Summit Orthopaedic Home Care's Lee Burkam sets a clear vision and trusts his employees to accomplish goals.
Leading is an important role in business. Even employees think so, with 71 percent of the Top Workplaces employees saying they have confidence in their leaders.
Lee Burkam balks when asked how he became a great leader. “I don't even view myself as a leader,” protests the president and CEO of Summit Orthopaedic Home Care on the Far East Side.
The 200 or so people he works with beg to differ. Asked to describe their boss as part of Columbus CEO's 2018 Top Workplaces survey, his employees were ebullient, praising his kindness, open-door policy, work ethic, passion for his work and positive, down-to-earth personality. “He always makes it a point to focus on you when you have questions and [he] addresses them quickly,” one employee wrote. “When he promises something, he delivers. This is his best quality.”
Burkam, 48, while grateful for the compliments, is a bit embarrassed. “My instinct is that this must be a mistake,” he muses. “I don't know if I necessarily deserve it; I'm just trying to make a difference in my little world.”
And he has, according to Rob Becker, 47, who has worked with Burkam for more than four years and recently became Summit's chief operating officer. “He's the first leader I've worked for who I trust. He's not self-centered, and he's very giving. And he's forthright; you know where you stand with him.”
Burkam, says Becker, doesn't give orders or make threats or look for scapegoats when problems crop up. Instead, he sets a clear vision of what he wants the company to accomplish and has confidence that Summit employees will get it done. “He has no ego,” Becker says.
Summit provides in-home specialty care, including physical therapy, skilled nursing, speech therapy and home-health assistance. It's work that Burkam, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, is dedicated to doing at the highest level possible. “He preaches world-class customer service along with world-class customer care,” Becker says. “Those core values are engrained in the people who work here.”
Burkam bought the company in 2012, changed its name and has expanded quickly. He's opened offices in Cleveland and Cincinnati and is about to open one in Findlay and one in Worthington. Last year, Becker says, revenue grew by 91 percent.
“It starts with being passionate about what we're doing and creating a culture of excellence and accountability that people want to work in,” Burkam says. “A leader is someone who communicates what the goals are and then lets people accomplish it the way they want to.
Burkam believes in working collaboratively and listening to others' opinions before making decisions, skills he has learned over time through mentors, experience and deep conversations about leadership when he attended Harvard Business School. “At Summit we talk about checking our egos at the door,” he says. “We all need to be pulling in the same direction to accomplish what we need to accomplish. Our job as managers is to learn what drives each of our people and then adapt ourselves to that style so we get the best out of people, not to ask them to adapt to what our style is.”
Burkam also leads by example, Becker says. He continued to treat patients until recently and still mentors physical therapists new to the company, goes on sales calls and meets with insurance companies and hospital systems. “He's just a good person,” Becker says. “He's in healthcare for the right reasons. He's somebody you can look at and say: I want to work hard for that person because he's trying to do the best job he can do.”
Kathy Lynn Gray is a freelance writer.