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Valley Health, Inova, Porsche CEOs headline symposium

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER -- Several notable business leaders spoke at the sixth annual business symposium hosted by Shenandoah University on Tuesday.

Keynote speakers included former Porsche Automotive Group President and CEO Peter Schutz, Valley Health President and CEO Mark Merrill and Inova Health CEO Knox Singleton.

Schutz, who headed Porsche Automotive Group between 1981 and 1988 and is credited with nearly doubling sales and saving the iconic Porsche 911 from extinction, shared his journey from working at Caterpillar Tractor Co. and Cummins Engine Co. to being named CEO of the German car company.

He recalled the message he received from the company asking to meet with him and if he could interview for the CEO position.

"They asked me questions I had no idea what they were talking about," he said. "I never even sat in a Porsche. I mean, I was a Chevy guy."

Soon after landing the job, he learned that the Porsche 911 -- one of which was parked outside the business school on Tuesday morning -- was going to be discontinued.

He said he marched into the office of Helmuth Bott, who was chief of engineering at the time, and walked over to a graph that depicted the car's lifecycle as ending in 1981.

"I picked up a big black marker from his desk and extended the bar graph for the 911 all the way to the end of the chart, all the way off the chart, continued on his office wall around the corner, all the way to the office window and I said, 'Mr. Bott, do we understand each other?'" Schutz recalled. "And just like that, the Porsche was rescued."

Merrill and Singleton delivered a presentation about the changing model of health care and the impact of the Affordable Care Act.

The current state of health care, Merrill said, is too expensive, resources are being disproportionately focused on a small sector of the population and hospitals are moving toward consolidation and for-profit health care companies.

"Health care costs got to the point where it started being a death sentence for the middle class if they were uninsured," he said. "The number one cause for personal bankruptcy two years ago was unexpected medical emergencies and...as much as we value health care, people don't like to be pushed into bankruptcy by their hospital bills."

But with the Affordable Care Act beginning its 10-year implementation, he said now is an opportunity to make a better system, improve the quality of health care and expand coverage while reducing costs.

Noting the logarithms used by sites like Amazon.com to predict customer spending, Singleton said genomic science in the future will be able to tell patients their risk profiles and can be used to predict and prevent diseases before they happen.

"If you know that, you can manage your lifestyle differently, you get checked every year and if you do get that, we catch it at the very front end," he said.

Because everyone handles medicines differently, he said genomic science could also be used to personalize medicines for each patient.

"In the future you won't be just getting drugs, but drugs that are tailored for your genome, to your disease and to that genetic version of the disease you have," he said.

The symposium, which was a sold-out event, also included sessions on subjects such as business apps, media marketing and how to prevent fraud, and a networking reception. Students of the university could attend the symposium for free.

Before introducing the keynote speakers, Miles Davis, dean of the business school, said: "Every time I do this, I ask myself 'How can this get better?' I don't know what we're going to do next year."

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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