GameChangers - Betsy Owens | NAWBO

A conversation with Betsy Owens of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab about what it was like leading the organization’s rebranding, how she stays innovative, and what she’s looking forward to.

What's your favorite part of your role as chief marketing and innovation officer for Shirley Ryan AbilityLab? 

I love that my role enables me to direct various areas — marketing and communications, market and referral development, technology and innovation commercialization, educational outreach, and advisory services to outside organizations — all while serving the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab mission. 

You joined Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which later became Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, in 2013. Can you tell us a bit about your journey up to that point? 

In the first 30 years of my career, I moved back and forth between large corporate environments, like S.C. Johnson and Sears, to much smaller, entrepreneurial settings, including Rand McNally and a small candy company. In 2013, I took a big chance and left my career in consumer products and for-profit companies to work for RIC. I’ve never looked back.

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has experienced tremendous growth and extended its reach. What was it like leading the organization’s 2017 rebranding? 

Inspiring, intimidating and everything in between! Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago was the global leader — it had brand recognition and market share. But, rehabilitation is focused on a process. Ability is focused on an outcome — the recovery that patients seek. It was only appropriate that our new name reframe the focus and reflect our new translational model that would help to facilitate better, faster outcomes. 

What inspires you? 

Our patients! We care for adults and children with the most severe, complex conditions — from traumatic brain and spinal cord injury to stroke, amputation and cancer-related impairment. There is no greater joy or privilege than bearing witness to incredible recoveries. In my job, I see ability in action, every single day. 

What are you most excited about right now—perhaps a new development, project, or area of interest? 

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is on the brink of introducing the Ability Quotient (AQ), the most sensitive, objective and predictive patient assessment system in our field. It is poised to change the trajectory of patient recoveries — allowing clinicians, scientists and insurers to better measure relevant outcomes, as well as predict patient progress, care and cost. 

How do you stay innovative and continually grow as a thought leader? 

Listening is a core, and frequently underrated, component of leadership. When you take the time to really understand what a person, customer or market is telling you, your capacity to connect and innovate grows.

What's your top piece of advice for entrepreneurs and leaders? 

Successful entrepreneurs are extraordinary in their ability to see what’s missing in the market. During this crisis, it might feel hard to hold onto what has made you successful.  Maintaining a focus on the long-term while adapting through nimble, opportunistic innovation is critical.    

What would you tell your younger self?

Failures are okay — they’re frequently overrated as problems and underrated as learning opportunities. If you take the long view, you’ll come to realize that well-managed risks and possible subsequent failures will, over the course of your career, make you smarter, bolder and more innovative.