When Sue Channon started out on her career as a nurse, it didn’t once cross her mind that one day she would be in the position she is in today. At the time, she was working in health care in Whanganui, New Zealand, freshly armed with a hospital-based nursing degree.
Wind the clock forward a few decades, and she is CEO of New Zealand-based Evolution Healthcare, overseeing six hospitals, three specialist day hospitals, two maternity hospitals, two mental health clinics and a range of specialist health and wellbeing services across New Zealand, with a team of more than 1,300 people.
Channon was drawn to the business because of its vision to be a leading provider of private healthcare services. At the time, it was called Acurity Health Group and was a somewhat smaller set-up, but one with grand plans.
“As I came in, the directors that I worked with had the vision to create an organization that would expand its presence and become New Zealand’s leading private healthcare provider,” she tells The CEO Magazine.
“In my first eight months, we brought our people together with our new brand, Evolution Healthcare, along with a new purpose and values that resonate with our vision.”
From Channon’s new employer’s perspective, her most recent experience as CEO at in vitro fertilization (IVF) provider Virtus more than qualified her for the role. When she joined Virtus, it was still known as IVF Australia, with a presence only in New South Wales.
“Its vision was to create an organization that would be Australia’s leading fertility provider. And we did that,” she declares. “In 2018, Virtus Health was one of the most successful medical collaborations in the world, had over 1,000 staff and provided 20,000 IVF cycles globally. We also publicly listed Virtus Health.
“So with my experience there and the vision Evolution has, it had, and continues to be, the right fit.”
“As I came in, the directors that I worked with had the vision to create an organization that would expand its presence and become New Zealand’s leading private healthcare provider.”
Although the synergies were clear, Channon’s appointment came at a difficult time. She took on the position in April 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was escalating worldwide.
“I don’t think any leader around the world would say their biggest challenge in the past few years wasn’t the pandemic,” she says, highlighting the impact of the virus on all sectors. “In health care, we faced mandates, lockdowns and changing restrictions which impacted on the care we could provide to patients.”
During lockdowns, Evolution’s specialists couldn’t undertake elective surgeries and its hospitals had to shut for periods of time.
“I was also in Sydney when I first started as CEO and wasn’t able to travel to New Zealand for around five months, so I needed to build strong relationships with my management team through online methods,” Channon says.
“During this period we were also developing many of our hospitals. Keeping these projects to time and within budget was a challenge, but we achieved these at both Royston Day Surgery – a specialist orthopedic day hospital in Hawke’s Bay – and stage one redevelopment of Wakefield Hospital in Wellington.”
But despite the uncertainty of the situation, she still could see Evolution’s immense potential, and she refused to be deterred.
“One of the key opportunities was to bring the group together with a clear purpose, values and common goals,” she reflects. “To achieve this, the communication had to improve, and that is what we’ve achieved. Our staff receive regular group updates, staff forums and other communication streams to provide access to information.”
While much of her focus had to switch to the unprecedented new working conditions, Channon collaborated with her team to develop strategies and initiatives that would enable Evolution’s specialists to continue treating their patients, and continued to work on an overarching master plan.
“One of the key opportunities was to bring the group together with a clear purpose, values and common goals.”
“We needed to build the infrastructure to meet a very rapid change in digital-health technology, and we needed to develop strategies for integrating new businesses into our group to become part of Evolution through acquisitions,” Channon continues.
Tackling the challenges faced by the healthcare industry in the areas of cybersecurity and digital infrastructure is also on her agenda, with the company partnering with Daraco IT Services to deliver best practices for security governance, technology and protection. With such measures, she hopes to build an IT ecosystem that will allow its continued growth.
Because, for Channon, the sky is the limit.
“I am driven by providing exceptional quality of healthcare services, enabling people in our communities to live healthy lives,” she says.
“Being CEO of Evolution has been inspiring. It’s been wonderful to work with the amazing team of healthcare and allied professionals who strive to meet our group’s purpose and provide care to tens of thousands of people a year.”