It’s never easy stepping into a new role, but for Bryan Fuerst, the transition from senior vice president of finance to chief financial officer went about as smoothly as it could have gone. Of course, it helped he already knew a thing or two about Propel Health, the medical communications network he now leads with CEO Mark Fleischer.
“I’ve been with the company pretty much since we started, about twenty-one years ago,” Fuerst says. “It wasn’t like I was coming into it new and cold.”
The deliberateness of his elevation to CFO prepared Fuerst to act just as intentionally in setting Propel’s forward-looking strategy. With a major rebrand of the company already under their belts, he and Fleischer are ready to leverage the resulting publicity to make a new name for Propel—one as a full-service provider with the power to position and reposition drugs in the market on behalf of its pharmaceutical and biotech clients.
Until February 2022, Propel was known as HealthSTAR Communications. As Bryan Fuerst explains, the rebrand stemmed from a desire to place equal attention on all three of the company’s subsidiaries: Centron, an advertising agency; Fusion, a medical communications company; and Elevate Strategic Engagements, the pharma meetings business now synonymous with HealthSTAR as a whole.
“HealthSTAR was known as primarily a meetings company because that’s the biggest piece of our business,” Fuerst says. “What Mark and I, and the entire operating committee, want to do is change that marketplace perspective or assumption. Relaunching our brand allows us to talk about the company in its full-service scope, meaning that we get to tell our clients not only how the whole company works but also how it integrates.”
Indeed, each subsidiary plays a part in achieving Fuerst’s holistic vision for Propel. “Our mission is to partner with our clients to help them bring their product to life and to the marketplace,” he says. “With all of our offerings, we can assist in promoting that drug throughout its lifecycle.”
Ideally, Propel begins working with a client years before the drug is approved. At that point, Centron assists the client in developing and executing a marketing plan comprising all branding and advertising elements.
Fusion, on the other hand, handles the preparation of technical materials. “While Fusion might look like an advertising company from twenty thousand feet, they are much more highly scientific. We have PhDs and MDs on staff, and the reason why is that they write the content for communications with the doctors,” Fuerst elaborates.
The final piece of the puzzle––and one that builds on the work already completed by Centron and Fusion––is Elevate. “We arrange very focused, compliant meetings that bring peers together to help push forward the issue being described, whether it’s how to use the drug or what the patient response looks like six to eight months later.”
An increasingly important element of organizing pharma meetings is compliance. “We built a proprietary system called MER360 that allows us to run a compliant meeting from end to end,” Fuerst notes. “We’re the partner between the pharma company and the physician, and both sides know that we can keep them compliant.”
Beyond compliance, Fuerst oversees all finance, legal, and human resources (HR) matters at Propel. The latter may be a relatively recent addition to his plate, but it is an area of significant focus nonetheless. “Over the past two years, we have migrated to being a virtual company, which has been great, but the role of HR needs to change,” he says. “One of the things I’m tackling this year is how to have a more dynamic HR department in the virtual world.”
Bryan Fuerst also emphasizes the necessity of adapting to the employee-driven market that has sprung up in the wake of COVID-19. He hopes to attract new best-in-class talent by expanding recruiting efforts nationwide and inspire existing employees to stay at the company by combining the right benefits with a positive culture.
“We’re a service organization, so we are only as good as our people,” he says. “How do we give our clients the best value? Well, it’s getting the best employees and giving them the tools and the opportunity to work to their potential.”
Alexander J. Narcise, CPA and partner at Wiss, has worked with Fuerst. He offers, “I first met Bryan in 2007 when my firm was engaged to audit the company. Bryan and I are of similar ages, and we grew up together; our relationship was more than the auditor-client relationship. We often met outside the office, and our conversations were always about helping each other. Bryan and Healthstar came to me at a sound stage in my career as they helped me develop into the professional I am today. Congratulations to Bryan on this well-deserved achievement.”
Fuerst believes he found a great partner in his CEO. The two share a flexible leadership style and encourage employees to strike a healthy balance between their professional and personal obligations. Moreover, they’re both committed to finding the best way to manage in a virtual environment.
“We’re taking a bit of a two-pronged approach,” Fuerst says. “We’re letting our different subsidiaries––Elevate, Fusion, and Centron––permeate their culture down to their people, but we are also highly vested in ensuring our employees know they are part of the Propel Health family by hosting company-wide townhall meetings and sending out communications and high-level surveys to our employees.”
Fuerst and Fleischer also maintain open lines of communication with the board to ensure people at all levels understand the direction in which Propel is headed. That’s particularly important to Fuerst, who believes that the company’s future victories will mean the most when the team gets to share in them together.
Bryan Fuerst says, “If you get to a goal, and your team is there with you, high fiving each other and feeling accomplished, that’s success.”