Reflections of a Departing CEO: Brad Smith on His Career and the Future of VEI

Brad Smith, the CEO of VEI for the past 11 years, is retiring in September. As he wraps up his last days on the job, we asked him to reflect on his career and share some parting thoughts. ​

“While my last day at the helm is not until September 29th, the time has come to open the opportunity for someone else to take on the leadership role and responsibilities for VEI. The future of VEI is very positive, and I look forward to seeing the organization continue to thrive and grow with the support of our staff, doctors, and community partners and contributors. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for the support you have provided.”

1. What prompted you to pursue a career in eyecare? Having been a hospital and large multi-specialty group CEO earlier in my career, I was looking for a challenging role in a dynamic and complex operation for which I believed I could provide significant contributions but also learn about a new specialty that had always held great appeal. Ophthalmology and Optometry have fulfilled that aspiration and serving in the capacity has resulted in the most rewarding eleven years of my over 40-year career in healthcare.

2. What was the biggest change VEI went through while you were CEO? Over the past decade we have managed to overcome many challenges while continuously improving our operations and the caliber of our team. Our investments in infrastructure have positioned VEI for sustained growth and the ability to seize new market opportunities while preparing the organization to endure the challenges facing the healthcare industry. A continued focus on standardizing process, leveraging technology and gaining efficiency will create an even better operating model to take advantage of the constantly changing and increasingly competitive healthcare environment. The biggest single change I have witnessed is the composition of the group due to an influx of new physicians that have and will be joining the organization to replace retiring providers.

3. What will you miss most about the job? I have been honored and blessed to have been associated with an incredibly talented team of professionals who have worked with me over these past 10+ years and supported both myself and VEI throughout our journey together. I have made lifelong friends and colleagues throughout the process and look forward to seeing VEI grow and prosper in the future.

4. What is the biggest challenge VEI faces in the future, and how prepared is the organization to meet that challenge? First, VEI is in a very good condition and is on strong financial footing. We have a very gifted team of providers and associates that will continue to deliver world-class eye care services. The healthcare landscape is changing rapidly and VEI’s ability to remain nimble, efficient, and ready to pivot to meet new challenges will position it for long-term stability and success. It will require a constant team effort and collaboration throughout the organization to meet these challenges and remain the preeminent provider of eyecare in the commonwealth. The advent of new technology and artificial intelligence holds great promise for eyecare, and thoughtful adoption of these technologies will allow VEI to provide the highest level of service resulting in optimal provider, patient and associate satisfaction. I am confident that the groundwork has been laid to take advantage of every opportunity to catapult VEI into the future!

5. What is the biggest misconception people have about VEI? That VEI is “the place to go for eye surgery.” VEI delivers a very wide range of eyecare services with highly skilled providers on par with large academic centers but with a personal touch that results in superior outcomes. Patients have a real say in their care, and that is a huge difference as compared to other eyecare franchises or private equity owned practices whose focus is not the same.

6. What was the hardest part of your job over the years? Probably the hardest part of the job was trying to balance the need to make investments in our staff, facilities, and equipment in order to maintain the highest level of sophistication and reliability while also solving the value equation. Every year Medicare and private payers continue to drive down reimbursement while expenses continue to rise. One of the most difficult parts of the jobs is maintaining parity in an environment like this. VEI is very fortunate to be a locally owned and operated organization led by physicians that are focused on reinvesting in operations to achieve the highest level of quality.

7. What stands out as your biggest accomplishment in your 10 years with VEI? Positioning the organization for future success while working through the constant challenges we face as a profession. We continued providing services to patients with critical eyecare needs despite unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. While these challenges at times seemed nearly insurmountable, I’m immensely proud of our team for using ingenuity and creativity to overcome these challenges, integrate new technologies, and develop workflows to gain efficiency, break down barriers, and improve the patient experience and access for those we serve on an ongoing basis. Fostering continued growth and diversification of services, locations, and providers has been a very rewarding experience and accomplishment.

8. Looking back at your career, knowing what you know now, is there anything that you would do differently? Yes, I would have listened more often to the advice of my wife, Peggy, reminding me there is more to life than work! It is important to keep things in balance, and I probably could have done better at times. I’ve been fortunate to have had a career doing something I am extraordinarily passionate about with the added benefit of having made wonderful friends along the way. I wish I could have spent more time visiting with staff at all of the locations, something I thoroughly enjoy. Otherwise, I have nothing but great memories and am immensely proud of what I have been able to help accomplish for those that I have been fortunate enough to work with throughout my career.

9. What advice do you have for the new CEO? To take the time to get to know this amazing organization and involve the associates in change that will be necessary drive future success. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. We all learn more from our failures than our successes, and, always remain humble.

10. What are your plans for retirement? To catch up on life outside of work. I enjoy working on projects, making improvements around the house and just relaxing by the lake. I hope to enjoy some of my hobbies like woodworking, boating, and helping my daughters on various projects they have been saving for their dad.

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