1st of 2 parts
By JIM STOMMEN
MDD Contributing Writer
Julie Shimer, president/CEO of Welch Allyn (Skaneateles Falls, New York), will hand over reins of the company to new President/CEO Stephen Meyer this month after announcing plans in January to retire this year. Shimer was the first female CEO of the company, a maker of medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment and software solutions, assuming that role in 2007 after serving as a member of the firm's board of directors beginning in 2002.
Prior to taking the top executive posts at Welch Allyn, she served as CEO of Vocera Communications (Cupertino, California), a wireless communications company focused on the hospital market.
MDD: What was it like to take the helm of what wasn't that far removed from being a family-run company?
Shimer: It was an interesting opportunity to me. Now, I'm not the first non-family CEO. There were two between W.G. Allyn, who was the son of the founder, and William F. Allyn, who was the grandson of the founder. There were eight or nine years in there where there were non-family CEOs. I had been on the board for five years, and I had come to know the company and know the family, and they are a very impressive family with a very strong commitment to the company, the community and the customers.
So I was very impressed with the company, and when I was given the opportunity to step into the CEO role, I jumped at the chance. There were a couple of reasons why. One was, I found that personally, the Allyn family owners' values and the company's values were very consistent with my own; that is putting the customers first followed by the employees and the community ahead of just the pure profit motive.
Of course, we're in business to make money. But we have a core value that is best stated and often repeated around Welch Allyn. It is a saying of W.G. Allyn's, which was "Be always kind and true," and I think it's a very powerful value because we deal with tough issues, we're in a business and we want to make that business grow and deal with things that get in the way, but at the same time we're kind we value our relationships with each other, with our customers, with our suppliers.
It's a very positive environment in which to work, and part of that comes from the core value. That's what makes the company great. I think it's a strength for a company where there's a long history of a solid commitment to a core set of values. It was a privilege, really, to be asked to come in and I have thought of it that way ever since.
MDD: Prior to your career at Welch Allyn, you were CEO at Vocera Communications and held executive posts at several large communications-centered companies. How did those experiences prepare you for the healthcare segments where Welch Allyn operates?
Shimer: Prior to being at Vocera, I was really purely in technology companies networking, telecommunications, computing, semiconductor companies. So going to Vocera was an important step. It was based on technology, but the customer base for that technology became hospitals, so that was my first foray into healthcare.
At the time I joined Vocera, everyone's experience there was in technology we had just identified healthcare as a potential customer. So when I had the opportunity to join the Welch Allyn board of directors, the Vocera board of directors was really in favor of it, because they said, "This is going to be a way for you to learn something about this market that is going to be critical to Vocera." They continue to serve the hospital market.
What that experience in technology did, particularly in networking and communication technology, was that it really highlighted for me the opportunity in healthcare to leverage those technologies, and particularly in the ability for Welch Allyn to use our devices and instruments to deliver important data directly to the electronic medical record.
That's an area that I focused on in my tenure with the company, and I think we have delivered some very unique and compelling solutions. An example of which is the electronic vital signs documentation system, which is based on our Connex vital signs monitor and Connex software offering. It allows physicians, nurses, nursing assistants particularly in hospital settings where they're doing rounds to get vital signs measurements get them immediately into the electronic medical record as soon as those vital signs measurements are taken. So when the physician comes by to make a diagnosis or change a treatment, they have the latest vital signs information right in front of them.
MDD: My guess is that your time at Vocera, along with serving on the Welch Allyn board, was fairly eye-opening as far as being exposed to the way hospitals operate.
Shimer: Yes, it's a unique market compared to some of the markets served by the companies I had been with previously. That's a good way to put it it was very eye-opening. I think healthcare is the most complicated business I have ever been a part of. It's complicated because the payer is not the customer, which creates all kinds of complicated incentives and cross-incentives that healthcare reform in some form or another is trying to address. But at the heart of it is the need to deliver positive outcomes to patients, and technology can certainly help serve that need.
Sitting on the board was a great learning opportunity in terms of seeing the opportunities for technology, but it was also sort of the preparation for me to learn enough about the business that I could contemplate stepping in and leading it.
Even though I was asked to be the CEO and I have really enjoyed serving in that role, I relied a lot on the people who have been with the company for 20 or 30 years and knew not only hospitals, which I knew a little about, but also the physicians' office market and the international market much better than I did. So coming up with the notion of the platform for innovation was really a team effort aimed at serving a customer need which was identified by the folks in the company who had been here a long time. What I brought was a little bit of technology background about how you could implement such a solution.
MDD: In working with the folks who had been at the company for a long time, I would imagine with that as a base and coming from your background with some knowledge about how hospitals worked, that really allowed a fast-paced approach to implementing a new platform technology.
Shimer: I think we moved pretty quickly. It's never fast enough you always wish you could go faster but when I look back over the past five years, and I did this recently for the board of directors as we planned for the transition to a new CEO, it was quite remarkable how many things we have accomplished and how far we have come. But there are still many more things that we would like to do, so I will leave that to my successor.
MDD: How does your platform focus on patient care and outcomes, which is how everything is measured these days?
Shimer: One of the challenges is that you need to actually be able to measure outcomes, so, besides the basic of did the person get well or did the person get sicker, there are certain measures to be taken, and a lot of those measures depend on vital signs, such as "Is blood pressure under control?" In a hospital, "Is temperature under control, and respiration rate," and so on?
One of the things that Welch Allyn helps deliver is the data that can be used to describe the outcome, and we do it in a very reliable and timely fashion. We think timely access to information is really critical to delivering good patient outcomes. In hospitals, a set of vital signs can be four hours old or six hours old or eight hours old. If you're getting an infection and your temperature is rising rapidly, those vitals don't tell a story. So what we're doing is helping to capture the information that is describing the outcomes.
Part of what is likely to come will be quality scores, and those are measurements that could be delivered through our platform the data collected from our instruments and from other instruments from other companies, aggregated and presented to the electronic medical record in a way that is not just data but provides information that indicates actions that need to be taken to improve outcomes. So that's one way we improve outcomes.
(In Part 2 next week, Julie Shimer discusses the patient satisfaction side of outcomes, opportunities for women in engineering, Welch Allyn's 'fabulous' culture, the next key areas of focus for the company, the state of medical innovation and the effects of regulation and healthcare reform.)