Jonathan Bush Steps Down as CEO, athenahealth Considers Sale | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

Jonathan Bush Steps Down as CEO, athenahealth Considers Sale

June 6, 2018
by Heather Landi
| Reprints
Click To View Gallery

Currently fighting a takeover offer from Elliott Management, and on the heels of damaging allegations of sexual harassment against founder Jonathan Bush, athenahealth announced this morning that it is considering “strategic alternatives,” while also announcing that Bush is stepping down as CEO, president and as a member of the company’s board, effective immediately.

The Watertown, Mass-based health IT vendor said in a press release that its Board of Directors has initiated a process to explore strategic alternatives, which includes the possibility of a sale, merger or other transaction involving the company as well as continuing as an independent company. 

“In parallel to having discussions with third parties regarding a potential business combination, the athenahealth Board has initiated a search process to identify qualified CEO candidates. The Board’s strategic exploration process is designed to maximize shareholder value and better position athenahealth to capitalize on its premier healthcare technology platform,” the company stated in the press release.

athenahealth is fighting a takeover offer for $160 a share from activist firm Elliott Management. Before Wednesday's announcement, the stock was at $151 a share, about 6 percent below the offer price. Ahead of the announcement, athenahealth shares were halted. They initially rose nearly 6 percent once trading resumed, according to reporting from CNBC.

With Bush's departure, athenahealth officials said Jeff Immelt, chairman of athenahealth, has been appointed executive chairman, in order to support the company’s operations and ensure a smooth transition as the Board conducts its strategic review. In addition, Marc Levine, executive vice president, chief financial officer, chief accounting officer and treasurer, will assume greater day-to-day operational responsibilities and oversight, the company stated, and current Board member Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., will be advising the executive leadership team on data strategy within her role as a director.

Michelle Mattson-Hamilton, associate principal, ST Advisors, a strategic and financial advisory firm focused on healthcare IT, said this recent turn of events at athenahealth is not surprising given the developments over the past month.

“With Elliott aggressively pushing its acquisition bid and the recent news of Jonathan's behavior hitting the airwaves, it's a perfect storm. As the company explores alternatives, I'm sure there will be multiple financial sponsors interested in taking a look, and Cerner is a logical strategic option,” she notes, adding that Cerner has publicly stated their lack of interest in athenahealth. “The next 8 to 16 weeks, as things progress, will be very interesting.”

Mattson-Hamilton adds, "What would be more exciting would be if Apple or one of the other tech giants were to look at athenahealth in an attempt to gain access to the market," while also noting that Apple's involvement with athenahealth is "unlikely."

In a statement, Immelt said the company is approaching this process “with an open mind and a commitment to continuing to strengthen the company – including its rich data asset, platform strategy, and culture of innovation. We are fully focused on serving the best interests of our shareholders, employees and clients.”

“On behalf of the Board, I want to thank Jonathan for guiding athenahealth to this point and for building an incredible team, which is deeply focused on our clients and on driving disruptive, positive change across the healthcare industry. The Board and Jonathan agree that this change in leadership is appropriate as athenahealth turns to its next chapter,” Immelt stated.

In a statement, Bush, who co-founded the company in 1997, said, “I believe that working for something larger than yourself is the greatest thing a human can do.  A family, a cause, a company, a country – these things give shape and purpose to an otherwise mechanical and brief human existence. athenahealth is a near once in a life time example of such a thing. With that lens on, it’s easy for me to see that the very things that made me useful to the company and cause in these past twenty-one years, are now exactly the things that are in the way. I cannot imagine a single organization more loaded with potential to transform healthcare.”

Lazard and Centerview Partners are acting as the company’s financial advisors, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP is legal counsel to the company.  A leading executive search firm has been retained to assist with the CEO search process.

Takeover Bid

As previousy reported by Healthcare Informatics, Elliott, the New York hedge fund which says it owns 8.9 percent of the company’s common stock, and is led by billionaire Paul Singer, made an all-cash takeover offer, which would value athenahealth at $6.9 billion.

In a letter sent to athenahealth’s board of directors on May 7, the investors acknowledge “how rare it is for a company to achieve the level of success realized by athenahealth,” and that “athenahealth has great potential with a differentiated opportunity to fundamentally change the healthcare IT industry.” However, the investors also criticized leadership at the electronic health record (EHR) vendor for failing to make the changes necessary “to enable it to grow as it should and to create the kind of value its shareholders deserve.”

“We are faced now with the stark reality that athenahealth as a public-company investment, despite all of its promise, has not worked for many years, is not working today and will not work in the future,” the Elliott investors state in the letter, specifically noting the company’s problems in the areas of sales execution, service delivery, product focus, forecasting, executive turnover, capital allocation, management discipline and corporate governance.

Elliott first took a stake in the company in May last year. Since then, Bush ceded his chairmanship, the company replaced its chief financial officer and announced plans to cut its workforce by 9 percent. In February, Immelt, former CEO of GE Healthcare, was named chairman of the athenahealth board.

Further, Elliott said in the letter that athenahealth’s stock price has underperformed because the company has failed to correct a host of identifiable operational issues. “This chronic underperformance is driven by athenahealth-specific factors including poor execution, significant management turnover, inefficient allocation of resources and the loss of strategic focus,” the investors wrote in the letter.

Allegations Against Bush

A few weeks about Elliott Management’s takeover bid, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported that Bush had assaulted his ex-wife, citing court documents the newspaper found detailing violent attacks against his ex-wife more than a decade ago. The Daily Mail, citing 2006 court documents from a custody battle in Massachusetts, said Jonathan Bush, 49, had struck Sarah Seldon in the sternum with closed fists and once gave her a black eye.

According to a Bloomberg report, Bush issued an apology after learning of the newspaper report. “I take complete responsibility for all these regrettable incidents involving my dear former wife. I have worked very hard since then to demonstrate my remorse, and today, Sarah and I have a strong, co-parenting relationship. I accept responsibility for my conduct and apologize to everyone involved,” Bush said, according to the Bloomberg report.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg also reported new allegations of questionable behavior by Bush. According to Bloomberg’s reporting, two female employees filed complaints citing “inappropriate conduct” by  Bush, and one female employee referenced in public records said Bush created a “sexually hostile environment” at athenahealth.

There has been some speculation that the growing allegations against Bush, both in his personal life and his behavior at work, and the timing of the takeover bid are not coincidental.

As recently noted by Politico, a 2017 Fortune report suggests that Elliott Management may have used sophisticated, and often controversial tactics, in the past. The Fortune report suggests that the hedge fund hired private investigators to find information on takeover targets to use as leverage, for example.

“As an industry observer, Jonathan built a truly excellent company with a great vision and a very loyal employee base,” Ben Rooks, founder and principal, ST Advisors said, “I think his forced exit engineered by an 'activist investor' is a loss for the HCIT sector.” And, he noted, “I’m excited to see what he does next with his life.”

In a previous interview after the takeover bid was announced back in May, Rooks noted that athenahealth’s culture is driven by its outspoken CEO, Bush, and that impacts the company’s valuation, he said. “athena has always traded at a premium valuation, in no small part because of Jonathan. If you were to take him out of it, assuming you even could, what would that do to the company, long-term?”

Rooks also said at the time that a traditional leveraged buyout (LBO), as proposed by Elliott, would be challenging. “It’s tough to see a hostile LBO working, given athena’s culture. And Elliott has a track record of winning the fights they get into,” he says.

athenahealth's Future

Strategically, Elliott’s proposed takeover offer put the company into play, Rooks noted back in May, and it's possible other companies will show interest.

As Matton-Hamilton noted, one possibility, while unlikely, would be a tech giant like Apple buying athena. "It's a provocative thought exercise," she says. "What sort of access would Apple achieve? Could they handle the complexities and regulation? Would they ultimately fail like so many others or could this lead to significant industry changes like many hypothesize? This is a very low probability, in my opinion, but given the inroads the tech companies are attempting to make into the space, you have to imagine they will want look closely at any large opportunities like this."

When interviewed back in May, Rooks said he would urge caution to technology companies looking to jump in and buy athenahealth. "I would caution them to look at the treacherous path that all tech companies entering healthcare IT have experienced. For example, GE/IDX and Misys/Sunquest/Medic," Rooks says. [editor’s note: GE Healthcare acquired IDX Systems for $1.2 billion in 2006. IDX solutions were rebranded Centricity and GE is now exploring selling off parts of its health IT business. Misys, a U.K. software and services group, acquired Medic Computer Systems, a provider of practice management and medical record systems to physicians, in 1997 and bought Sunquest, an IT provider in the hospital market, for $404 million in 2001. The company then sold Sunquest six years later, in 2007.]

Rooks continued, “The playing field is littered with tech companies that have tried to get into healthcare, even Siemens and SMS. It’s hard.”




2018 Seattle Health IT Summit

Renowned leaders in U.S. and North American healthcare gather throughout the year to present important information and share insights at the Healthcare Informatics Health IT Summits.

October 22 - 23, 2018 | Seattle


Leadership Changes at HHS as CIO Transferred to New Role

August 21, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
| Reprints

Beth Killoran is stepping out of the role of CIO at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is moving over to a new role at the Office of the Surgeon General, within HHS.

The news was first reported by Federal News Radio. In an email, a HHS official confirmed that Killoran, who stepped up to the HHS CIO role in July 2016, has joined the Office of the Surgeon General at HHS to develop a "comprehensive information systems strategic plan for the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.”

The HHS official also confirmed that Ed Simcox, the HHS Chief Technology Officer, will take on the added role of serving as the HHS Acting CIO, until a permanent selection is made. “Simcox has led multiple, large IT transformation efforts, both as an industry executive and consultant. As HHS’s CTO, he leads HHS’s efforts on enterprise data management, data sharing, technology-related healthcare innovation, and public-private partnerships,” the official said via email.

Simcox started as the HHS CTO in July after serving as acting CTO starting in May and deputy CTO since July 2017, according to Federal News Radio.

Killoran began working at HHS in October 2014, moving over from the Department of Homeland Security. At HHS, she has served as the acting Deputy Chief Information Officer and as the Executive Director for the Office of IT Strategy, Policy and Governance. The HHS official stated that Killoran has served in a number of high-level information technology positions at HHS, “providing leadership on a number of high priority projects.” Killoran also worked for the Department of the Treasury, where she provided IT infrastructure support and operations for over 20,000 employees across 1,500 locations.  During her tenure, she provided IT operational support in response to the 9/11 and Oklahoma City bombing events, the HHS official said.

Federal News Radio reporter Jason Miller reported that, during her time as HHS CIO, Killoran tried to move the agency forward in a number of areas through an updated strategic plan and a more aggressive approach to cloud adoption. “Recently, Killoran led a reorganization of the CIO’s office, naming Todd Simpson as the first chief product officer and promoting innovation,” Miller wrote.

Killoran becomes the fourth major agency CIO to be reassigned during the Trump administration, joining former Treasury Department CIO Sonny Bhagowalia, former Agriculture Department CIO Jonathan Alboum and FEMA CIO Adrian Gardner, according to Federal News Radio’s reporting.

More From Healthcare Informatics


University of Texas Health Science Center to Launch First Doctorate Program in Health Informatics

August 17, 2018
by David Raths
| Reprints
Instead of dissertation, program requires students to complete project in a healthcare organization

The School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI) at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston is creating the first doctorate degree program in Health Informatics (DHI).

At its July 26, 2018 meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved and authorized the creation of the DHI program, making it the first advanced, practice degree in health informatics in the nation.

This program will offer curriculum custom-built for professionals seeking a terminal, applied degree in the field of health informatics. In order to apply, applicants must have documented executive or management-level healthcare experience. After discussions during a faculty retreat in 2016, a plan to launch the DHI was conceived.

“Many prospective students are searching for a doctorate-level degree in biomedical or health informatics but want to focus on solving real-world problems rather than hypothesis-driven research for a dissertation,” said Susan Fenton, SBMI’s associate dean for academic affairs, in a prepared statement. “After encountering numerous executive-level informatics professionals seeking an advanced degree with an applied focus, we realized there was a real need for this degree and we are very pleased to be the first school to launch the program.”

Because the program is geared towards working professionals, instruction for the DHI is in a hybrid environment with more than 50 percent of the coursework taught online. Rather than write a dissertation for the culminating project, the DHI program requires a large-scale translational project that students must complete in a healthcare organization.

SBMI held focus groups with Texas Medical Center healthcare executives, SBMI alumni and industry leaders across the country in the development of the DHI.

 “We aim to educate executives so they are skilled in the application of advanced health informatics tools and can work towards improving patient care at their organizations,” said Jiajie Zhang, SBMI’s dean and the Glassell Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Informatics Excellence, in a statement.

While executive-level career experience is required, the degree offers educational background flexibility. Students without a master’s degree in health informatics, or a related field, can enter the program with a bachelor’s degree. However, those students must complete 33 semester credit hours of didactic coursework before starting the DHI curriculum. Students who hold a master’s degree can immediately start the 63-semester credit hour program. 

The DHI program will begin in fall 2019 and SBMI will start accepting applications before the end of the 2018 calendar year.




Related Insights For: Leadership


Integrating Data Sources for Successful Care Delivery

Tuesday, September 25, 2018 | 3:00 p.m. ET, 2:00 p.m. CT

The advances in and availability of data from disparate sources create new opportunities and frontiers in care coordination for complex patients. These can range from mobile health/Internet of Things applications, which support real-time patient engagement, to unstructured data associated with social determinants to data based upon genomic-screening.

Developing an interoperable infrastructure that supports these use cases is a process that has already begun.

See more on Leadership