Bellwether League, Inc.First jobs make first impressions later brought to healthcare

Many of us may recall fondly – or shamelessly romanticize a stressful experience – our first shot at gainful employment. That first job might have been a newspaper route, busing tables at a restaurant, working the snack counter at a movie theater or even serving as an intern at a hospital.

Leaders & Luminaries wanted to see how those first jobs during the teenaged years molded and shaped the careers of future Future Famers and Bellwethers, posing the following questions to them in 2018. Two Hall of Famers have passed since this interview was conducted, but their insights still resonate and remain valuable as part of their enduring legacy and are included here.

L&L: What skill(s) did you bring from your earliest pre-healthcare experience that you used regularly in the healthcare supply chain? Why was/were/is/are it/they so valuable?

“I spent my first 20 years in military logistics, which included a broader background in acquisition, contracting, facilities, hazardous material/waste management, supply, food, cleaning, etc. At the end of my military career, I spent three years as the Deputy Director for the Maritime business line at Defense Logistics Agency, which included all ships and electronics (more than 286+ major platforms). During this assignment I also supported the ‘blue printing and deployment’ of SAP within the DLA. Post military, I continued in the commercial defense industry in the complex contracts associated with the Aerospace industry. Finally, I spent several years as a Corporate Compliance Officer. I have been in healthcare for eight years now.

“This was important because it enabled best practices and ideas to be infused in inefficient and dated practices within healthcare. The concepts of demand planning, advanced inventory management, category management, strategic vendor relationships, long-term contracting and so very much more were not commonly practiced in the healthcare world.

“Finally, the understanding of the importance of logistics to the hospital business in general was underrated. I have been an advocate and made significant headway to elevating the criticality of logistics within my current organization. You see, it is about so much more than purchasing medical supplies! It is about end-to-end logistics!”
Donna Van Vlerah, Future Famers Class of 2015

“Early in my educational processes, I was fortunate to have served as an orderly at both Lutheran and Parkview Memorial Hospitals in Fort Wayne, IN. I worked with a variety of clinicians in various departments, Emergency Room, Intensive Care, Respiratory Therapy, Labor & Delivery and Orthopedics. The experiences provided a foundation in caring for injured and ill patients and the importance of always providing the best possible support. This carried forward to my days at New England Deaconess as Unit Manager and subsequently as Director for Materials Management at Massachusetts General Hospital. The knowledge from my early experiences had taught me the benefits of understanding the importance of quality products and guided my work with our standards committees.”
Dick Perrin, Bellwether Class of 2014

“My background was as a vendor and I worked with customers to develop deep relationships and true partnerships with them. Healthcare was more transactional in the beginning, but I see it changing to a similar model where deep relationships and true partnerships with core vendors make a big difference.”
Jason Hays, Future Famers Class of 2015

“Growing up in the era where, as a child you were ‘let loose’ in the neighborhood and with a carpenter for a father, I was able to try all kinds of ‘projects.’ We built forts and go-carts, we caught and (tried) to raise tadpoles. We put noisemakers on our bikes and made ramps to jump them. These experiences gave me the ability to look at something and think, ‘we can make that bette,r’ and they instilled a ‘Let’s try it’ attitude. I am not sure these are considered skills, but without these, someone might look at something and say, ‘that’s good enough.’ I don’t think that’s how leaders view the world.”
Mary Starr, Bellwether Class of 2018, Bellwether League Inc. Board Treasurer, 2012-2016

“Working in a pharmacy with my father and grandfather taught me some of the basic life skills along with those for the supply chain. Treat everyone with respect. Those for whom you are a Service Department are your customers, and customers often determine your future. Usually ‘impossible’ requests are not their fault, but an issue for them who are a Service Department for others. Always put yourself in the shoes of your customers.

“Part of the education of pharmacists is the issue of stock rotation, out-of-date pharmaceuticals, how to safely dispose of drugs and recalls. They also understand the value of distribution. This may seem basic, but it is the everyday reality of those who work in the healthcare supply chain.”
Derwood Dunbar Jr., Bellwether Class of 2011

“Discipline. Doing the things that need to be done every day is tough for most people. Staying on task and routine is essential to the position.”
Jimmy Henderson, Future Famers Class of 2016

“I learned very early in my career how important it is to effectively manage your boss. No doubt over your career you will have many different bosses with many different management styles.  Some will be very autocratic, and some will be even overly democratic and the rest will be somewhere in between. This is a two-part skill: First, recognizing early on your boss’ management style. And then, most importantly, figuring how to manage it.”
Tom Hughes, Bellwether Class of 2012

“I started my post college career in a mid-size industrial manufacturing corporation where I learned about the manufacturing process, working with suppliers as a key part of the supply chain, driving supplier performance, and going to ‘gemba’ where the work is done, either at the supplier facility or the manufacturing plant to understand issues and opportunities for improvement. I also got a chance to work in consulting and experienced supply chain operations and structures at many different Fortune 500 companies to get varying perspectives on approaches to supply chain and sourcing. However, I’d go back to even earlier in working summer jobs in sporting goods retail, golf course landscaping and picking orders and loading trucks in a frozen goods warehouse, to learn how to understand customer needs, work with different kinds of people, and understand the importance of logistics, systems and an engaged workforce.”
Eric Tritch, Future Famers Class of 2015

“Since I started working in hospitals at the age of 16 all my experience relates to healthcare. I began my career as an orderly as it was called in the late ’60s, and I guess the skill I brought into the supply chain was patient-care experience, understanding the patient and the patient’s care was always what motivated me throughout my healthcare career.”
Dale Montgomery, Bellwether Class of 2014

“My earliest pre-healthcare skills include sound financial and accounting principles. Even today I use these skills daily in evaluating supply chain’s project impact on the company financials, in review of budgets, reviewing potential new deals, and evaluating buy versus build decisions to name just a few. Many younger leaders don’t have the requisite skills or competency in this area, so it’s also an opportunity to teach.”
Troy Compardo, Future Famers Class of 2018

“Delivered newspapers at age 11. Worked at a grocery store and retail pharmacy stocking shelves and counting inventory. Loaded and drove trucks for a national dairy company. Worked on the production line and took inventories for that same company.  

“[This] taught me the language, the importance of and methods used for the above. These basic principles are applicable to any type of business or company. Plus, that non-healthcare experience gave me credibility (a k a, ‘street-cred’), to many in healthcare who did not have that background or foundation knowledge.”
Jamie Kowalski, Bellwether Class of 2017, Bellwether League Foundation Co-Founder and Board Secretary, Bellwether League Inc. Co-Founder and Founding Chairman, 2007-2013

“My professional career really began in healthcare, but I was involved with market research and strategic planning. I worked in this and other non-supply chain roles for almost 10 years before moving to supply chain. Those roles taught me to think in terms of stakeholders and identifying the broadest audience possible. I learned to not assume I knew what people wanted and valued, but to ask and do research before forming opinions. I think the other key skill was to always see things through the lens of the organization’s mission. This has allowed me to help frame supply chain in its broadest sense and articulate its criticality to the organization’s mission.”
Nancy LeMaster, Bellwether Class of 2015

“I was educated as an industrial engineer and I use business process reengineering all the time. It taught me to think about how things interact both for good and bad. It helped me adopt ‘system thinking’ rather than optimization of an isolated case. As such I have seen small changes in multiple areas can create great improvements for the entire system.”
Vance Moore, Bellwether Class of 2019, Bellwether League Inc. Board Member, 2010-2015

“The study of micro- and macro-economics provided me with an important conceptual framework for analyzing many issues. The ability to perform cost-benefit analysis is a prerequisite for supply chain expertise. Econometrics helped me to decide whether a proposal that sounded good really met the criteria for a sound investment. Supply chain executives need to know how to extract complex data and draw conclusions. If the data that you present is not credible, a physician will never trust you. Furthermore, economics is all about distributing scarce resources efficiently; whether examining the distribution of labor or the recycling of products, the economical perspective is a tremendous asset.

“On a more practical level, I worked in an executive training program for a major department store chain immediately after getting my undergraduate degree. The most important skills I learned were how to take inventory (many hospital executives do a sloppy job of it), supervise staff and be nice to customers – even when it hurts.”
Peggy Styer, Bellwether Class of 2016

“One of my earliest employers suggested that I take some time off, and they would be willing to pay to send me to San Francisco for the ACHE ‘Process and Techniques of Negotiation’ three-day seminar. I gladly accepted and have found over my career that supply chain leaders are often called upon to assist with major acquisitions in their organization. I still carry the outline card in my wallet, and still use some – or all – of the process, depending on the size of the purchase. I recommend attending a quality negotiation like this for all new supply chain staff who will be buying. 

“It is valuable because it is possible to have ‘win-win’ negotiations and provide significant value to your employer if you carefully plan large purchases and the negotiations that underpin them.” 
John Strong, Bellwether Class of 2011

“Process engineering and structural development have been key skills within the healthcare supply chain that I was able to bring from my pre-healthcare experience. Healthcare supply chain professionals are constantly being presented with challenges in uncharted areas. Often there is no ‘how-to’ guide for approaching these challenges; one must be shaped. As supply chain’s role within the organization grows, these skills have helped me work with teams to build foundations necessary to execute on evolving business needs. Former roles in information technology support and program management provided hands-on learning that allowed me to merge problem-solving skills at a challenge’s inception with the necessity for ongoing repeatability.”
Ben Cahoy, Future Famers Class of 2017

“I always had entrepreneurial tendencies. In college I started up an industrial cleaning company that I passed on to my brother after graduation, and in the end, it helped put four of us through college. At Baxter, a great company and a wonderful training ground for me, I still longed to run my own enterprise. Claflin gave me that freedom to innovate and build a team of associates with a common vision of an improved healthcare supply chain. Entrepreneurism can be applied to nearly any form of endeavor.”
Ted Almon, Bellwether Class of 2010

“Curiosity: I don’t know if this is a skill, but it has served me well (and sometimes not so much) across industries. [It’s] valuable because it isn’t good enough [until] someone else gets it. I want to get it. My ability to understand lets me fully engage.

“Connecting the dots: Asking the right questions to get the sought-after answers can be an art.  Being able to see disconnects – be it communication, understanding, terminology, visibility, etc., is valuable in conjunction with some business process improvement type skills.

“Data understanding/respect: Rigor around the management of and generalities of how interfaces work is valuable because data is so important.” 
Amy Chieppa, Future Famers Class of 2018

“Growing up in the Midwest I was taught, or rather learned from observation, that you are only as good as your word. Integrity, trust, honesty are all the values upon which relationships are built. Though these values are important in all aspects of our lives they are the foundation of a successful business relationship. As you begin to establish your identity in business you must always be forthright. With these basic values you will begin to build your reputation as a trusted partner.”   
Dee Donatelli, Bellwether Class of 2015

“Skill sets that are still relevant today and were developed and honed over the years through formal education and my earliest work experiences include being a receptive and active listener, communication, ability to adapt and work under pressure, time management and self-motivation.

“The ability to adapt and work under pressure hasn’t wavered in my 30+ years in healthcare. The industry is complex, undergoing constant change and in a continuous state of disruption. If you are not able to adapt and be resilient while delivering results [then] healthcare supply chain management isn’t the right career choice. One of the more important skill sets is being a receptive and active listener. By doing so, you can learn much from your team, colleagues and business acquaintances. You are also likely to be more successful in discussions and negotiations by listening rather than dominating the dialogue and demanding others acquiesce to your point of view. Self-motivation is another increasingly important skill in today’s environment. I would rather determine, or minimally, influence my destiny than have it be dictated to me.”
Jim Francis, Bellwether Class of 2017

“Education/Communication: To be effective in leading change, you need make certain your message effectively educates the audience. As a teacher – you do that every day. Communication is such a critical element to leadership, and Supply Chain is no different.”
Jane Pleasants, Bellwether Class of 2015

“It was actually a combination of skills: Process engineering, effective teaching skills, the ability to talk to groups, the ability to look at something and boil it down to a paragraph or two, but never more than a page, and last but not least, being a voracious reader and constantly studying and learning about new things.”
Mike Switzer, Bellwether Class of 2015

“I brought my knowledge of information technology (IT) from my experiences in programming, contact databases and with publications Health Management Technology and Communication News – a publication that covered Fortune 500 companies and their computer systems, to my editorial focus in Healthcare Purchasing News. I had attended many diverse industry trade shows and association conferences outside of healthcare and saw how their information systems shared data across their networks.

“Healthcare IT systems were almost exclusively working in silos. There was little if any, information sharing across the various clinical specialties. For example, laboratory system results were not visible to physicians outside of the lab. Imaging systems held images in a single location, patient monitor information only went to a nursing station.

“As far as supply chain systems, they were simple inventory materials managements. They focused on order entry and payment to a specific set of vendors. They offered little visibility other than what had been purchased. Interoperability of systems didn’t exist.”
Kristine Russell, Bellwether Class of 2017, Publisher, Healthcare Purchasing News, Silver Sustaining Sponsor

“Creating succinct and quantified updates to either project statuses or projected impacts of a decision. This skill, arguably more than anything else, has contributed most to any success I’ve enjoyed to date. People in general, and executives specifically, do not have time or patience for ‘fluff.’

“I learned this skill as a financial analyst in a physician compensation department where I worked for a CFO, and our constant challenge was to fit our message into the size of a Blackberry screen (this was a few years back obviously). You quickly find that it’s easier to drone on than to provide brief and substantive answers to complex questions. It’s an excellent mental discipline.”
Nate Mickish, Future Famers Class of 2015, Bellwether League Inc. Board Secretary, 2017-2020

“I had experiences in my early career that now I stop and think, ‘why did we do that?!’ It may have been dangerous or bad use of product time for little return on investment, or ‘why didn’t we do that?’ such as stocking the high-dollar clinical areas, leaving the clinical work to the clinicians.”
Jean Sargent, CMRP, FAHRMM, CRCST, Bellwether League Inc. Board Member, 2010-2015

“Attention to detail, focus and organizational skills. These skills have been invaluable in driving change in the many areas I have had the pleasure to work with. With so many priorities competing for attention, being able to have laser focus to get things done is an imperative. Keeping the many things in play organized and on point is helpful. What I also learned along the way is that keeping people organized and focused is important. Good communication, collaboration and participation to put these skills to work drives success.”
Deborah Templeton, R.Ph., Bellwether League Foundation Chairman, Bellwether League Inc. Treasurer, 2016-2020

“I started working in healthcare supply chain during my senior year of college to help pay for tuition. My first job was as Manager of Offsite Distribution. Prior to that I had some managerial experience in retail.

“The two things I believe helped me considerably in my first healthcare supply chain leadership role were: People skills (leadership and talent development) and an extreme fear of failure.” 
Bill Donato, Bellwether Class of 2013

“The kindergarten rule: Treat people the way you want to be treated. Sometimes the simplest approach can be the most valuable.”
Jody Hatcher, President (now retired), Sourcing and Collaboration Services, Vizient Inc., Founding/Platinum Sustaining Sponsor

“This is a hard question to answer since I have been in healthcare virtually my entire adult life.  However, from college and other jobs in college and healthcare I would characterize my analytical and mathematical skills. I have always been a huge baseball fan and fascinated by the statistical nature of the sport. I used to be able to calculate earned run averages in my head.   So I have always been a numbers person.”
Pat Carroll, Bellwether League Founding Treasurer, 2007-2011, Secretary, 2013-2018, Bellwether Class of 2018