8 questions with Epic CEO Judy Faulkner

Judy Faulkner, founder and CEO of Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems, made some time during HIMSS 2016 to talk about her leadership style, "Midwest nice" and her new breakfast routine with Becker's Hospital Review.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

1. How would people describe you as a boss?

One of our staff members told me people ask her regularly to describe me as a boss. So I'll take what she says. Now, the thing is, who is going to tell me bad things?

She says she tells people I'm smart, nice, ethical and honest in that I tell you what I think. If I had to guess, people would say I'm hardworking, demanding of good work from others, visionary and outspoken.

2. And being outspoken is different from being honest about what you think?

Right, because one is being assertive. I will speak up. When I go to a meeting, I may be one of the people who is comfortable speaking up. But then it also goes with the honesty: I might ask the hard questions.

3. You demand good work. So when somebody really knocks it out of the park, how do you recognize that accomplishment?

I like to congratulate them, sometimes in front of others. At the staff meeting, I may say some words of congratulation to what they achieved. Or I will ask them to come up and present what they've done to almost 10,000 people, because that recognizes their accomplishment.

I think it's very interesting, the difference between "thank you" and "congratulations." To me, "thank you" makes it a personal thing, like you did it for me, and I don't like to take that from a person unless it was something they did for me. So, I prefer to congratulate them on a job well done if that was something they did themselves.

4. When it comes to your work, is there one personal motto, rule, quirk or idiosyncrasy you possess? I'm curious about any insights as to how you work.

Did you take a look at any of the quotes up there? [Ms. Faulkner points to a display of roughly 25 printed quotes hanging on the wall.] A lot of them are in my head all the time.

I would say if I have one driving force, it is to keep commitments to our customers. When I have corporate philosophy class with all the new folks who come into Epic, we go over the philosophies behind Epic. That is the central message: To keep commitments to customers. In general, that means customers trust us to make them successful. Whether or not they know how to do their side of the job, we still have the obligation to make them successful and make them the heroes that they are in trying to transform healthcare. It means the bigger picture: Your job is to help them take care of their patients and do everything you can to make them be as successful as possible.

But I did put down a lot of the quotes I like the best, because these are in my head, too. One of them is, "What you put up with is what you stand for." Another is, "Yes, if rather than no, because." I am not good with "No, because." Come up with a way to figure it out and work on the, "Yes, if." We get magic done at Epic because we come to it with a "Yes, if" approach.

5. Are you a very literary person?

I had an English minor. At work, I'm the grammaritician. I say sometimes to people, "Just because we're programmers, don't assume we're not literate." We're a fairly literature-oriented company.

If you would come to my office at Epic, you would see maybe 20 times [the quotes] we have here all around my office. It's wallpapered with quotes. I change them every few months — not all of them, I leave my favorites up.

6. What do you like about Wisconsin?

The first thing you've got to like is the people. It's the Midwest work ethic, the Midwest nice. I was just in an area with gated communities. I do like the Midwest where there is much more a feeling of...we trust each other.

I like the Midwest nice, but it's both a wonderful thing and a disability. It's a wonderful thing in that Midwest nice is really nice, and it's a disability in that when our staff go to the East Coast and help do an installation, they may say, "Perhaps you should think about," when what they really need to say is, "You need to do this." We have to train them so they learn a different vocabulary. It's almost like driving. If you drive in Milwaukee versus New York, it's two different driving skills.

And of course, the seasons. I like having seasons. Another thing I like about where I live is I can get to the country in a very short period of time.

7. What was the last thing you did for the first time?

I invented a new egg dish for breakfast.

8. What's the dish?

I have a microwave egg cooker. It's the greatest thing — I got it at an art fair, it's ceramic and it works. I put rice in the dish, I make a hole in the middle and stick the egg in, then I put cheese around it and salsa. Put it in the microwave for 45 seconds — 45 seconds! — and I have a wonderful egg dish.

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