David Osborne Takes One Step at a Time

In just two years with Virgin Pulse, CEO David Osborne has elevated the company to the peak of success, improving health in individuals and helping companies thrive

David Osbourne, Virgin Pulse

David Osborne and his team at Virgin Pulse have just moved into their new headquarters in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island. Located in the vibrant city, many employees are now able to walk or bike to work, use the Virgin Pulse office gym, attend weekly exercise classes, and even take a stroll on the fourth-floor walking track that surrounds the open floor plan.

It’s an exciting time for Osborne, who joined Virgin Pulse in 2016 and became the company’s CEO in June 2017. As he circumnavigates the green, indoor walking track, he’s able to reflect on some of the strides he’s made with the company in his first two years, from his leadership during the integration of two renowned wellness companies—ShapeUp and Global Corporate Challenge—to leading the company’s global expansion and developing its Exceptional Potential Early-in-Career (EPIC) hiring program.

But there’s something else that Osborne brought with him that won’t appear on any spreadsheet or quarterly report. Whether he’s rounding the walking track or in a meeting, Osborne—along with every member of the Virgin Pulse executive team—is carrying a touchstone coin. On one side appears Virgin Pulse’s logo with the company’s values around the edge. The other side is then inscribed with the virtues the company looks for when hiring new team members—hungry, humble, and smart—and the company’s KPIs.

“It’s near and dear to our hearts,” Osborne says of the touchstone coins, which are also handed down to employees as a reward for exceptional work. “Our view is that it’s one of the most valuable honors that you can earn in the company. We’re proud of it, and it’s gone over quite well with employees.”

From the Office
to the Greens

Before he entered the corporate world and became CEO of Virgin Pulse, David Osborne was already practicing healthy habits.

He played nine years of baseball and just about every sport in high school including volleyball, badminton, and basketball. However, it was golf that he gravitated toward and eventually went on to play at the NCAA Division l level competition.

“I like the independence of golf, and I like the fact that it was you against the elements, you against the golf course,” Osborne says. “Every golf course is
different, whereas every basketball court is exactly the same. Every football field is the exact same. I just love that fact that it presented amazing challenges over and over again.”

Becoming the industry leader in workplace health and well-being doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t end after earning a coin. There are several reasons why the new headquarters was designed for collaboration, why there are exercise amenities, and why the coin in Osborne’s pocket symbolizes a unique value beyond compensation. One could look toward the company’s six core values that emphasize principles such as unity, authenticity, and a “saddle-up” approach to taking on challenges. Or they could look toward the team’s collective mission to change lives for good. All of that, though, starts with mastering the fundamentals.

Virgin Pulse, part of the Virgin Group, is the largest workplace well-being company in the world. With personalized programs powered by the company’s mobile-first SaaS platform, Virgin Pulse is not only helping members build healthy habits around wellness goals—such as losing weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, eating better, and improving sleep—but the company’s software and scientifically backed approach to behavioral change is also helping companies significantly improve employee productivity, engagement, and business operations.

By improving health and wellness for individuals, healthcare costs decrease, and some clients have seen an 18 percent reduction in sick days among members participating in Virgin Pulse’s unique well-being and engagement program. As Osborne explains, work behaviors and developing a strong culture are becoming a critical focus among businesses today. Having a daily success platform such as Virgin Pulse allows organizations to cultivate a strong, empowered culture holistically from the bottom-up. Employees sign into the platform and receive personalized tips and information every day designed to help them achieve their health and well-being goals. They can also participate in online challenges with one another. As they build habits and engage with their colleagues in healthy competition, businesses reap positive results.

“At first, I spent a lot of time focusing on how we could operationalize the business, specifically applying a software playbook of best practices and positioning the business to scale,” he says. “Now, we’re working on extending and applying our software to bigger business and HR initiatives. Work and health are now becoming intertwined. With our platform, we can extend and customize our well-being pillars to incorporate culture and values, safety, onboarding, leadership, sustainability, and business KPIs for sales organizations.”

Osborne, a former NCAA Division l golfer, makes the comparison between his team’s approach and mastering the course. Out on the green, it may be an individual sport, but it’s a team game in understanding the course and putting yourself in the best position to succeed.

“There’s a lot of similarity to how we run our business here,” Osborne says. “We have a bunch of individual players that do great work, and they’re also on a team. What we try to focus on here at Virgin Pulse is enabling people to be accountable and successful for themselves and the greater team. That means designing an office around collaboration as well as providing well-being tools that help individuals feel energized, healthy, and able to do their best work. At the end of the day, whether your office is a golf course, a manufacturing plant, or a bank, people who show up for work happier and healthier and are ready to perform at their peak usually excel compared to those who don’t.”

It’s this same leadership and mentality that Osborne was able to bring over with him not only from his time mastering the greens, but also from his twenty-plus years of experience in business and technology. Starting in global sales at iGATE Global Solutions, Osborne worked his way up the corporate ladder before becoming chief operations officer at Drillinginfo and eventually joined Virgin Pulse after the company’s acquisition of Global Corporate Challenge and ShapeUp. With a successful track record of acquiring and integrating numerous companies, Osborne is now bringing his strategic software playbook to Virgin Pulse.

As Osborne explains, the first step in growing the company was focused on international expansion, a key reason for the company’s acquisition of Melbourne, Australia-based company Global Corporate Challenge. Next, Osborne focused on strengthening the core business, specifically around research and development and recruiting early-in-career, exceptional-potential talent, which is one of the main reasons for the company’s move to Providence.

“We lead the industry because we have the most experience. We’re standing on the mountaintop and saying where the industry should be going. We don’t follow anyone.”

David Osborne

Virgin Pulse is in a competitive space, but Osborne says that along with his playbook, it’s having a strong clarity and purpose that has made the company emerge as the global leader in workplace health and wellness. “We change lives for the better every single day,” he says. “Many people are very connected to that purpose. But either way, if it’s changing lives or growth or hitting a sales quota that gets you excited, I want employees to grasp on to their individual motivation and use it to succeed. I know I can’t prescribe culture or passion to people; it’s personal. That’s the culture I’m trying to promote—one of personalized well-being and success on behalf of the greater team and company.”

This enthusiasm among the team also extends to Virgin Pulse’s platform. Using materials from renowned academic speaker Dr. BJ Fogg, whose research emphasizes how daily habits and small actions add up to sustained behavior change, the platform encourages lifestyle changes with healthy competitions and challenges, daily actions, rewards, and the ability to connect with friends and family. With about two million members currently using the platform, Osborne says that 55 percent of members use the Virgin Pulse app five days a week or more, which rivals some of the most popular social media sites, including LinkedIn and Pinterest.

A focus on health and wellness has also been increasing in recent years as businesses take notice of the correlation between a healthier workplace and the bottom line. Improving employees’ well-being can lead to decreased absenteeism, medical costs, and accidents at work. Stock prices have also been linked with investments in employee well-being, Osborne says. While many employers are now catching up with the trend, Virgin Pulse was not only at the forefront of the movement, but it’s also spearheading the next frontier.

“We lead the industry because we have the most experience,” Osborne says. “We’re standing on the mountaintop and saying where the industry should be going. We don’t follow anyone. We’re driving the industry’s advancement, and because of that, we’re able to partner with consultants, business leaders, and HR executives and work together to really push the concept: healthier, happier people show up to work more engaged, more productive, and ready to perform at their peak.”

Osborne sees proof of this concept within Virgin Pulse as he rounds the fourth floor walking track every day. Surrounded by a strong team that emphasizes a culture of well-being and engagement, it’s these small steps—whether on a walking track or consistently improving the bottom line—that are changing lives for good, all over the world.

Photos: Gillian Fry