Rich Temple was CIO of Denville, N.J.-based St. Clare’s Heath System, a four-hospital system recently acquired by Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), the nation’s second largest Catholic health system. He recently spoke with Daphne Lawrence about his experience as CIO during the merger. Temple is currently chief information and business intelligence officer of AristaCare Health Services in South Plainfield, N.J.
DL: How did you your keep your staff on board and loyal during the acquisition?
RT: I think they were justifiably concerned because when you have an acquisition of this magnitude it definitely changes the dynamics of the organization. It changes their sense of well-being that they’re uniquely contributing to the technological infrastructure of the organization, because the acquiring organization may have different technology and different people who currently are doing things. People may become a little uncomfortable because they’re not sure where they fit in the brave new world. With that in mind, what you want to be able to do is be as transparent as possible, because one of the things to me, personally, that was very important was that I wanted to maintain my personal credibility with my staff. I wanted to put a positive spin on it and say this opens up a lot of possibilities for us. I also didn’t want to make promises I couldn’t deliver or try to sugarcoat some of the challenges.
DL: Such as?
RT: One of the real positives that I was really trying to impress upon people when we had gotten acquired was, ‘think of all the opportunities this opens up for you. You’re part of something much bigger; you’re able to make a difference on a much grander scale.’ Most of us are idealistic. My IT staff took a lot of pride in making a difference in people’s lives at St. Clare’s. And being part of a much larger organization affords you the opportunity to make a difference on a much grander scale. And that was what drove me. I thought that this was actually pretty cool. We had done a really good job on our Cerner implementation; we were named project of the year there. They were going to need to tap into our talents in that regard because they’re re-deploying Cerner at five of their larger systems and we had a track record of success. We would now be able to take what we did and leverage it, if you will, in several different places. Whole new challenges! Whole new people to interact with! Whole new situations and challenges to work through! So it seemed really cool. And it’s going to be.
DL: What about the culture change? You were sort of like a maverick at St. Clare’s. Was there a Rich Temple cult of personality? Was the culture change very different?
RT: Not right away. It turns out our acquiring organization had a lot of the same technology that we did, so there really wasn’t a gross mismatch between the technological needs of the organization and what we could conceivably bring to the party. So that was good. As far as me being the leader of the IT organization and being perceived as such, now all of a sudden there’s a new sheriff in town, and there are way bigger fish than me, and that took some time to work through, I think I’d have to say. It took time for me to work through also, because I wasn’t the ultimate decision maker but I was relatively close to it.
DL: How did you handle the new approvals process? And following new standards?
RT: It was something I had to get used to. I think that I really did buy into the notion that being able to have these standards is going to ultimately work to all of our advantages because working with selected vendors means we’re going to get the best deal we possibly can. We have more leverage over those vendors because there’s a lot more at stake for those vendors if they do a poor job. But it was a little bit challenging because it was just harder to get from point A to point B, and once you got to point B, I think there were benefits that we would accrue. And I think sometimes you have to take a hit at the local level for the good of the whole -- and the whole is paying my salary so you don’t lose sight of that!
DL: So at what point do you walk? What is it that gets you to that point?
RT: One of the things that personally drives me is the ability to make a difference. I’m not saying that in a trite way, I really mean that sincerely. I really want to be able to be impactful. I want to be able to think I can make an impact, what I do is relevant, I can make a difference. An opportunity, the one that I’m at right now, presented itself where I would be able to quite literally come in and really build something.
DL: And what if it hadn’t presented itself?
RT: I was feeling a little that I... was continuing down that path of having reduced impact. I had a very supportive (new) boss, I had no issues with him, the organization liked me and I think wanted to keep me around. But my world was sort of closing in a little bit around me in terms of the ability to do the kinds of things I wanted to do. My model of IT is somewhat different from the parent company’s model of IT. One of the things I did fairly early on was I built an in-house development shop. We developed dot net applications and we worked very closely with our users to build a lot of custom in-house applications to extend the functionality of a lot of the commercial software packages that we had. That was a big hit with our users, they really liked that.
DL: And in the new organization?
RT: It wasn’t in their model to do in-house development. Now the good news is that when they saw what we did they really liked it, and they’ve actually taken most of those people and made them national employees. So they kind of have embraced it a bit. Even more than a bit. They’ve shifted a little bit on that. But meanwhile, those people weren’t mine anymore, they were national people. So again, something that I built that was near and dear to me; I am thrilled that we’ve been able to maintain that. But it became a little bit different, my vision wasn’t going to have that much impact on them anymore.
DL: How long did you give it?
RT: A little less than six months since the deal closed, but I had been working very closely with them for about a year. I don’t want to paint it as me being miserable, I’d tell you off the record or on the record. There were a lot of cool aspects to it.
DL: What about flying out to (CHI headquarters in) Denver?
RT: That didn’t mess me up too badly. There was some travel. I was going out there every six weeks or so, it wasn’t all the time.
DL: At CHI, how did the relationship with your new CIO work out? Any tips for other CIOs who might be acquired? What about the expression ‘shine, but not too brightly’?
RT: I think that’s very well said. I think what I wanted to do was put myself out there as much as possible, that’s kind of my nature in general. I wanted them to know who I was, I wanted them to know who St. Clare’s was, and I didn’t want them thinking of us as just another acquisition that they were quietly bringing to their fold. I felt that we had a lot to bring to the party. I felt I had a lot to bring to the party. And I wanted them to know that. I wanted them to know that, but I also wanted to come across as non-threatening. I didn’t want to say I’m after your job—I wasn’t. But I wanted them to know there was a talent set at St. Clare’s at all levels that I urged them to tap into. I offered our help anywhere we had the opportunity to do that and I think it was graciously received. What I wanted was to make sure we were on their radar screen. That was very important to me. I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t someone who appeared to be suffering from blind ambition—I wasn’t. I was interested in moving up in the company, as are most people, but I wanted to be able to be helpful without being threatening or without burning the kind of relationship bridges that I was just in the process of building. If you come on too strong, people get a little nervous. Don’t come on too strong, but make sure they know you. Don’t be the wallflower, get out there and make sure they know you and make sure they know what you’re bringing to the party.
DL: What was the network IT structure? Were you the CIO? Sometimes the role transitions into director of IT, correct?
RT: That’s exactly what happened to me. My title changed too, and I became a national employee, a director. They said you can be a CIO at a local level or a you can be a director at a national level. I wasn’t thrilled by that. It’s not so much what they called me, that doesn’t really matter. It’s more that it’s an implicit statement that your role has evolved, that you have less wingspan, if you will. I’m not really obsessed with titles, it doesn’t make all that much difference. But when you’re a VP and all of a sudden you’re not a VP anymore -- you’re a director now, there is kind of an implied statement as to what the level of executive leadership and participation they’re expecting you to have.
DL: And your staff stuck it out with you?
RT: The staff is on pins and needles a little bit. They took a wait and see attitude. We really didn’t lose many people at all during this whole thing. They were willing to wait and see; I think. I had built a loyal staff and I think I had some credibility with them.
DL: What happened with you leaving after building up the new structure? What was their reaction?
RT: Some were upset. I had to do some damage control. Like I said, it didn’t turn out quite way I ideally would have wanted, but it didn’t turn out that much differently. Some of the concerns were that St. Clare’s has had some challenging financial times, as had the parent company, so there was less money to go around too. Anytime there’s less money swishing through, there are challenges. It wasn’t way off what I expected, but like I said, I was feeling that the opportunity to make a big difference wasn’t quite as present as it was, and that’s what drives me. My primary driver was disappearing. Some of the other things weren’t so bad; I worked with people who I very much liked and respected. The regional CIO was a great person and I consider him a friend. There was no issue there. It’s just that I was used to going in and being the visionary and acting on my vision, and as long as I didn’t egregiously blow my budget, I could do what I needed to do.
DL: How much notice did you give?
RT: I gave them five weeks notice. We had a succession that I put in right away. They took one of the people who was a director and made him a manager under the new structure. They promoted one of my direct reports which I think was a smart move and a good move. They backfilled everything in house. That was smart, and that allowed for some continuity. All along, I’ve been treated very well by them and I’ll say that till the cows come home. That’s not the issue.
DL: Any final advice for CIOs who might be facing a similar situation in being acquired?
RT: I would say don’t panic. Put yourself out there, sell your vision and be flexible and be prepared to run with things.