Jake Orville, Massachusetts ’95, is on a mission to solve a health crisis that affects millions of Americans annually. He describes cardiac-related illness as an epidemic and notes that more people in America die from heart disease than from all forms of cancer combined.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women. However, the disease is often treatable if detected. And that’s created a unique business opportunity for Orville, as well as an opportunity to help people lead longer, healthier lives.
After holding senior management positions with two publicly traded medical technology companies and helping to start two others, Orville co-founded Cleveland HeartLab with eight employees in 2009. The company — a spin-off of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic — develops and markets tests that can better predict the likelihood of a patient having a heart attack or stroke. The tests work by identifying the presence of inflammation in the coronary arteries.
What makes this such a valuable weapon in the war on heart disease is that it can actually warn doctors about problems before traditional diagnostic methods such as stress tests and cholesterol monitoring. High cholesterol is a known risk factor for heart attacks, but it’s not uncommon for someone to have a heart attack before their cholesterol reaches what’s considered a dangerous level, Orville explained.
“Half the people that have a heart attack or stroke now have normal cholesterol levels,” he stated. “But when we all go to the doctor — even undergrads and, especially, our alums — what do we get tested for? Typically only cholesterol.”
Dr. Louis Malinow, Delaware ’90, is a specialist in preventing disorders that lead to cardiovascular disease. He is among the physicians who recognized the value of working with Cleveland HeartLab early on. “The standard tests — routine cholesterol profiles and stress tests — are what people are used to, which is why we’ve seen little reduction in cardiovascular death and it remains the No. 1 killer.”
Malinow noted that stress tests, for instance, only detect blockages over 70 percent. Ironically, it’s less severe blockages that frequently cause heart attacks because those arteries tend to be more inflamed and prone to rupture. “Cleveland HeartLab offers the tests that identify this inflammation; and if we find it, we can squelch it with the proper lifestyle, supplements and medication.”
With early detection comes the chance to make lifestyle changes and receive preventive treatments that can stave off a medical crisis or even death. The company has already assessed hundreds of thousands of patients, including a number of SigEps Orville knows personally.
SigEp National Director Tom Jelke, Florida International ’90, is one of the many close friends whom Orville has convinced to get tested. “I got my results and was alarmed and made lifestyle changes to become healthier for me and my family,” Jelke shared. Now, he eats less processed food and engages in some form of high-intensity exercise at least three times a week. Jelke says that not only has he lost weight, he now sleeps better and has increased strength. He later retook the tests and saw a dramatic improvement.
Much of Orville’s success has come from serving a huge potential market, and he’s most excited about helping people like Jelke who don’t realize they’re at risk. “As a business guy, you look for opportunities,” he stated. “This one happens to be in health care, which is great because you can do good and
Orville’s experience, combined with innovative diagnostic technology, made for Cleveland HeartLab’s meteoric rise. Thanks to buy-in from physicians who recognized the benefits early on, the company eventually grew to over 200 employees and reached revenue greater than $50 million in sales by 2017.
Although the company was performing well, Orville was bothered by the fact that its tests were still only available to a small percentage of the patients who needed them. He decided the best way to quickly expand the company’s reach was through a merger with or acquisition by a company with larger sales and distribution channels.
In October 2017, a year’s worth of negotiations culminated in the announcement that Cleveland HeartLab would be acquired by industry leader Quest Diagnostics, a New Jersey-based medical testing laboratory with locations around the world.
Orville’s team is now able to serve more patients through Quest’s nationwide network of more than 2,200 patient service centers. Cleveland HeartLab is operating as the company’s national Cardiometabolic Center of Excellence, and Orville is leading its entire cardiometabolic franchise — a division responsible for over $1.6 billion in annual of revenue. As part of the deal, Quest is also collaborating with Cleveland Clinic to further study the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease and other illnesses. As new tests are developed, Orville’s division will work to make them available to doctors and their patients.
A leader is born
Seeing how passionate Orville is about Cleveland HeartLab, it’s surprising to discover that he once had a completely different career path in mind.
“I was bound for law school,” Orville said.
His journey to become one of the leading executives in the diagnostic industry was filled with surprise turns as Orville was regularly willing to take chances on unexpected opportunities.
As a college freshman, Orville found himself on a campus with more than 15,000 undergraduates — a very different environment from the small high school he attended. One day, without even planning it, he ended up on the porch of the SigEp house during a recruitment event. And just like that, Orville found the friends and community that made the large campus feel like home for the next four years. The Fraternity also provided an outlet for Orville to develop new skills and develop as a leader.
“I didn’t show up at the University of Massachusetts thinking I was a leader,” Orville said. “That’s not necessarily what my personality type was.” But his new brothers had seen in Orville an ability he would soon come to recognize himself.
Orville was elected to various leadership roles in his chapter and spent a year on the road as a member of SigEp’s professional staff after graduation. The time he spent establishing, building, and — unfortunately — sometimes closing chapters taught him a lot about what it takes to build something from the ground up.
While traveling the Southwest as a regional director, Orville also spent time with Mark Beran, Chapman ’83, who was then a SigEp district governor for Southern California. Beran owned a medical device company and introduced Orville to the industry. He was hooked, and law school soon became a distant memory.
The SigEp connection
In addition to getting his first exposure to the diagnostic industry through a fellow SigEp, Orville credits the Fraternity’s network with helping him at pivotal moments in his career. When market demand led to a period of rapid expansion for Cleveland HeartLab, he turned to strategy consultant Scott Edinger, Florida State ’92, to help develop a framework for growth. Later, his connection with Ryan Brennan, Truman State ’95, led to meetings with venture firm Advantage Capital Partners, where Brennan was a managing partner. Orville eventually secured a round of funding from the group.
Orville can’t say enough good things about the regional director program. In addition to expanding his network beyond his own chapter, he says his year on the Fraternity’s staff helped him learn how to take risks and how to rebound when things didn’t go as planned. Those are important lessons that every leader needs to learn, he advised.
But taking risks requires a willingness to be vulnerable. The best way undergraduates can learn to do that, he said, is to practice making decisions in their chapters and in other campus organizations. Orville believes leading an organization or planning an event provides an opportunity to make decisions, observe the results, and make better decisions the next time.
Being vulnerable can also lead to a more balanced life. Orville shared that early in his career, he was hesitant to speak with co-workers about outside interests out of concern that he might seem less dedicated to his job. Now that Orville and his wife, Stacey, have three children, he’s come to feel differently. He says the best teams have members who are supportive of each other on a personal level and that this often leads to a more successful business.
Orville also noted the importance of being exposed to decision-makers early in one’s career. He said that recent graduates, who often face a mound of student debt, tend to be focused on making as much money as they can right out of school. While this seems logical, Orville believes it’s more important to take a position that allows you to interact with as many leaders as possible because it helps you build a network and see decision-making in action.
Orville regularly shares that he’s followed the advice of Ken Maddox, Oregon State ’75, who said it’s best to spend the first 10 to 15 years of your career learning, the next 10 to 15 years earning and the last 10 to 15 years giving back. Even though he’s still in his peak earning years, Orville is already giving back to his SigEp brothers.
He and his wife, Stacey, recently established a scholarship with the SigEp Educational Foundation to kick-start new health and wellness programming. Starting in the fall of 2018, five chapters will receive $1,000 each year for the next three years. The funds will support programming that helps chapter members become healthier and raise awareness about healthy living in their communities. In the end, the goal is to create a health-focused culture that will live on well beyond the three-year period.
Orville also has the unique opportunity to continue giving back through his work with the Cleveland HeartLab.
“That’s what makes the story of Cleveland HeartLab so wonderful for me,” Orville said. “It’s not just the success story we’ve had, but also the hundreds of thousands of lives that we’ve probably saved along the way. That’s a great feeling.”
Leave a Reply