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CEO SERIES

LIFE SCIENCE

Here’s why David Dexter is the perfect leader for Sonora Quest Laboratories

By MICHAEL GOSSIE

D

avid Dexter never dreamed of being a game-changer in business. “I never aspired to be a CEO,” says the president and CEO of Sonora Quest Laboratories. “I aspired to be a wildlife biologist.” But when he was 16, Dexter went to work for his older brother, who was then the CEO of the world’s largest laboratory. “I worked in the warehouse making $1.50 an hour,” Dexter recalls. “Then, after college, they asked me to develop chemical reagent systems for automated analyzers, which sounded like a fun thing to do.” From there, Dexter did more chemical development, got into quality control, then worked his way into laboratory management. “It seemed like we went through all these mergers and acquisitions and I was the last man standing,” Dexter says. When Dexter started at Sonora Quest, it was a $55-million-a-year operation. Today, Sonora Quest earns $300 million a year on the commercial side. Az Business: How have you been able to lead Sonora Quest to such phenomenal growth? David Dexter: When we started, the partners — Banner Health and Quest Diagnostics — really felt they would be the ones to provide innovation as a joint venture. As Banner Health has grown exponentially and Quest Diagnostics has grown exponentially, we have grown as Sonora Quest and Laboratory Sciences of Arizona into a very agile business — much more agile than the parent partners. When it comes to business creativity and innovation, we are really leaders in that respect. We can move a lot faster and react faster to changes in healthcare.

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AB | November - December 2019

and business creativity. Whenever you have this level of dynamic change, there will always be new business opportunities that manifest themselves that you might not have even considered last year. You’ve got to be able to recognize those opportunities and seize upon those opportunities in order to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

DAVID DEXTER: “What I enjoy

most is making a difference,” says the president and CEO of Sonora Quest Laboratories. “I used to take a lot of individual pride in our accomplishments. Now, I much prefer to take a step into the background and enjoy the success of our leaders. My job is to empower people.” (Photo by Bruce Andersen, AZ Big Media)

AB: How do you view your industry today? DD: We are going through what I call transformational and disruptive change. As the CEO, you have to look at the glass half empty or half full. I look at it as twothird full and — by the way — we fill it up every day. We do that through innovation

AB: What do you love most about leading Sonora Quest? DD: Supporting and driving business creativity is what gives me the most pride. That’s the part that’s really going to change your value proposition. We have no equilibrium in healthcare and won’t for at least another three years. As long as you have that lack of equilibrium, there will always be opportunities to differentiate yourself. Innovation doesn’t mean just creating something new out of the box. It means utilizing technology and looking at your internal processes to constantly move the bar and create what we call an exceptional customer experience. AB: What qualities have made you such an effective leader for Sonora Quest? DD: My business philosophy is pretty simple: It’s not how many hits you get, but how many runs you score. We put a business plan together every year in August and it’s called “the roadmap.” We tie that business plan together with an incentive plan in which all employees participate. What you get is alignment across the entire organization — from the board to the senior leaders to all our employees. That is what sets the stage for focus and execution to get the desired results.

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