Before entering the hearing healthcare industry 61 years ago, Bill Austin dreamt of becoming a doctor. He admired medical professionals and their work to save lives. He wanted to make the same impact. But with no money for medical school, Bill took a job making earpieces for hearing aids instead. One day, a man came into the office seeking care. Everyone was busy, so they asked Bill to help. Once Bill helped him hear again, it was like a ray of light returned to the man’s eyes. This experience changed Bill’s life. He realized the impact hearing could have and his ability to help those with hearing loss truly live again.
With the little money he had, Bill bought Starkey Laboratories in 1970. Over more than five decades, he has built Starkey into a global company of 5,000 talented and caring people who continue to change lives around the world through better hearing.
Since the moment I began working at Starkey, nearly 28 years ago, Bill has shaped me as a leader, and he continues to be a role model and mentor. While I can’t begin to count the number of lessons he has taught me along the way, here are five that continue to stay with me.
Lead With Your Heart
Bill is the definition of a servant leader. Every decision he makes is driven by his heart, by caring for others and by doing what is right. He built Starkey with hard work, caring and compassion. We are in the business of helping people – helping those with hearing loss live better lives and helping our customers in any way we can to deliver exceptional care. Hearing healthcare is an industry about caring, and as a leader, setting that example starts with you. If you care about your work and your people, and if you hire caring people who want to accomplish a greater mission of helping others, success will follow.
Have a Purpose
Your purpose should be what gets you up every morning. Since 1967, Starkey has been driven by our purpose of connecting people through better hearing. All companies start with a purpose, and they either grow with their purpose or away from it. As a leader, it’s your job to rally your team around that singular purpose. Everyone at Starkey plays a role in whether or not we are living our purpose, and a leader’s job is to make sure everyone understands why their part matters. Leaders must thread a company’s purpose through all levels of an organization and put action to words. You do that by caring about what you do and hiring people who care.
Starkey’s mission is to serve our customers better than anyone else. Bill built a global company around the idea that every patient matters, and that people must always be the bottom line. If you value every single person’s contribution to the team, they pass that respect onto our customers who then pass it on to patients. This ripple effect must start with leadership, and when it does, it can have a broader impact than ever imagined. Bill always says, “Alone we can’t do much. Together we can change the world.” That starts with valuing every single person around you.
Never Be Satisfied with the Status Quo
Since day one, Bill Austin has been revolutionizing the hearing healthcare industry. From offering the industry’s first 90-day guarantee to bringing the first CIC to market, Bill knew the impact of hearing health, so he was determined to make this industry better. Innovation remains a pillar at Starkey – in our products, in the technology our teams create and in our ongoing customer education and support so that patients receive the best care. Starkey reinvented the hearing aid with Livio AI, transforming a single-purpose device into one that can track physical and cognitive activity, detect falls, translate languages and act as a virtual assistant. We continued that hearing revolution with Evolv AI which automatically scans its environment 55 million times every hour to perfect the way it listens, delivering the best listening quality, even in noisy environments, effortlessly. From the early days, Bill ingrained in Starkey a relentless drive to question the status quo for the betterment of the patient. This remains at the core of who we are as a company.
Bill has helped hundreds of thousands of people reconnect to the world around them through better hearing. He has helped U.S. presidents, world leaders, philanthropists, dignitaries and celebrities hear better and live better. Yet, he still sees his role as a servant to others – to this team and to Starkey’s customers. When I took over as President and CEO of Starkey, the title made me uneasy. It seemed too formal for a kid from a small coal mining town in southern Illinois. However, Bill told me not to get caught up in the title. My role was to care for the company and its employees. I serve them, not the other way around.
Bill continues to be the heart and soul of Starkey. His example of hard work is on display when he comes into Starkey to work on hearing aids. Every day, I get a call from Bill asking me, “Do you need anything? How can I help you?” Or he calls to share his latest idea, give his input or talk about a strategic initiative. I will be forever grateful for these daily calls. Bill is not only a hearing industry legend with a wealth of knowledge and experience, but more importantly, he is a remarkable human being who has never wavered from his commitment to caring. In life and in work, he continues to be a shining example of what kindness is capable of in this world. Bill, because of you, Starkey has changed the world.