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How Company Culture Drives Spartan Medical – Q&A with President & Founder Vince Proffitt

Jul 28, 2021

Why is Spartan Medical’s company culture important?

I discovered in the early days that when I had an opportunity to lead, whether with a small flight during summer leadership training at the Air Force Academy, or as Cadet Squadron Commander, that creating a winning culture got people motivated.  This was reinforced again and again during my time in Active Duty and throughout my career in medical devices.

In the military you don’t have the ability to motivate people with more money, but you can motivate them with a culture that always puts your troops first and conveys the message that your team is the most important thing in the world.

After working in the corporate world, I saw firsthand that for big companies it was rarely about the people. One thing that big companies often lack is a genuine mission…not tied directly to profits, quotas, and shareholders. A real mission has to tie back to taking care of your people and making sure they can concurrently advance the mission, while maximizing their potential. The old adage “If you take care of your troops, they’ll take care of you” is absolutely true.

A mission is always critical to create a strong and successful company culture. When I started Spartan Medical in 2008, I took Clausewitz’s ‘Principles of War’ and applied them to the business world. Our mission is to keep the company advancing while always keeping focused on our values. And we review our Principles of War every year to see what we’re doing well and where we might be straying. Are we following it? Are we holding ourselves accountable?

It’s not about me or my leadership style, it’s about moving the organization forward, and those are all things that are part of the culture. It has to be reinforced down the chain and that takes time. You have to make sure when the newest hires come in, they know what the expectations are and what the culture is, consistently, day after day.

It’s how everyone treats each other. It’s the commitment to the mission. It’s the long hours. It’s the professionalism. It’s the teamwork. It’s the engagement level of everyone. When those expectations are the standard, then those become the culture. And the culture is what drives us to success.

What are the company values and why?

Integrity, Service, Dedication, and Excellence.

At a class reunion for the Air Force Academy, I remember sitting with my daughter in the visitors center watching an old academy video with the theme “making excellence a habit.”  It put everything into perspective for me years after graduation. Going through the Academy, that was what we were absolutely expected to do, but it was never so clear to me than after gaining real-world perspective. I realized that throughout my career I’ve always made excellence a habit.

If excellence is your North Star, then it’s hard to stop or stray because it’s what you expect from yourself. The standard is the standard for a reason and if your standard is making excellence a habit, that’s inspiring to everyone on your team. So, there’s an expectation if you’re working with me or anyone at Spartan Medical you will get excellence. Whatever our work product is it will be as good or better than anything anyone has seen. We don’t cut corners. We’ll work all day and all night. We’ll get more of our executives involved if needed to ensure that excellence is the expectation and the habit. Simply put, we don’t quit until the job is done right…by our very high standards.

But you can’t have excellence if you don’t have integrity and a service worldview. That’s starts from the top down. As leaders, we serve those we have the privilege and honor to lead. And that has to start from how I treat everyone to the way I expect my senior Spartans to treat everyone.  It’s a top-down approach to lead from the front to serve all of those who put their faith in you to help them maximize their personal and professional potential. And for that type of leadership there’s no one size fits all. Everyone has different potential, knowledge, skills, and experiences. So, the leadership team has to treat everyone as an individual while sticking to our core values. Once you lose integrity you’ve got nothing. You can’t have excellence without a sense of service to your customers and to your people. And you can’t do it properly if you don’t have full faith in the mission, each other, and never waning integrity.

Dedication is also tied to excellence. Some people are very talented but if they’re not willing to go the extra mile, not willing to put in the long hours, and not willing to support their troops… then that falls apart as well. It’s not just excellence; it’s that dogged dedication. I think all of those values are intimately tied together, and the goal is to align those values to the mission and vision of the organization.

All of those are outlined in our Spartan Code of Conduct, which is one of the first things I wrote when I started Spartan Medical. We use it to hold ourselves accountable. Employees who don’t follow the code don’t last very long. But for those who embrace the Spartan code, they’re here to stay. The average tenure at Spartan Medical is over seven years and we are a thirteen year-old company. That longevity for a small business is unheard of. Integrity, Service, Dedication and Excellence are engrained in the DNA of Spartan Medical’s company culture.

 

How do you describe to family and friends what Spartan Medical does?

What we do is we solve problems.

Our core business is orthopedics, spine, biologics, sports medicine and neurosurgery, but we differentiate ourselves from our competitors in one very important way.

Most companies in this industry find a widget that they push to all of their customers, which they constantly need to re-market to keep competitive. In contrast, we try to find the most advanced medical technologies and solutions so that we’re never widget salespeople.

In fact, we’ve always called our team members sales consultants, not representatives. From the new employees in their training to the most senior executives, we all provide a consultative process, not a sales process.

Over the past thirteen years, we’ve built an armamentarium of surgical solutions without pushing one over another. Our solutions are based on users’ needs, techniques, procedures and beliefs, and not every doctor does the same thing. Each doctor has a different background and training, and they need certain things for different patients and surgical challenges. There are thousands of permutations to the way you can do the same surgery, so we’ve been building this ever-evolving product line with trusted partners and innovative devices.

When someone asks us what do you have, we respond with, what do you need? What’s your best-case scenario? We can solve clinical issues, workflow issues, or cost issues. We can accomplish whatever a customer needs if they give us the time to provide a consultation. We’ve used the same methodology for COVID-19 to find the supplies, services, and staffing, and complex software integration for any customer to be a nationally recognized turnkey solution.

 

How does the company support its employee’s professional development and career growth?

One of our objectives is to ensure all employees are progressing in their careers. We’re constantly doing training with manufacturers. We record webinars and have a dedicated syllabus for new employees. We have small group trainings led by the directors of each division. We have a mentor program where everyone in the company gets a mentor outside of their chain of command. We pay for online courses from top universities that train employees how to build a specific skillset such as executive writing or sales strategies. We make sure every employee has the resources and tools to help them maximize their personal potential…and when we find gaps, we fill them.

 

Is risk-taking encouraged?

Risk taking is always encouraged at Spartan Medical. There is zero risk aversion in our team, and that goes from the top down. There’s never been a time when we decided we needed to just stick with what we’re doing. We’re constantly trying to grow and find more advanced solutions and services based on the market dynamics and the customers we serve.

Also, we don’t force employees to take opportunities, but if they want them, we provide mentorship from the executive team and from their peers to ensure they can still handle their core business.

Security is one of the Principles of War. We want our offensive strategy to create more business, more sales, and more revenue. But you have to protect your flanks. Yes, chase aggressive growth but if you completely put the rest of your business and team at risk because you didn’t have the skills or support to do it properly, that’s where gaping holes in the line will come.

Stonewall Jackson got his nickname because he famously said, “My troops may fail to take a position, but are never driven from one!”. While Spartan Medical may not get all of each customer’s business, we certainly don’t ever want to be driven from our position if we’re doing our duty by keeping our customers happy.

So, we encourage risk taking while making sure we adhere to all of our Principles, while planning, strategizing, supporting each other, and doing our jobs to the best of our abilities.

 

What is your favorite workplace tradition?

“First Friday” is a tradition my late brother, Greg Proffitt, brought over from the law firm he worked at before joining Spartan Medical in 2010. We block off the first Friday of each month and organize an event that gives all employees a chance to get together. The most recent events were Top Golf and a corn-hole competition. Everyone at Spartan loves to compete, and prizes are passed out, which sometimes is a donation on behalf of the winner to a charity of their own choosing.  For the corn-hole champs, they’ll be getting custom Spartan corn-hole boards!  We also celebrate Veterans Day every year with a big event, also tied to charity.  We’ve done custom suits and bags, Luchesse Boots, and Flags of Valor to name a few to celebrate our favorite holiday.

These are not cheesy, corporate team-building exercises that most companies do. We don’t force mandatory fun. First Fridays and any of our get togethers give employees the opportunity to get to know each other, talk about whatever they want, and have some fun.  Building a genuine esprit-de-corps is imperative to continue to build that company culture, teamwork, and a sense of belonging.

 

What makes you most proud of Spartan Medical?

It’s always been our people. When all of us are firing on all cylinders and committed to those four core values (Integrity, Service, Dedication, Excellence), we are the most incredible team.

Take for instance the nationally recognized single-source, turnkey COVID-19 solution we created from scratch. No one had the prior experience or preparation to build a customizable pandemic response. So, we had to put thousands of work hours into vetting supplies, services, staffing and software. It required all hands-on deck and we created a solution second to none.

If we can do it for a once in a century pandemic response, then you get an idea of how great we are at our core business. Spartan Medical’s growth and customer loyalty is a testament to how well we do, how hard we work, and how an amazing team of professionals can flex to meet any and all challenges.  We collectively say, bring it on!!!

So, I’m most proud of our team’s commitment to our values, and to each other. Loyalty is how we protect our brand and each other, and it starts at the top, and must be constantly reinforced and valued from the bottom up.  I truly believe everyone on this team is a very proud Spartan…and there is really nothing better than that.