Kevin Norton Draws on Lessons Learned to Guide Future Growth
Kevin Norton: We have been forced to be more nimble and more flexible.
Kevin Norton, who interned at Peabody-based CAB Health and Recovery Services, and now serves as its president and CEO, draws on his background in hotel management and personal growth within CAB to lead more than 1,800 staff members as the organization completes its merger with Health and Education Services.
Here is his story.
I received an undergraduate degree in psychology from the State University of New York Fredonia and always wanted to return to graduate school, but finances never afforded it. I paid for all of my undergraduate education by working in hotels. I started to move up in management all of a sudden Im running the front office and room division of hotels. I was being successful in hotel management, but that was never what I intended to do.
Then the opportunity came along to go to graduate school, so I quit my hotel job and went back to school. I waited tables during my grad school years. While working on my masters in psychology at Salem State University, I interned with CAB. When I got the internship, I thought, Hey, Ill do this, then Ill go find a real job. But, I wound up falling in love with CAB and the clients and I never left.
I first started working in CABs halfway house doing individual and group therapy for a year. I then applied for a management position doing contract management where I spent another year. Eventually, I moved on to director of outpatient services, and then became director of operations for four years. After that I became president, and Ive been doing that for the past 11 years.
When I first came into a management position at CAB, the president at the time, Victor Capoccia, asked how I went from working in hotel management to wanting a management position in a substance abuse organization. I told him that our businesses are not that different. In the bed-based world, youre concerned about beds and heads and preparedness. The difference is were not doing home service and we dont have some of those other elements of a hotel, but from a business perspective, theyre exactly the same. Clearly, its a different level of empathy and customer service orientation, but in some ways business is business.
Capoccia was an incredible mentor while I worked directly for him. For the past 10 years, I have used him as a consistent sounding board.
My previous experience in hotel management influenced my work at CAB. I realized we have to make sure that as an organization were always feeding ourselves, and that means breaking down the silos between different departments. The biggest lesson Ive learned at CAB that Im applying to the merger is to figure out how to enhance communication across our entire system of care. Internally, we have some bright and talented folks. We really need to exploit their knowledge and skill sets to benefit all of our levels of care.
Since I started at CAB, Ive learned that the human service world is incredibly volatile from a service-delivery perspective. I think we have been forced in this industry to be more nimble and more flexible than most major entities delivering services. Our susceptibility to the whims of state financing and state budgets forces us to be able to turn on a dime and either redeploy staff, to figure out new ways to deliver services and adapt our billing mechanisms to the latest administrative changes.
I base my success on client outcomes. I look to see if we are able to increase the quality of life that our clients have or decrease the recidivist treatment behavior. Also, I examine other normal indicators, such as kids participation in school and visits to primary care physicians. But success is also about being a solid employer, which includes giving employees raises and being financially solvent at the end of the year.
My leadership style is very inclusive. I recognize that five to seven brains sitting around the table are far more effective than Ill be by myself. Its about soliciting ideas and pushing others as hard as I push myself. I want to hold people accountable, but also recognize and allow for different styles and orientations. As a leader, I need to know when to draw the line and make a decision.
For the future of CAB, I want to create a fully-integrated system that looks at the entire person and says how to best wrap services around our clients to move them forward in the most efficient and effective manner.
As told to Jessica Owen, October 2010.
Learn more about the CAB Health and Recovery Services by clicking here.