Joanie Bretag was one of the first people I met when I moved to Chicago. She was a client of the company I was working for, and everyone always spoke about her because she was not just getting the best results in her employee wellness program, but getting the best results BY FAR.

That was ten years ago, and that statement continues to be true. When one of the largest insurers in the US looked at their data to see which companies were using their program, and if any were succeeding, they found what you might expect. Millions were NOT using the programs at all, but one company stood out: Ottawa Dental. This is where Joanie works her magic. Don’t ask her how she does it, because she will only point to all the programs and people that have helped her. I know that’s part of the story, but the part I admire is how she stands at the center of it all and makes it happen. In our company we sometimes flippantly say (knowing that there is some truth in it) that men talk about getting things done, then women get things done, then men talk about what “they” got done.

Joanie is the poster-women for this statement because, boy, does she get stuff done with very little talk.

We’ve worked for many wellness companies and one thing we’ve consistently noticed is that there is a very broad range of outcomes, from complete non-participation to superstar performance (the ones you hear about in case studies). Since that seems to be universally true, our conclusion is that it's seldom the program that makes the difference, but something that the employer who is buying the program is doing. Engagement and success is in the hands of the employer and after seeing Joanie in action, consistently over a decade, I’ve realized that just one person can explain that success.

She might disagree, but I know that her leadership and her employees will not. They’ve seen and been personally impacted by her commitment to their health and I would argue that you won’t find a healthier business in the U.S. today. More impressively, you won’t find a business that has made as much IMPROVEMENT in their employees' health which, in my opinion, is much harder to do.

Joanie is a warm, loving, compassionate human, and she exudes excitement when she speaks at conferences and with you one-on-one. She once helped lead the charge with her team to raise $65k for aids orphans in Africa as part of a walking challenge, and the pictures of the Ottowa Dental team are still up in their orphanage today. They made a incredible difference in the lives of those children.

You can tell from the length of this post that there is no shortage of wonderful things I can say about Joanie. So, I’ll end with something personal. We’ve been friends for ten years now and whenever we meet she tells me she can’t wait to learn something new from our conversation; and every time we meet, I’m the one that leaves with 20 new ideas for how to create success in wellbeing programs.

Do yourself a favor and read about Ottawa Dental or attend a conference where Joanie is speaking and introduce yourself. You’ll likely find a friend for life and learn more from your conversation with her than you'll learn throughout the entire conference. 

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