Perfect Partners: ASG’s Onna and Doug Koeneman
Onna and Doug Koeneman talk about how running ASG as a family benefits both clients and team members
Onna and Doug Koeneman have been a team — and a married couple — for years. Their relationship reached a new level in 2019 when they joined forces at ASG. Doug, who had been a partner in the business with longtime co-owners Doug Austrom and Pete Howard, purchased ASG that year, and Onna joined the team as quality risk manager.
With Onna onboard, ASG is growing in new ways. As a clinical nurse specialist with a master’s degree from Indiana University and decades of experience in quality program management, lean and agile implementation science and clinical informatics, Onna developed a passion for cultivating staff and caring for patients. She’s helping shape ASG’s culture by sharing those skills. Strong values and a great work culture have always been part of the ASG Way. Now that Doug and Onna lead the team together, they’re enhancing the company’s vision and values and amplifying them for both ASG employees and clients.
In this Q&A, the ASG power couple share insights on how running the business together has made it stronger than ever.
What made you want to start your own business?
DOUG: Starting my own business wasn’t exactly how things originated. I finished about 18 years at a Rockwell Automation. I had some large corporate environment experience, and I wanted to go back to school for my MBA. As I pursued my degree and worked part time, I realized I had the opportunity to make a big difference in our community. As I got to understand the medical device space better, my desire to make sure Eli Lilly was successful in this space grew. Their success enables the quality of life here in Central Indiana. My mission became supporting Lilly and continuing to create opportunity in our communities. That vision evolved into a company. We had a mission.
What’s changed at ASG from when you first formed the company?
DOUG: The company has its origins in a consulting arrangement. While in graduate school at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, I worked with Doug Austrom and Peter Howard at Turning Point Associates, an organizational change management and strategy implementation company. After I got my MBA from Krannert, I asked if I could stay on with an ownership stake in the company and increase focus in combination medical devices. That’s when we formed ASG. Since then, we’ve helped the company grow by partnering with our clients, delivering results, investing in quality people and improving our way of working. We started to refine and differentiate our brand by focusing on medical devices. Doug and Pete had full careers and other interests, and in 2019 they transferred ownership to me.
What inspired you to bring Onna onto the team?
DOUG: Well, I found myself having to wear a number of hats within the organization — managing technical strategy, strategic marketing and business development. I was also the conscience for quality. I found that we were falling short in that area. We needed someone who understood the discipline and what it took to support the infrastructure of the company in a way that made sense for the business and our clients, since we operate in a regulated industry. Onna had all these skills.
ONNA: And I wanted to see my husband every once in a while. He works all the time!
What are some of the roles you play as business partners?
ONNA: I’m sort of a bridge. I’m an extension of upper management, working on the frontline. Being married to Doug gives me access and open communication with leadership. I feel like part of the team, and I’d like to feel even more connected to our team members. I’m looking forward to focusing on that when the pandemic is behind us.
I also have a different perspective than an engineer might have. My background in health care gives me a passion for people and patient safety. I spend a lot of time working with Erin O’Brien, our office manager, to make sure that our team is taken care of and the back office is structured so our front line can succeed.
DOUG: Fundamentally, I’m always trying to stay three to five steps ahead of everything that’s taking place. Part of my role as an owner and as a leader is to set the pace and direction so the path is clear for my team to do what needs to be done. When a business gets to a certain size, relationships can become more formal and less personal. We’re positioning ourselves to be ready for our next phase of growth, as more and more clients come to us for support. That involves business systems, planning, branding and solid HR practices and tools. Onna is helping connect those pieces as we grow.
What makes your business unique?
DOUG: Part of it is our mission to make Central Indiana a better place and improve communities. The other piece is the changes corporate America has gone through in the last 20 years — most of it not necessarily for the benefit of people or the communities around them. We spend a lot of extra time focusing on the individuals on the team. Part of our goal from a leadership perspective is to create the best team of people we can while raising the bar for the industry. The people who pass through our organization and move on to other things are doing it because they’re becoming better people and more capable of doing the things that need to be done for the industry as a whole.
ONNA: Even though our employee retention rates are high, we don’t define success by how long someone stays with the company. If an employee came to ASG and left, where did they go and how did it benefit them? That’s the true metric of success.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
DOUG: The most challenging thing — which is a choice I’ve made — is that I’m a working owner. I still spend time with clients, consulting and working on projects, both independently and with ASG team members. How do I balance my role as a working, contributing team member with my role as a leader and a business owner? Finding that balance and putting in the right amount of energy to meet the needs of the team are my biggest challenges.
ONNA: The most challenging thing for me is that my husband is always working. I want him to take time for himself sometimes. I agree with the company’s mission and I believe in what Doug is trying to accomplish, but I still want him to unwind every once in a while.
DOUG: I’ve always been a heavy traveler, but I’m home a lot more because of the pandemic…and so far she hasn’t kicked me to the curb.
How does operating your own business influence the company’s core values?
ONNA: We have stronger values and a little more control. Everyone at ASG has the right to disagree with the core values. We just ask employees to discuss their reasoning with Doug. We don’t force our values on anyone — that’s what makes them stronger.
DOUG: I agree. Running our own business helps strengthen not necessarily how we practice the values, but how we talk about and describe them. We move from something organic to something deliberate. We can say, “This is what we’re about and this is important to how we do business and take care of people.”
How does being working owners help you connect with your team?
DOUG: A lot of it has to do with understanding the pace and the direction of work. Sometimes a team member may not have the confidence to do a certain assignment. But because I’ve been there and done that, I can ask questions that help them work through the problem. Just because our work is challenging doesn’t mean we can’t have fun doing it. We strive to keep work fun and engaging. We want people to show up every day excited about what they do.
ONNA: The range of generations on a team can be a challenge, too. Baby boomers work differently than millennials and younger generations. We try to reach everyone individually by using their language and tailoring their experience.
What do you love most about running your own business?
DOUG: I love having the ability to work directly with people. Helping people grow isn’t just about training them on the technical skills they need to do the job. It’s about developing individuals, so they become capable people in all areas of life.
ONNA: I love the people who are part of ASG. I love what they’re trying to accomplish, and I enjoy that I’m still working in the healthcare field. I love working with people who want to grow, in any shape or form. Because if you’re not growing and developing in your career, then you’re not progressing. Team members can come to me and tell me where they want to go. I love that I can help.
What do you love most about working together?
ONNA: I love that I get to see Doug every day. I’m able to get into his head a little bit and continue to get to know him. It’s like meeting him all over again. I remember talking about our careers together when we were on different paths. Helping Doug grow this company and working together is more fun.
DOUG: Having someone who actually understands how I think and work has been a blessing for me. If you don’t have that kind of partnership, it can take more time to articulate your ideas so people can understand what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ll be in a meeting and have my “ta-da!” moment, and then I’ll walk out of the room and Onna will tell the team, “So here’s what he was actually trying to say.”
Any last words about running a family business?
DOUG: Setting aside the concept of family business, let’s talk about the general concept of business being family. We work to develop strong, capable young professionals and to create a culture where people are engaged, responsible and committed to each other. That’s one of our strengths. It’s not something you create. It naturally evolves in the right setting. As individuals we can only accomplish so much. As a team whose members respect and like each other, we’re capable of so much more.