As regional CEO of Humana Inc.'s Midwest operations and vice chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board, Larry Savage is at the center of two of the biggest issues facing businesses in the Tristate.

One is negotiating the nation's changing healthcare landscape.

The other is maintaining the competitive edge of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, an economic engine for the region.

Savage, a Northern Kentucky native, started his career as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor. He went on to help introduce computer technology at ChoiceCare that improved customer service and reduced costs.

It's About Leadership

Savage says business leadership will play an important role in reshaping both healthcare and CVG. Those who know him say Savage is ideally suited to deal with both challenges.

"Frankly, he provides a tremendous amount of leadership to the airport board," says Steve Arlinghaus, Kenton County Judge Executive. "He's great at working with other people and at identifying problems and finding solutions."

"He truly tries to bring a collaborative approach to problem solving, which is unusual," says John S. Dubis, president and CEO of St. Elizabeth Healthcare. "He's as good a person as you'll find both personally and professionally."

Evans Nwankwo says Savage helped launch his company, Megen Construction, 19 years ago with its first remodeling contract at ChoiceCare.

"A lot of people are blessed with compassion. And others are no-nonsense executives. Not many are capable of being both, but Larry is," he says.

Nwankwo thinks so highly of Savage's leadership skills he asked him to serve on the board of NuWay Foundation, which makes infrastructure investments in Nwankwo's native Nigeria.

Added Hundreds of Jobs

Under Savage's leadership, Humana's area employment has grown over the last six years from a few hundred to more than 2,200.

Most recently, Humana announced plans to add 200 full-time jobs to its RightSource mail-order pharmacy distribution operations in West Chester and Springdale.

"This is an important community for us," Savage says. "The brand we had with ChoiceCare was very strong and Humana has built on that. We have a lot of customers here and all our customer service is done here."

He expects Louisville-based Humana will continue to expand here, although probably not at the same pace as in the recent past.

"There's a great business environment here, good talent and a good economy," he says.

A long-time advocate of streamlining healthcare delivery and giving consumers more voice in their care, Savage sees forces converging to make that happen.

Integrating Systems

"What we're seeing today is hospital systems aligning either by buying practices or just strategically aligning with primary care and physician specialists to create fully-integrated aligned systems," he says.

"The glue that hasn't been there before is the information systems. It's capturing treatment or prior tests and you're getting a fuller picture. So, I think the way medicine's going to be practiced in the near future will be more integrated and the potential to be more efficient than it has been in the past."

With President Barack Obama's reelection, the future of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," has been resolved, but Savage still expects changes before the law is fully implemented in 2014.

"Some pieces will stay and some bad stuff will have to go," he says. "I don't think anybody really wants to turn back the clock to two years ago. There is no secret that there's a lot of wasted care, duplicated tests and unnecessary care."

Instead of focusing on reducing benefits and passing on costs to consumers, the focus needs to be on improving the health of those who are ill and making sure those without health issues don't develop them, he says.

Rewarding Healthy Choices

HumanaVitality, a rewards program that offers members brand-name merchandise, hotel stays and other perks for making healthy choices and striving for wellness goals, is an attempt to do that.

Savage, 58, has had his own experience with this approach.

"I was overweight and taking medications," he says. "I had no real health problems but I was emerging into issues."

He started eating less and exercising more, and over the last year he's lost 50 pounds and has been able to stop taking medications.

"I have a healthier lifestyle. I'm now avoiding that excess cost and bad outcomes in the future."

Savage says business has a role to play in this process by encouraging and incentivizing employees to be healthier.

"We're seeing employers are starting to design benefit plans that get the employee and their families really involved in managing their health," he says.

Long-time relationship

Savage was named to the Kenton County Airport Board two years ago, but the facility has been a part of his life a lot longer.

"The house I grew up in Hebron made way for one of the runways at the airport," he says. "My first job at 16 was working at a gas station there. It's been a part of my life almost from the time I was born."

He believes business has a leadership role in shaping the future of the airport.

"It's important have a vibrant airport," he says. "It supports a number of companies here.

It's easy to get lost in what the airport is no longer. It's still a vibrant airport.

We still have more direct flights, but we need alternatives. "

Since being named vice chair of the airport board last summer, Savage has been fairly outspoken about the need for corporate and communities to sustain support for low-cost alternatives.

Savage says he's been encouraged by the support his comments have gotten.

"We're in active conversations with a number of carriers," he says. "I'm excited about our prospects. That said, it won't happen overnight. It will take time."