state to figure out how we can design a program that will enable them to take young people and have them ready to go to work when they graduate. The Alabama Workforce Council is an effort to put together a plan in the state that will ensure we have the type of education system that will develop the type of employees we need for the next century.

“We have a lot of natural advantages, but in workforce development, education and regional cooperation, we do have some challenges as well,” he says.

Before taking the helm at Alabama Power, Crosswhite served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent company. He was responsible for Southern Company’s Operations organization, which includes Generation, Transmission, Engineering and Construction Services, System Planning, Research and Environmental Affairs, Fleet Operations, and Trading.

Crosswhite also was responsible for Southern Power, which provides energy to municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities. Crosswhite started at Southern Company in 2004 as senior vice president and general counsel for Southern Company Generation. Prior to that, he represented the company in private practice for 17 years in a wide variety of energy and regulatory matters.

In 2006, Crosswhite joined Alabama Power as senior vice president and counsel, where he oversaw the company’s legal matters. In 2008, he was named executive vice president for External Affairs, where he directed Regulatory Affairs, Economic and Community Development, Public Relations, Environmental Affairs, and Governmental Affairs. In 2011, Crosswhite became president and chief executive officer of Gulf Power, a Southern Company subsidiary based in Pensacola, Fl.

Crosswhite is chairman of the board of both the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and the United Way of Central Alabama. He serves on numerous corporate, civic, and nonprofit boards, including the Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham Business Alliance, Business Council of Alabama, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., Southern Research, the University of Alabama Law School Foundation, and Leadership Birmingham. He also serves on the President’s Advisory Council of the Freshwater Land Trust and is a member of the President’s Cabinet of the University of Alabama.

Crosswhite is a native of Decatur. His family has deep roots in the state, dating to the early 19th century. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1984 from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a J.D. degree in 1987 from the University of Alabama School of Law. Crosswhite and his wife, Jane Emily, have two sons.

“One of our sons has graduated and is working at Regions. The other is at the University of Alabama right now. I think all of us who have children, we want them to be able to stay here and prosper here. We have to have jobs for our young people, or they will go to Atlanta or some other city. That’s the personal side of economic development for me,” Crosswhite says.

“From the business side, we’ve always been involved in economic development. Where we stand now is that Alabama Power is devoted to Alabama. For us to grow, for us to be successful, we need to see more economic development and more businesses come to Alabama and that’s the way Alabama Power will grow.”

Driving Force

Setting a standard for luxury in metro Birmingham is the focus for Mercedes-Benz of Birmingham general manager Randy Powell.

For more than 40 years, Mercedes-Benz of Birmingham, formerly known as Crown, has been serving greater Birmingham in Mercedes-Benz sales, service and parts.

With new ownership came the impetus to expand the footprint for Mercedes in Birmingham, as well as a drive to create for the city’s purchasers the “kind of luxury experience they deserve,” says GM Powell.

Mercedes-Benz of Birmingham and Mercedes-Benz of Music City are majority owned by Joe Agresti and Nick and Terry Saban. Agresti owns other Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Baton Rouge and Woodlands, Texas.

With the opening of the Irondale dealership just off Grants Mill Road and I-459, Mercedes-Benz now has two locations to serve customers. The original Hoover campus will offer full service facilities, as well as used car sales and commercial van sales. The Irondale dealership will focus on service and new and used vehicle sales.

Coach Nick Saban brings an unparalleled sense of commitment and desire to the process of running a successful dealership for both customers and employees. Coach Saban says, “The ‘good enough is good enough’ attitude is not what we’re looking for, we have got to use every opportunity to improve individually so we can improve collectively.”

The new dealership is set in a commanding position on a hillside overlooking the interstate. The nine-acre site has room for about 600 new and used vehicles.

The facility is a comprehensive sales and service dealership which has the capacity to house about 70 employees.

Designed by Praxis3 and constructed by Rives Construction, the dealership features floor to ceiling windows and stark black paneling outside that shows off the Mercedes three-pointed star logo burnished to a high polish. A long drive winds its way up from Grants Mill to the dealership with plenty of vehicles in view. Outdoor fountains complete the luxury feel of the exterior.

The showpiece of the exterior of the dealership is without a doubt the tall glass tower that showcases a vehicle, looming over the space below. Given the ownership of the enterprise a likely color for the car on display in the tower is crimson red.

Inside the main area of the dealership, a colorful indoor fountain sets a luxurious mood, coupled with specialized artwork adorning the walls. The showroom will serve as the delivery location for customers to pick up their new vehicles.

One of the most innovative aspects of the dealership is the full-service Edgar’s Bakery located right on site. The bakery goods, sandwiches and beverages enhance the comfortable feeling for customers.

Along with high-touch, high tech is very much in evidence at the dealership with amenities that enhance the service aspects of the customer experience. For example, when a vehicle enters a service bay, the vehicle’s alignment will automatically be checked.

Wifi is available throughout the Irondale campus. The service facility is within view of the comfortable customer lounge so that customers have a sense of their vehicle’s status throughout the service process.

The service areas have been designed to be bright and airy with plenty of lighting and a high-tech gloss to the space.

Salad Days

If you’ve never stopped by the local grocery store to grab some Mrs. Stratton’s pimento cheese or chicken salad to put out when friends were coming by—or any time you were hungry, and it just looked good—maybe you’re not from here.

The Mrs. Stratton’s tradition originated in the 1950s with its namesake family but was purchased by brothers John and Tom Bradford in the 1970s. The brand has grown exponentially from a small family business into a staple in grocery stores throughout Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. A significant part of the business also includes sales to restaurants and food-service institutions. (John Bradford passed away in 2010, and his son George is the owner today.)

Still based in Birmingham, with the main facility located here, the company has since added a second production facility and warehouse in Burlington, N.C. In all, Mrs. Stratton’s has a total of 325 employees and more than 150 delivery routes.

Products sold under the Mrs. Stratton’s name—not only pimento cheese and chicken salads but several other products in the “wet salads” category, such as potato salads, cole slaw, and pasta salads—dominate sales in the local market, but the acquisition of other major brands such as Star Foods and Ballard Farms has also allowed the company to expand into other territories as well as new food categories, including stews and chilis, which are primarily manufactured at the Burlington facility.

By The Numbers

Total Alabama Power Customers: 1,475,048

Residential: 85.98%

Commercial: 13.55%

Others: 0.47%

Total Poles and Towers: 1,565,929

Miles of line: 84,564

6,613 Employees

5,702 Retirees

Service Area: 45,000 Square Miles

 

Total Revenue: $5,667,353,840.28

Residential: 40.62%

Commercial: 29.10%

Industrial: 26.06%

Resale: 3.70%

Other: 0.52%

Frequent Flyer

Cherri Ellis’ workday might be here at home in Birmingham, or it might be out in one of dozens of other cities her job takes her to. But one thing remains constant: the focus is always on creative ways to make her customers successful.

Ellis is national creative strategy director for Kernel, the internal creative agency for Spectrum Reach. Spectrum Reach, the advertising sales and production services offered by Charter Communications, provides custom solutions for the modern media landscape. Operating in 30+ M households, nearly 100 markets, and 41 states, Spectrum Reach provides scalable advertising and marketing services utilizing national cable networks, internet advertising, and promotional events backed by marketing, research, and award-winning creative services.

Given that platform, Ellis’ work encompasses a lot of touchpoints, but mostly her focus is on utilizing research and strategy to help businesses tell their story through the right creative, and then extend that creative message to every screen possible.

“I get to work with immensely skilled people who care, and my clients range from small business owners to global companies. Even with all of the research, data and metrics that take the guessing game out of advertising, there is still a discernible magic that comes with producing the creative elements of a campaign. Video that connects emotionally, whether it makes you laugh cry or think, never gets old,” Ellis says.

Putting together campaigns and messaging also never gets old for Ellis, or loses its intrinsic importance to her customers. “To first-time advertisers, I always say congratulations—you deserve this! You worked hard to build your business, and not advertising it is like throwing a party but forgetting to send the invitations. All the hot crab dip in the word cannot entice someone who doesn’t know about it,” Ellis says.

Ellis’ work takes her to a large portion of Spectrum’s footprint, which means some significant air travel. “I love the clarity that comes at 30,000 feet. It is so insane that to sit in the sky things seem clearer. It is a great time to make decisions, so I work, write, read or make plans. Every now and again my seatmate will need to talk, and I try to always be present for that. Sometimes talking to a complete stranger on a plane allows for a level of candor that people don’t have on the ground. Respect that,” Ellis says.

How I fly

A few tips from Ellis for fellow corporate travelers:

When I travel for business, I tend to over pack my schedule in the efforts of efficiency, and so I do a lot of skidding in sideways at the gate.  When I travel for pleasure, I am super crazy chill.  No matter why I’m on a flight, here is my advice:

1. The parent of a crying baby is having a worse day than you. Offer the parent the seat next to you and buy them a drink.

2. A pack of peanuts has 70 calories, and a pack of Biscoff cookies has 120. You can have both and the world will not end. Don’t fly hungry.

3. Women:  Own Tieks. They are flats that fold and fit in your briefcase and if you find yourself needing to make a gate at a different concourse—whip on your Tieks and run.

4. Unless you are flying to a location that’s wintry, don’t check a bag. If you can avoid checking a bag, pack six black things and a colored pashmina and go.

5. Come out of your own little world sometimes. Get off your phone, make eye contact, smile at someone, and share your gum at takeoff and landing.  

Coffee With Jamie Tankersley

For Jamie Tankersley, the most exciting part of his job as general manager of the Saks Fifth Avenue store at The Summit begins and ends with the people, punctuated neatly with the notion that “everyone is welcome.”

“I think what excites me the most about being here and retail in general are the people I get to interact with every day; whether it’s the clients, the style advisors or the brand ambassadors. The interaction with them  is really what gets me going,” Tankersley says.

For a few years prior to coming to Saks, Tankersley was the vice president of store operations for Belk based in Charlotte. “I was in a corporate office nine or ten hours a day either in front of a computer screen or moving from meeting to meeting. I just about went crazy. My career prior to had been in the field, in the stores.”

Back in 1999, Tankersley received his initial training in the retail trade at Parisian here in his hometown of Birmingham. “Truly that foundation is still the foundation that plays such a major part in the decisions I make today, even all this time later. I saw Donald Hess (former chairman of Parisian) the other day. I have such a high level of gratitude towards him. He fostered a culture that had such a profound impact on so many people. I am so grateful I could establish my roots in that culture,” Tankersley says.

Metro Birmingham also formed Tankersley. “When I decided to make the change, I really wanted to get closer to Birmingham to get back home,” he says. Both his and his wife’s extended family live in the area.

“So in addition to having the opportunity to work for this great organization, this opportunity gave me the ability to get closer to the people who are most important to me,” he says.

The other important people work with Tankersley every day. “We have talented and incredibly capable style advisors and brand ambassadors. A hundred percent of their responsibilities is providing the highest level of customer service that we possibly can. Our goal is to welcome the client into the building and ensure from the very beginning that their experience is great,” says Tankersley.

“The investment that the company makes in our style advisors and our brand ambassadors from a training standpoint is just remarkable. We invest in technology that allow us to service the client wherever she is, so being able to service her where she is and how she wants it is important. The customer has more options today than they ever had. Saks Fifth Avenue is constantly challenging us: How do we strengthen our ability to be able to serve the client? Saks Fifth Avenue is right on the front edge of that charge.”

Tankersley says he loves being on the front line. “Here in the store everything is tactical. You can have an impact every single day and that is what is really most exciting to me.”

10 Things

Leadership

Lakeshore Foundation is a non-profit organization known internationally as a leader in adapted sport, recreation, fitness, aquatics, research and advocacy.

Making a Difference

Alabama needs Lakeshore. Twenty-two percent of adults in the United States and 30 percent of adults in Alabama have some type of disability. Our state ranks second in the percentage of people with disability. That’s what motivates Lakeshore to serve this valuable community.

Economic impact

Lakeshore has an economic impact on the Birmingham metropolitan area of $33.6 million and attracts more than 1,300 visitors from outside the Birmingham MSA.

Olympic training

Lakeshore is celebrating 15 years as an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site and is the home of the U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team, ranked #1 in the world. Several other U.S. teams and athletes train and compete at the facility.

Inclusive

Lakeshore actively promotes inclusive policies and programs at the local, state, national and international levels.

Collaborative

In 2009, Lakeshore joined forces with UAB to create the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative which is leading the nation in research related to people with disability.

Lima Foxtrot

Lakeshore has served more than 2,600 injured servicemen and women and their families from 46 states through its Lima Foxtrot Program for injured military. Participants use lessons from sport and recreation to pursue an active, healthy lifestyle.

Health & Wellness

The Lakeshore Foundation campus is the epicenter of health and wellness for people with disability and chronic health conditions and includes the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Encompass Health, Children’s of Alabama and UAB.

For the Children

Children with disabilities in our community and across Alabama get active at Lakeshore by participating in daily programs, athletics, recreation and camps, often the only structured physical education they receive.

NO LIMITS

Lakeshore is a place where people can push themselves to try new things and succeed at whatever they want to accomplish. At Lakeshore, there is no physical limit to human achievement.

Advertising in a Digital World

I teach an advertising writing class as an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama. The other day, one of my students pointed to the screen of her laptop and asked, “Can we talk about this?” I looked over her shoulder. She had pulled up Facebook’s summation of all the data they had on her.  Pretty soon the others in the class were doing the same. The room clamored. “How do they know this?” “Where did they get this?” etc. What ensued was a long conversation about how data these days puts tremendous power in the hands of advertisers and how, as practitioners responsible for creating advertising, we have a responsibility to do the right thing. You know the old saw: with great power comes great responsibility. And truly, the power at our disposal as advertisers is great. Terrifying but great. What makes the power of data so frightening is the fact that so few people really understand it. In fact, I’m willing to bet that as you read this you’re thinking, “I’m not sure I really understand this whole data thing.” So, let’s dig in a bit shall we?

Generally speaking, everything we do online generates data. With a properly constructed strategy, I can see what your interests are, feed you messaging that aligns with your interests, track you as you pursue your interests on my website, continue to track you after you leave my website (all the while serving up more messaging that aligns with your interests), and even reconfigure my website just for you the next time you visit so that you are served up even more carefully targeted information. I can target and serve up messages specifically to your cell phone. I can target and serve up messages just to the building in which you work.  And, if I use a fancy pants algorithm (like the one used by Cambridge Analytica to influence our national election, the Brexit vote, and the Kenyan election) I can do predictive analysis of the messages that will move you the most emotionally. And—once again, generally speaking—I can do all of this without asking your permission. So, the question is this: is it right? And that was the very question my class was asking me. The answer isn’t easy.

What’s right about it. Let’s create a hypothetical situation. Let’s say that you are in the market for a bicycle. Better yet, let’s say that you really haven’t thought about a bicycle yet, but I can tell (from data) that you have recently moved from a sleepy town in south Georgia to New York City. And I know (from data) that a large percentage of folks who move from sleepy little towns to the Big Apple end up shopping for a bike. Now, in addition to knowing that you will need a bike, but don’t really know it yet, I also know that you are an environmentalist (from data), interested in causes that empower women (from data), prefer the colors crimson and white (from data), and have a fair amount of disposable income (yep, from data). I know you are female, 32 years old, single, and white (from data). Now, based on all of that, I’m able to put in front of you– by way of online advertising–a beautiful crimson and white bicycle, made by a company that uses recycled materials in its manufacturing process, and supports causes for women. In other words, I can begin to solve your problem before you know you have it, and in a way that will make you feel good about it. So, what could be wrong with that? The advertiser will argue that we are simply making it easier and more streamlined for you to find the things you want and need.

What’s wrong about it? Let’s take the same hypothetical situation from above. Only, my bicycle company doesn’t really support women’s causes and doesn’t use post-consumer material in manufacturing–in fact, couldn’t really give a horseapple about all that “environmental” B.S..

But, by golly, I know what you can afford to spend on a bicycle, and I know just as sure as the good Lord made little green apples and that you’re gonna want one as soon as you move to NYC. Well, I can still serve up information to you. It just might not all be true. But, I can for darn sure put it right in front of your eyeballs. Bottom line: I can use data, or I can exploit data. And the difference is huge.

Folks, we’ve entered into a new era driven by massive amounts of information. Most of it is aggregated through the passivity of online users, and all of it can be either used or exploited to motivate you to take some sort of action. It is true that if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product. It is true that your digital world will become more and more like a bubble in which you are only fed the kind of information you want to eat. It is true that your online activity is being watched in a very Orwellian way. You are empowered when you know this. You’re empowered when you know that the advertising messages put in front of you have found their way there because of data aggregated through Big Brother’s watchful ways. You’re empowered when you can tell that you’re being manipulated (whether you mind it or not).

On the first day of class at Alabama, I spoke to my budding young writers about the power of the truth in advertising. Fact is, I believe that the only way advertising can be any good at all is if it tells the truth. And that makes all the difference in whether brands are using data or exploiting it.

What’s Next for The Business of Healthcare

With that in mind, BHM BIZ put together a panel of experts to discuss the state of the industry in the Magic City.

The panelists were Scott McGlaun, senior vice president and chief information officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama; Dr. Sameer Ather, president and CEO of XpertDox; Whitt Israel, CEO of ICONN Orthopedics; William W. Horton, attorney with Jones Walker; and Sae Evans, CPA at Warren Averett.

Dr. Sameer Ather is Assistant Professor (Hon.), University of Alabama at Birmingham; Staff, Cardiology Section, Birmingham VA Medical Center; and  CEO of XpertDox

XpertDox, which is located in Innovation Depot, leverages big data to improve patient access to health care and accelerate patient recruitment into clinical trials. Enabled by a proprietary algorithm, XpertDox has mapped more than 6,000 diseases, 4,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinical trials and one million doctors in the United States, all to help patients find the best care for their disease.

Scott McGlaun is Sr. Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama; Interim President, Healthcare Business Solutions, LLC.

McGlaun joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama in 2008 as Sr. Vice President and Chief Information Officer. McGlaun’s technology and leadership roles provide strategic vision for the company’s information systems operations. His areas of responsibility include all application and database development, infrastructure and operations, systems data and information security, IT project management office (PMO) and systems architecture.

Sae Evans is a CPA with Warren Averett. Evans is a member in the firm’s Healthcare Consulting Group and specializes in working with medical practices. He serves physicians in matters such as compensation and incentive plans, merger and acquisition transactions, business advisory and personal income tax planning. Evans also has expertise in medical real estate issues including feasibility analysis, cost segregation studies and tax planning for purchase/sale transactions.

William Horton is a partner with Jones Walker. Horton maintains a national practice representing healthcare providers and other business enterprises in mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, securities and corporate finance law, regulatory compliance, and corporate governance matters. Prior to joining Jones Walker, he served as general counsel of one of the nation’s largest publicly traded healthcare providers. He currently serves as head of the firm’s Birmingham office and is a nationally recognized speaker and author on healthcare, corporate and securities law, and professional responsibility topics.

Whitt Israel is co-founder of  ICONN Orthopedics, LLC. Israel  earned an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University. ICONN exists to provide products for surgeons that allow them to treat their patients with cutting edge technology while making a significant financial impact on the healthcare industry. ICONN believes that device costs can be cut by at least 50 percent across the board, while not just maintaining the quality of care, but improving it.

Here are some of the insights offered by the panelists into this critical aspect of our economy.

A Challenge of Access

Scott McGlaun, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

There’s a bit of a myth that rural healthcare equals inadequate or poor quality healthcare.

We don’t really see that in the data. We see an equal level of quality in rural and urban facilities across the state. What we have is a challenge of access. In a rural county, you don’t have hospitals like a UAB. You tend not to have the same level specialization as in cardiologists or oncologists.

But I don’t think we should allow that to be an excuse  for individuals who live in rural counties to not have adequate healthcare, or access to the same level of care that we have in our urban population centers. We can accomplish that through things like tele-medicine or even  a mobile clinic on wheels.

No matter what business you are in, including healthcare, everything is moving to mobile. It’s important to our customers, even down to the question of who should I go see? Do I need to go to the emergency room or to my primary care physician or an urgent care center?

What’s the cost going to be? What level of quality will I see in those providers I’m contemplating? Answers to all of that help simplify their access to the healthcare delivery system, especially when it ends up in a little thing we call the phone.

The amount of innovation that we can point toward the friction points and the complexities in this industry are immense. I’d like to see us as a community take greater advantage of those assets, like UAB and Innovation Depot, that we have and continue to drive innovation.

Misaligned Incentives

Dr. Sameer Ather, XpertDox

Healthcare has too many moving parts, and too many misaligned incentives. At least two of the incentives, the payer and the employer, are aligned, so from that perspective it may bring some efficiency.

What we have done over the past 20 or 30 years is to go from a very low-tech, low-efficiency and low-cost system to building all these devices and technology which are very expensive and have increased the cost of healthcare. But at no point have we addressed the access of patients to healthcare

That’s a big problem that remains, and rising costs have only worsened it.

We need to leverage data and technology, and we need to improve patient access if we are going to bring down the cost. Patient access in Alabama remains very poor and tele-medicine and the Internet of things can help.

Bumps in the Road

William Horton, Jones Walker

Healthcare is a difficult beast to tame. There are a lot of things in the system that are designed to make change slow and difficult. If you’re talking about changing the way to deliver healthcare to your employees and if you are a large multi-state corporation, you have to deal with the fact that the providers are still operating under 50 different state systems. The payers that you’re going to be dealing with are still regulated by 50 different departments of insurance. There are just a lot of bumps in the road.

A lot of us still have this vision of the hometown doctor who you could go see about anything and at any time day or night. That’s not the way the world has worked for a long time, and I think it’s going to be even less so as individual physician practices continue their path to becoming parts of larger organizations and become governed by a more complicated set of goals

Private Equity

Sae Evans, Warren Averett

I don’t have the solution to America’s healthcare problem, and that is not why clients come to me. They come to me and ask me how I can help them address their problems so that we focus on what we can control. And that is what our physicians are doing in their practice. We look at questions like, do you have the best staff? Are your staff trained optimally to take care of the patient?

When a patient goes to see his physician today, if they’re in the practice for an hour or two hours depending on what they’re having done, they may only see the physician for 15 minutes. The entire rest of the experience is dealing with technology or other staff in the practice. How do we make that experience something positive for the patient so that they walk away thinking this is the best care, best experience, they could have had?

Private equity groups and investors are starting to move into Alabama. They are talking to a number of our clients and what that means is you are no longer going to have a practice owned by a hospital or the physicians themselves, you’re going to have corporate medicine.

I think we are in the front wave of this. They are beginning to dip their toe into Alabama and we may see it pick up steam as we go along. Will it be successful in running practices? We’ll have to see.

The Issue Is Cost

Whitt Israel, ICONN Orthopedics

The biggest issue in the U.S. healthcare system is cost. Where it is right now and where it’s going is not sustainable,  and there has to be something done to address it. Everyone is trying to figure out how do we deliver the highest quality care to the most people in the most efficient manner possible.

I think the Amazon Berkshire deal is good because it puts a big spotlight on a huge issue.

When you have three of the biggest companies in America deciding that they’re going to help put together a plan to solve the U.S. healthcare crisis, that’s a good thing.

and then this happened…Liz Featheringill Pharo

THE BASICS 

Born in Birmingham, graduated The Altamont School and Birmingham-Southern College (computer science); recent MBA from University of North Carolina.

STRONG WOMEN  

Mother Carolyn Featheringill taught law at Cumberland School of Law  for 24 years; one grandmother  was a chemist; the other taught school for 40 years. “Growing up I never thought gender bias was a real thing.”

FIRST CAREER STOP

Writing software—like the then-revolutionary training program for SuccessEHS [Cloud-based EMR]. “I implemented the product—which trained multiple people in multiple locations simultaneously—and transitioned into management.”

GOOD DECISIONS

Hiring Bill Fox as Momentum CEO and, later, Chuck Piazza as Senior Sales Executive. “I trust him [Fox] and Chuck is awesome, really changing the way we sell.”

CONGRATS ON

The Jemison Award from Birmingham Venture Club. “I grew up in a household where nothing better could happen to a person in the world than to win this award. I was so excited and so surprised.”

BIG INFLUENCE: 

“My dad [the late Bill Featheringill, a leading Birmingham entrepreneur] always talked about us working together. I feel like I was in an entrepreneurship class from the age of 3.”

DAD’S LEGACY

“Taking over  Momentum Telecom [a hosted voice, broadband services and unified communications provider] and EHS [now sold] was challenging but I felt a strong desire to continue creating jobs and providing good returns for investors. My father took such pride in those things–and that’s the guy I grew up with in my ear.”

INEVITABLE QUESTION

“How I balance? I get up around 5:30 and work out before the kids wake up. Technology allows me to check email at their sporting events. I can do a phone call while I’m out running or a conference call in the car so then I can be totally there for the kids.”

ON HER HORIZON

Featheringill Capital, a private equity firm “looking to buy three to five businesses in the next five to 10 years.” Also helping start a bank.