What's in their "secret sauce"? We were curious, just like you

June 24, 2011
As part of my researching and reporting of the upcoming June cover story on the unusual marketplace success story of Epic Systems Corporation, I

As part of my researching and reporting of the upcoming June cover story on the unusual marketplace success story of Epic Systems Corporation, I traveled this spring with our Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Guerra, to the corporate headquarters of Epic, set on hundreds of acres amid the gently rolling hills of Verona, a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. Just visiting the Epic headquarters alone is very interesting, for a number of reasons. For one thing, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Verona was still “the country.” When I was in school in Madison, this was all farmland, basically. Now, like many communities across this country, it has become a busy bedroom exurb to a rapidly expanding metropolitan area. And Epic’s headquarters are ultra-modern and quite impressive, and very engaging, designed not only to please the company’s many corporate visitors, but also to keep its employees, who are required to work out of the headquarters campus, delighted and mentally engaged.

Anthony and I received informative and candid briefings from top Epic executives on that windy day in early spring, and ended up being given a full hour and a half (three times the length of time originally scheduled) with Epic’s fascinating founder and CEO, Judith Faulkner, who showed herself to be unfailingly gracious, compelling, and witty (in a very self-deprecating way). Faulkner, who agreed to be interviewed for the cover story on the condition that she not be photographed (thus leading to my thinking of her as the “Greta Garbo” of healthcare IT), is a highly unusual CEO indeed—brilliant, charismatic, yet obviously shy, and, alone among all the corporate CEOs I’ve ever met in healthcare, publicity-shy. Nonetheless, her personality, interests, and management philosophy suffuse Epic headquarters—and the company’s culture—in a way I’ve never encountered before, almost at a molecular level. It’s all quite fascinating, really.

And one of the ways in which Judy’s management philosophy has reached the cellular level among Epic employees is this: I’ve never seen such a consistent service mentality, down to the level of the headquarters receptionist, who helped successfully guide me to headquarters after I became confused driving around Verona on the morning of our visit. Indeed, Glenn Loos-Austin, the professional photographer and graphic designer who is now an information systems professional at Epic, and who was assigned to join Anthony, Judy, and myself on our Faulkner-guided tour of headquarters, went above and beyond in his follow-up work for us in the weeks after our visit to Verona, helping out with photo arrangements, and even retaking photographic images that we needed for the magazine cover story (and which had not been available in high-resolution format). If all the implementation professionals at Epic are as service-conscious as Glenn was towards us—and, according to everything I’ve heard and read, they seem to be unfailingly so—it’s no wonder Epic has done so well in the market.

Our cover story will be out next week. I leave it to our readers—as always—to form their own judgments. But I can tell them that, from my perspective, a company whose employees, down to the staff member assigned to specially handle photographic needs for two visitors, and to its front-desk receptionists, takes care of the needs of visitors, probably has a pretty interesting “secret sauce” behind its corporate success.

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