It's a “jungle” in there
As it turns out, one good place to start peeling back the layers of the Epic onion is by touring its expansive new headquarters, set on several hundred acres in Verona, a suburb of Madison. That is just what this reporter and his editor-in-chief did this year on a gray, windy day in mid-March. The new campus, which has been evolving over the past year-and-a-half, is set on a hilly landscape in what was not long ago farm country. With 3,000 employees and continuous growth, consolidating what had been multiple sites had become a practical necessity, says Judith Faulkner, Epic's founder, president, and CEO, as she gave us a tour of the main building. What's more, she says, it's important for the culture to have everyone physically together. That not only applies to the gathering of employees into one core corporate headquarters, but also Epic's unusual requirement that all employees live and be based out of the Madison area.
Walking through a variety of corridors, foyers, and conference rooms in the main building here takes one through imaginative street scenes and other trompe-l'oeil settings, from a New York subway station to a north woods lodge, to a World War II-era airplane hangar, to a New York street scene, to a vine-draped tropical jungle.
All these areas were created by theater set designers, Faulkner notes. “We didn't want to spend a lot of money, but we wanted to make the headquarters engaging … with an emphasis on surprises, innovation, and art,” she explains. And what better way to accomplish that than by engaging the visual sense as employees walk from one section of the headquarters to another? In fact, Faulkner notes, she has art pieces moved at regular intervals so employee vistas are always changing. Around virtually every turn at Epic's headquarters, there is a new scene, a new tableau or set piece. And Faulkner, who created Epic with two others in 1979, continues to be involved in every aspect of the interior decoration.
It was also Faulkner's decision that all Epic employees should have their own offices, in contrast to the cubicle jungle in place at most corporations. “I read a study somewhere that found that there is something like a 40 percent loss of productivity when employees work out of cubicles,” Faulkner says. She also notes, “We're competing with Microsoft and Dell for employees,” and cites the individual-office benefit as a lure for potential employees.
Singing the same tune
Despite the fact some sun-lovers may consider Wisconsin a less than ideal climate, Epic executives report that they are able to be extremely selective in choosing the best and the brightest from among young IT professionals nationwide (with all job candidates being subjected to a wide battery of intelligence and skills tests).
More fundamentally, what Epic is and how it operates reflects to an extraordinary degree the personality, perspectives, and goals of one person, and that person is Faulkner. Judy Faulkner is unusual among healthcare IT founder-CEOs in many ways, not least of all in her inherent shyness and aversion to media coverage and attention in general. Indeed, her two stipulations in agreeing to be interviewed for this article were first, that HCI would publish no photos of her; and second, that the magazine promise this article not be a personal profile. How many other vendor CEOs might conceivably shy away from such attention? One strains mightily to come up with their names. So of course, readers will wonder — what is Judy Faulkner like? And what does she look like? A slender, 50-something brunette with lively eyes and an engaging manner, Faulkner is impressive in person. Completely in command, and clearly holding the respect of her staff, she exudes an aura of quiet intensity. Reluctantly admitting to having an “ABD” (all but dissertation) in work she had done years ago towards a doctorate in computer science, Faulkner is clearly exceptionally intelligent. At the same time, she consistently tries to draw attention away from herself and towards her team, and becomes impatient when asked about the “Judy-centricity” that seems to attach to every rumored story that floats through the industry about how the company operates.
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