Behind every accomplished individual is at least one person who helped shape his or her career and pave the way to success. In recognition of these mentors, healthsystemCIO.com has developed a blog series that provides a forum for health IT leaders to acknowledge those who gave them an opportunity to excel and taught valuable lessons along the way. It’s a chance to give back to those who have given so much of their time and attention. If you are interested in contributing to this series, contact Kate Gamble.
I’ve had so many mentors in my career it would be hard to list them all in simple a blog entry, but here goes. If I’ve learned anything in my 40-plus years in the business, it was under the guidance and tutelage of so many people who helped me along the way, most notably:
Mike Mulhall, SMS’ VP of Installations (“Implementation” in 2012-speak) — easily my most important mentor, he was also my first boss when I joined SMS in 1969. He was already an HIS expert from IBM then, while I was a no-nothing English major from Temple University. Mike taught me so many things about computers, hospitals, accounting, clinical systems, politics, organization, etc., that if I accomplished anything positive in my career, he deserves the credit (the many negative things, I’ll take credit for myself!). And he was a great human being to boot; he cared about his subordinates as friends, always eager for a joke or good story, and was passionate about how IT could improve hospital operations. He would walk into a room with the most hostile audience and charm everyone over in a few minutes with his winning smile, depth of knowledge, and candor, no matter how controversial the subject. Always respectful of others too, such an important trait in our challenging technical world! Mike died all too soon in the mid-80s.
Sheldon Dorenfest — One of the most knowledgeable gurus of the HIS industry. I joined Shelly’s pioneering consulting firm in the mid-80s and worked with him on a number of challenging projects, including running a bankrupt vendor firm. Got to see him in action with clients, employees, board members, and hostile creditors, and he exhibited amazing character and fortitude with them all. Worked with him on his “Guide,” which started my fascination with the origins of computer systems in hospitals and how much we can learn from the mistakes of the past. Stayed a friend even when I left his firm and has been an inspiration ever since. He sold his “300 Data Base” to HIMSS (it’s the source of their Analytics today) and is “retired.” He is consulting in China, where IT is in roughly the state it was in the US in the ‘80s.
Bob Pagnotta — Bob led two very successful vendor firms in the 70s: MDS and Tymshare, and hired me in 1987 when he was entering the consulting field. He was so admired by the former clients of his vendor firms that they retained him as a consultant and we formed HIS Pros as a result. Bob taught me so much I’m embarrassed to admit it! Probably the master at contract negotiations since he knew the vendor world so well and was a natural with interpersonal relations. He could tell jokes and warm the audience when needed, but be tough as nails when it came to the bottom line for his clients. Probably the greatest lesson he taught me and our other consultants in our firm: make the client’s problems your problems, and then do whatever it takes to solve them. We just celebrated his 75th Birthday last month with a room full of CEOs and CFOs from former client hospitals — a testimony to how great this man was and is.
They’re probably the they’re biggest mentors I had, and my advice to CIOs out there is no matter how far you progress in your career and how much you think you know, you can always learn more from those wise people around you willing to share their knowledge. Listen and learn!