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Bellwether League, Inc.Paul Powell, industrial procurement and hospital purchasing giant, remembered by Hall of Fame for Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership

SCHAUMBURG, IL (October 30, 2020) – Paul Powell was a stickler for seeking structure, generating professional interactions and relationships, and developing interdisciplinary skills and training. He viewed each as the foundational ingredients for business success in purchasing and materials management as far back as 50 years ago.

Well into the first decade of the new millennium, however, Powell felt they still resonated with the profession now known as supply chain.

“If you’re going to accomplish great things, you need an interdisciplinary background to handle the multiple challenges [facing] a complete purchasing job,” Powell told attendees at the 2009 Bellwether Induction Dinner Event where he was inducted into the Bellwether Class of 2009 in the second year of the Hall of Fame for Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership. “I want to thank all those salesmen who became great friends, worked with me, shared ideas and resources, and committed resources to create a coherent program. Without that we wouldn’t have the structure we do.”

Powell spent the bulk of his healthcare supply chain career at Humana Hospitals, one of the forerunner corporations that became HCA, where he retired as a senior vice president in 1991. Prior to Humana, Powell worked for such companies as Kodak, Kennecott Copper and United Air Lines at a time when the carrier used two words to describe its business.

Bellwether League learned that Powell died on Monday, October 12, after a short illness, at his home in Salem, IN, according to his published obituary. He was 93.

Powell became one of the earliest and foremost proponents of implementing industrial procurement practices within healthcare organizations.

As director of purchasing at United Air Lines and then vice president of operations for InFlight Services Inc., the firm responsible for broadcasting major films during flights, Powell oversaw the procurement, management and distribution of supplies, food, equipment and services, facilitated by computerization and keen negotiating skills.

In 1974, Powell joined American Medical Inc., which shortly thereafter was acquired by Humana Inc., as senior vice president of material management. From that point onward, Powell helped to make Humana a leader in contract terms and pricing, pushing for product standardization throughout the entire Humana system and emphasizing collaboration between providers and suppliers. He also helped to pioneer electronic catalogs and computerized purchasing data management. His philosophies on supply data management and supplier relationships remain common practice today.

Powell also represented a unique group of successful purchasing executives who started and built their careers in other industries before migrating to healthcare to generate success as an encore. He saw a tremendous opportunity for growth in healthcare based on the need for structure.

“I saw a rapidly growing industry – for-profit hospitals – that needed structuring to provide desired economies,” Powell told Bellwether League 11 years ago as he reflected on his career. “This presented a personal opportunity.”

Nick Gaich, (Bellwether Class of 2013), Bellwether League Chairman, saluted Powell’s devotion and long-standing contributions to the healthcare supply chain.

“As an early adopter of instilling an interdisciplinary approach to Supply Chain, Paul’s efforts were both groundbreaking and inspiring for all who succeeded him,” Gaich said. “Paul will be deeply missed, but his influence and legacy of work will stand as a testament to his devotion to the healthcare supply chain profession.

Jamie C. Kowalski, (Bellwether Class of 2017), Bellwether League Co-Founder and Founding Chairman, remembered Powell’s dedication to mentoring and service, epitomized by an impromptu meeting of two strangers united by a common, practical aim.

While on a business trip in Louisville (where Humana was based) in the early-to-mid 1980s to meet with a client, Kowalski called Powell out of the blue. Kowalski had read about Powell but had never met him so he asked him if the two could meet and talk about the healthcare supply chain. Powell didn’t know Kowalski either, but responded he would make time on his calendar for him.

“I asked him a lot of questions, and he shared a lot of his experiences and insights about the industry at that time, and he also gave me some sound advice,” Kowalski recalled.

“Paul was a pioneer in healthcare supply chain management, for sure,” he continued, “but more importantly, he was a gracious host to a minimally experienced, young, out-of-towner who just wanted his time on short notice to pick his brain. He was more than willing to share. I got more than my share from it and was forever grateful for it.”

Powell is survived by his three children, Greg (Gretchen), Sara (Robin) and Karen (Bill), five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren who remember him fondly as “Pop-Pop.” He also is survived by his wife, Joyce, who served as a great source of comfort and joy for him during their 10-year marriage, according to his obit.

Powell was born in Chicago to Rev. Wilmer and Georgia Powell. He served in the U.S. Army in Europe and was a graduate of Franklin College and Northwestern University. He lived throughout the U.S. during his lifetime and during his first marriage of 58 years to Mary Lou. He continued to travel after retirement, most enjoying the American West. Further, he was an avid woodworker, well-read on a variety of subjects and maintained his strong Christian faith, his obit stated.

Funeral services were private.

The family requested that donations in lieu of flowers be made to New Hope United Methodist Church in Salem, IN.


About Bellwether League

Bellwether League’s Board of Directors evaluates and validates professionals submitted for consideration in its three award programs: Bellwether Honorees, Future Famers and Ammer Honorees.

The Board selects deceased, retired and currently active professionals with a minimum of 25 years of exemplary service and leadership performance in supply chain operations that meet its criteria to be publicly recognized as Bellwether Class Honorees. Those honored demonstrate their qualifications by advancing the profession through work experience and performance and active participation in professional organizations and their communities.

Honorees include professionals from hospitals and other healthcare providers, manufacturers and distributors of healthcare products and services, group purchasing organizations, consulting firms, educational institutions and media outlets.

Future Famers represent supply chain professionals early in their healthcare careers who do not yet qualify for Bellwether consideration, but have contributed to the healthcare supply chain profession in a meaningful way.

Honorees who receive the “Dean S. Ammer Award for Healthcare Supply Chain Performance Excellence” represent noteworthy executives and professionals in the middle of their careers who, through their innovative leadership and influential project management experience, best exemplify the practice and spirit of healthcare supply chain performance excellence.

To date, Bellwether League has honored 120 innovators, leaders and pioneers in healthcare supply chain management in five distinct categories: Education & Media, Supply Chain Management, Group Purchasing, Supplier and Consulting Services. Bellwether League also has recognized 30 Future Famers, and one Ammer Honoree.

Launched in late July 2007 by a group of influential veterans in the healthcare supply chain industry, Bellwether League Inc. has operated as a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit corporation that identifies and honors men and women who have demonstrated significant leadership in, influence on and contributions to the healthcare supply chain.

Effective Jan. 1, 2021, Bellwether League Inc. becomes Bellwether League Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Additional details will be provided about this next-generation development.

For more information on how to become a sustaining or corporate sponsor or to nominate Bellwether Honoree and Future Famer candidates visit