When Ed Marx got a call a few years ago about a position in New York City, he knew right away it was a winner. Not only because of the opportunity it offered to lead an Epic implementation and provide much-needed leadership, but because he had long had his sights set on the Big Apple for personal reasons. In this interview, Marx opens up about what he loves most about his role as interim CIO, what Larry King taught him about building relationships, and the key qualities he looks for in future leaders. He also gives his thoughts on work-life balance, and why everyone should have a mentor.
- Key qualities: Having passion & being service-oriented
- “The more you invest in others, the more things get done.”
- The value of mentors — “I’m a product of the people who have bought into me.”
- Beyond HR training
- 4 pieces of advice for aspiring leaders
- His greatest career moments
- Work-life balance — “You have to carve time out.”
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I need someone with passion, because passion drives energy. We do some very difficult things. We work in complex organizations. We have people’s lives at stake, and so I need someone who’s full of vigor and energy
You can’t teach talent; talent is innate. You can teach skill. If have someone with talent, I can teach them the skills. It’s really hard to teach someone to suddenly become empathetic or passionate about something in life.
The more you invest in others, the more things get done, and the better our patients are taken care of. And from a selfish point of view as a leader, it makes your job easier, because if the people around you are strong, there’s less reliance on you.
When you start seeing the fruit of that labor and it’s actually impacting quality of care, it’s actually impacting patient safety, and it’s actually saving people’s lives, there’s no greater reward to me than that.
Once I get home, I’m home. I don’t allow myself to constantly be distracted. As we know, with the ubiquity of smart devices, it’s very easy to overemphasize work over your family, and that can be very detrimental.
Gamble: In your current role and then even in past roles too when you’re trying to fill positions or help people to advance, what are the qualities that you feel are most important?
Marx: About the last thing I look at is technical aptitude, unless it was for my CTO or another role that required deep technical aptitude. And even then, the number one thing I look for is passion. I want someone with passion, and it could be for anything. It could be for dance. It could be for rock and roll, whatever. I need someone with passion, because passion drives energy. We do some very difficult things. We work in complex organizations. We have people’s lives at stake, and so I need someone who’s full of vigor and energy and passion.
Number two — and oftentimes these are very closely related — is service-orientation; someone sees the role is as serving others. Because if I have someone with passion and I have someone who is service-oriented, I can train them to do database administration. I can train them to become network-certified for Cisco. I can train them to become an analyst for a particular electronic health record, or an effective project manager. But if I have someone who’s the opposite where they’re really technical but have no passion or service orientation, that’s not who I’m looking for.
I look for people with passion and service. I’ve built some amazing teams over the years by focusing on those two items, because the rest comes later. You can’t teach talent; talent is innate. You can teach skill. If have someone with talent, I can teach them the skills. It’s really hard to teach someone to suddenly become empathetic or passionate about something in life.
That’s what I look for, and then I invest in those people. We have a lot of programs devoted to that. Both here in New York City and where I’ve come from, I’ve personally lead a couple of different programs just to help people get to the next level. Because the more you build into someone, the more effective they become and the better off your team, your organization, and ultimately, the patient, whom we’re there to care for. I’m really big on that philosophy.
Gamble: I imagine that has to do with the experience you’ve gained along the way, and then also with having worked with mentors.
Marx: Exactly. I’m a product of people who have built into me. That’s why I’m so passionate about building into others, because I’m about as average a person as you can get. I started off very rough in life; things were not good. But someone believed in me before I believed in myself. They gave me opportunity and they equipped me. I had that passion and I had that service-oriented heart, but they gave me the skills and they gave me opportunity, and I grew from that.
I’m always so thankful. When I meet with other people or someone asks me for help because they want to get to the next level in their career or in life, I always give whatever I can to that person, because other people did it for me. Without them, I would have accomplished very, very little, and certainly wouldn’t have fulfilled the calling that’s been put on my life. You reap what you sow, and I just sow as much into them as I can.
Like I said, we start extra programs. All of our organizations have good human resource departments with good training. But on top of that, I always add our own training and personalize it to the mission and calling that we have, because I think it makes it even that much more effective. So we’re constantly building into people.
And I don’t have extra time; no one has time. But we still do it, because the more you invest in others, the more things get done, and the better our patients are taken care of. And really, from a selfish point of view as a leader, it makes your job easier, because if the people around you are strong and getting stronger, there’s less reliance on you to carry it all.
Gamble: That makes a lot of sense. What type of advice would you give to new or aspiring CIOs, perhaps drawing from your own experience?
Marx: There’s probably three or four things. For sure, get a mentor. And I mean a formal mentor — not someone you talk to every once in a while, but someone you have regular cadence with. That’s really important.
Another is continuous learning. When I went through a huge learning growth spurt, I happened to have a lot of car time, but I never listened to the radio or my favorite band as much as I might have wanted to. I was listening to books on CDs, constantly. I was probably burning through two to three books a week, and I’d play them at least two or three times just to let it sink in, because you can’t give 100 percent focus while you’re driving. Those are two really easy things
The third is to volunteer. It doesn’t have to be in health care — it could be in another area. But just volunteer, because you learn more. You learn about other organizations, and you have other human interactions that might help you with becoming a more sensitive person or a better communicator.
Then number four is to hang out with people as much as you can. It could be the people that you serve with. It could be physicians or nurses that you admire. It could be administrators that you admire. These aren’t formal mentors; these are people that you’re learning from; people you’re shadowing. I still shadow, and I still require shadowing of those who work with me, and so I’m always learning. These things are practical, free, and easy, and they’ll make you a better person and a better professional.
Gamble: You’ve had experiences in so many different types of organizations. Is there anything that stands out as being a really proud moment or one where you really felt like you were in the right place?
Marx: There are so many. I can think of one or two for every organization I’ve had the honor to serve with. At Texas Health, when our organization won the HIMSS Davies Award recognizing us for superior clinical experience leveraging technology, it was a proud moment, because it wasn’t about one person. We’ve all received accolades that are specific to an individual. And those are okay, but when they’re team-based, it’s even more meaningful. With the Davies Award, it wasn’t just one individual in IT; it was the entire organization from administration to clinical staff. That was great, because we started off at ground zero and just built our way to that. It was hard work, and sort of external validation that what we did internally was good.
The other thing goes back to my time in Cleveland and also Texas Health — and I speak prophetically that it will happen in New York City as well — and it’s that we saw how technology, leveraged correctly with awesome clinicians, saves people’s lives. We were able to show that statistically in Cleveland and at Texas Health, and I know it will be true as well when our service is complete, because we’re still early on here in New York City. But when you start seeing the fruit of that labor and it’s actually impacting quality of care, it’s actually impacting patient safety, and it’s actually saving people’s lives, there’s no greater reward to me than that.
Gamble: That’s what it’s all about.
Gamble: All right, the last thing I wanted to talk about is balance. We’re starting to see more emphasis on this with some of the CHIME programs, which is great, but just some thoughts on how important that is and how everyone has to really do whatever they can to achieve some semblance of balance.
Ed: You definitely have to carve time out. I do a lot of physical activities. I do a lot of sports and different activities, and my time for that is early morning. I have several hours every day where that’s my time is carved out, unless of course there’s an emergency. But that’s my time. Then when I come home from the office, I’m with my family. I don’t do work. Now, before I go to bed I’ll review the next day, think about some of the things I learned that day, and clean up any remaining emails that need to be addressed, but it’s a very short time frame.
Once I get home, I’m home. I don’t allow myself to constantly be distracted. As we know, with the ubiquity of smart devices, it’s very easy to overemphasize work over your family, and that can be very detrimental. It’s important to take care of yourself physically, family-wise, and spiritually, because you want to be a holistic person. If any one area becomes out of whack, it starts impacting the other areas. Life balance is something to take very, very seriously.
At the end of the day, you’re building teams. You sow into your people. You get the whole organization involved so it’s not just about you, and then there won’t be a reason for you to always be busy working because you have a team. You have an organization that is all engaged.
Gamble: Well, this has been great. I could definitely talk to you longer, but I’ll let you go. I’d love to catch up again another time to talk about this more. I appreciate your time, and I think our readers and listeners are going to are going to take what you said and hopefully use it to make an impact.
Marx: I hope so. It’s my pleasure to speak with you.
Gamble: All right, thanks so much, Ed. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Marx: Likewise. Thank you, Kate.