Ruth Coleman Delivers C. Richard Smith Lecture

June 01, 2010


Knowing, believing and living your mission holds the key to business success, according to M. Ruth Coleman, founder, president and CEO of Health Design Plus, who delivered the C. Richard Smith Lecture at Mount Union College Wednesday.




Coleman is an Alliance resident who started the company in 1988 with an initial capital investment of $26,000, three employees and first-year revenues of $86,000. Fifteen years later, Health Design Plus, with offices in Hudson and Findlay, produced $10 million in revenue and has expanded to 145 employees. An integrated health benefit management company, Health Design Plus serves self-funded companies with 1,000 to 20,000 employees.

Through all the growth, Coleman claims the company has been true to its mission, which is "to design effective care management systems that advance patient advocacy, promote health and healing, create client-centered solutions, and generate value for our partners."

Coleman says a simpler way of stating the mission is that "we take care of people." According to Coleman, suggestions to take the company public have been rejected. "We are satisfied with who we are," Coleman said. "We started small and had to overcome the early obstacle of being a woman-owned business. But we lived on eating what we kill, meaning by staying independent we have learned how to manage money and increase sales and revenues without outside investors."

Coleman cited various statistics to indicate that woman entrepreneurs, once a rarity, are making a significant impact in the business world. According to statistics from the Center for Women's Business Research, as of 2002, woman-owned firms made up 28 percent of all privately held businesses in Ohio. Moreover, in the U.S., woman-owned businesses employ more than 18 million workers. According to Coleman, her business, as it has grown, has gone from being all women to the point where 56 percent of the management team is men. "Ironically, as we grew we had the unusual problem of trying to find qualified men to add to the workforce."


Ruth Coleman

Ruth Coleman

Male or female, Coleman subscribes to the notion advocated by Jim Collins in his book "Good to Great" that the key to a successful business is getting the ?right people on the bus in the right seats.' "As we were building the infrastructure we knew we had good people, but we weren't sure if we had the right people," Coleman said. "The challenge is to redirect good people so that they are in the right place."

Coleman described one of her early challenges as learning to be an entrepreneur, and then, as the company expanded, "unlearning" the same trait. "We went from everybody doing everything to working in a specialized environment," she said. "It had to be that way to create efficiencies."

Coleman has 30 years of experience in the health care profession, 16 of which are in managed care. She was recently named among the top ten woman business owners in northeast Ohio. Health Design Plus was recently named to the Inc.500 list of fastest growing companies.

The Smith Lectureship in Business was established in 2001 by C. Richard
Smith, a 1953 graduate of Mount Union College. The purpose of the lectureship is to bring business professionals to the Mount Union College campus to share their knowledge and experience with business students, faculty and others from the campus and local community.

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