A former office furniture executive whose career includes positions at Kentwood Office Furniture and the former Herman Miller Inc., Bob Von Kaenel took over as Hope Network’s CEO on Dec. 1. He previously served on the health care nonprofit’s board for six years, including time as chairman. Von Kaenel succeeds longtime leader Phil Weaver, who retired after 16 years as Hope Network’s CEO. As 2023 approaches and he settles into the position, Von Kaenel looks to build on Weaver’s success. As well, Hope Network will seek to rebuild the neuro rehabilitation business that it planned to sell to a large Boston, Mass.-based care provider, NeuroRestorative, in a deal announced in mid-2022 that did not go forward.
You moved from the office furniture industry to the nonprofit sector. What was the lure for you?
More than anything else, just the mission of the organization. It really strikes home to me personally. The more I served on Hope’s board, I became deeply committed to the mission and to what they’re trying to accomplish. The chance to lead an organization like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s a great chance to make a difference and to highly impact Michiganders who are so very well deserving.
How do you think your background in business helps you in this role?
A lot of my background pre-furniture was health care-focused with health care companies and as a supplier to health care organizations. I spent a lot of time in the space, so I have a lot of appreciation for the dynamics of the health care market in general, and I think that I’ve seen a lot of things throughout my business career that make me very well-rounded. Hope is a complex organization with multiple different service lines which impact people in different ways. Having that versatility is a real benefit going forward because we serve many people in many different ways.
As you have settled into the position, what’s been job No. 1 for you?
Reinforcing the mission and thanking our employees. Our greatest asset is our employees across the organization. They make it happen. My biggest job since day one is to make sure they feel fully supported and are focused on the mission to serve others.
What are the priorities for 2023?
Obviously, the pandemic has affected every nonprofit health care organization. The priority is to strengthen the mission and refocus the strategy to where we can have the largest positive impact across the state in terms of what we do.
For us, it’s really about building upon our core competencies and trying to leverage those to do things that other people cannot do and try to find a way to do them a little bit better.
What’s your biggest challenge in the new year?
There’s a lot of challenges, but the biggest one we’re dealing with in the back half of this year is we had a long commitment to our neuro rehabilitation business, which really helped people that had a traumatic brain injury. That business has struggled because of the changes with the auto no-fault legislation (enacted in 2019). We did not sell the business. We backed away from the sale and we’re continuing to focus on that in a different way, but remaining focused on the consumers and patients that we’re serving. It’s still a very viable part of who Hope Network is. Rebuilding that and serving both our employees and the folks that need the service that we provide is a real big priority for us in 2023.
(Editor’s note: The 2019 reforms to Michigan’s auto no-fault law included a new fee schedule that care providers say significantly reduced payments from auto insurers for people injured in vehicle crashes to where they cannot afford to provide the care.)
Why back away from that transaction?
We got to the finish line and the parties agreed to disagree. So, we both went our own ways and for us at the end of the day we have a faith-based mission and we’re very proud of what we do, and we want to continue to serve. Things happen for a reason and I believe this is a new opportunity for us and we have people who are incredibly gifted at what they do in that service.
I’m optimistic that we have a great team that understands the challenges and we’re committed to serving those individuals.
What’s the opportunity ahead for Hope Network with the leadership transition?
The beauty in the case of Hope is it has a long, rich history of excellence in service. At the same token, there’s always things that fresh eyes bring. We will definitely take a deeper dive as a leadership team and really use the skills and talents and passions of our talented employees to kind of take a fresh look and find ways that we can continue to serve more people, but also be more effective across the state. We’re a statewide organization. There are lots of needs that are unsolved. The challenge for us is to understand what are the biggest opportunities, what are the skillsets that we bring, and what can we do to innovate to ultimately bring better or different value that helps enhance the quality and makes this a better place to live.
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