Judy Faulkner invented Epic in a Wisconsin basement in 1979, developing an iconic enterprise worth $2.9 billion today. Forty years after starting the healthcare software company, she still serves as CEO. She spoke with HFMA’s President and CEO Joe Fifer about what it takes to build and run a company.
Joe Fifer: I’ve never spoken to someone who literally grew a multi-billion-dollar company from their basement. How different are the challenges you face in running Epic now compared to when you were getting the company off the ground?
Judy Faulkner: When Epic started, I had no experience whatsoever in business, in management, in anything. So I had to figure it out. I think that was interesting for my family too, because my husband had to watch me change from someone who he always saw in blue jeans, T-shirts, no makeup, to someone who had to dress professionally. And that was a hard change for everyone.
Fifer: And that was probably symbolic of other changes.
Faulkner: Very much so. I had to learn about everything. I had to figure out how to write a contract, how to do a policy manual. What about budgets? We don’t have any. Dress code? When there are visitors, you must wear clothes; that’s our dress code. Do we have venture capital? Nope. Should we go public? No. So those were the things that I had to worry about then. Those were all easy decisions, but what was hard to learn were all the people things. How do you talk with people? How do you have difficult conversations? How do you get everybody to turn right or turn left? Those were the tricky things.
Fifer: You’re starting to talk a little about culture, and you’ve developed such a dynamic organization. How do you maintain that type of dynamic environment that spawned that early startup, and how do you avoid getting stagnant in your large organization today?
Faulkner: A vice president of human resources from a large company once came over to visit us asking that same question. He said, “What do we do to keep the culture?” And I said, “Nothing.” So he spent three days going around the company, and he came back with his pencil and pad of paper and said that we do more than any company he has ever been in. We didn’t realize that we were doing it intuitively without thinking about it.
We have a corporate philosophy class that everybody attends. I teach it. It’s about six hours long. And it helps everybody understand why does Epic exist, and what are we trying to accomplish, and what’s their part in it. We have a monthly staff meeting that everybody goes to. You’re required to go to it. We take it very seriously, and some of our staff say it’s a really high point of the month. That helps everybody understand where we’re going and how to go the same direction.