Setting: Networking Reception, NJ/Delaware Valley HIMSS Annual Conference, 6:45 PM, Oct. 4, 2012, Bally’s, Atlantic City, NJ
“You got dinner plans tonight?” asked Mike Guerriero, VP of business development with the New Jersey Hospital Association.
“Nah, not really,” I said.
“Want to come along with me and a few other guys?” he asked.
After a slight hesitation — for any more would have given offense — I replied, “Sure, why not.”
In that socially risky pause, I performed a Watson-like calculation that revealed I’d likely have a good time. Mike was a great guy, and we’d hit it off almost from the moment we started talking. So, I assumed, even if the other guys weren’t my cup of tea, I’d get through by chatting with Mike. Of course, being that I liked Mike, and Mike vouched for these guys, we’d all probably get along swimmingly. I was in.
While Mike didn’t actually prep me for the introductions, other than giving the briefest of bios, it felt something like this:
The actual introduction to Lonnie Hefland, a sales executive with Elsevier CPM Resource Center, added to the above dynamic as, while he was certainly professional and courteous, he didn’t start slapping me on the back with excitement. In fact, his eyes seemed to say, “Hey Mike, I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s your responsibility, so you better know what you’re doing.” To make matters even more interesting, I swear to you Lonnie looked like Al Pacino.
The troika soon turned into a quartet as we met up with Roy Sheptinsky, sales manager at MMA Technologies, who, interestingly, has been best friends with Lonnie since first grade, and was attending the conference as well. Roy was the fun-loving guy in the group, all open book and pleasant.
At dinner, the conversation flowed effortlessly —I don’t think there was single moment of silence, and most were filled with the raucous laughter that comes when story follows upon story. In fact, Rich Wheatley, CIO at Cape Regional Medical Center, who was dining at the same restaurant, came over and jokingly asked us to quiet down. After being introduced to Rich, I realized we’d done an interview, which I quickly found our site and played.
Both at dinner and at the conference in general, everyone seemed to know everyone. And even those who didn’t know each other were quickly able to find points at which their career paths intersected in one way or another. Everyone seemed to have been in the business for 20 years.
“You know him? He was best man at my brother’s wedding!”
“Amazing, he’s a great guy. I worked for him at XXX and then, when I left to take over the post at XXX, I brought him over and he worked for me!”
“Wow, that’s something!”
You laugh, but I seriously heard this type of conversation near 10 times during the conference, leaving me with the same feeling I had after last year’s conference — namely, relationships are everything. Either you’re an insider or an outsider, and healthcare IT is no place to be on the outside.
Furthermore, getting into the club is all about being a good guy, being alright, being stand up. What does this mean? At its most basic level, it means you can be trusted, your word is good, you are fair and your intentions are honorable. It means you are consistent of temperament, you can handle stress without unloading on your staff, and you don’t fold up your moral code just to close a piece of business.
You are, in short, the aggregated sum of all the opinions about you — this is your reputation, something long earned but quickly lost. Keeping your reputation intact means avoiding the one-off slip that can do irreparable damage; it means you can’t just do this one thing this one time to close this one deal. You can’t just break a vendor contract signed in good faith to cover the fact that you never should have made the agreement in the first place. There is almost nothing worth the price if it is a hit to your reputation.
So conduct yourself according to the highest code of moral behavior, perhaps even taking things a bit deeper by embracing Dale Sander’s advice of examining your motives, and never, ever, letting someone force you to compromise what you know to be right. Never let them force you to inflict a mortal wound on your reputation, for he who has no honor will never be vouched for, and that is quite a lonely place to be.