Ep. 48: An Unconventional Flight Plan to CEO

with JaeLynn Williams

September 29, 2021

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JaeLynn Williams
CEO, Air Methods

JaeLynn Williams is the chief executive officer of Air Methods, the nation’s leading air medical service, which delivers lifesaving care to more than 70,000 people every year. She is responsible for overall management and growth of the company, which employs more than 4,500 teammates and has over 300 bases of operations serving 48 states.

Prior to her appointment as CEO in January 2020, Ms. Williams held the position of executive vice president for Air Methods Sales, Marketing and Communications. In this role, she led the revitalization of Sales and Marketing operations, developed management operating systems and metrics for measuring performance, and instituted customer-centric improvements to build and retain business.

Ms. Williams joined Air Methods from GE Healthcare Digital, a $1.6 billion business with more than 2500 employees and operations in Canada, Europe, China, Asia/Pacific, Middle East, and Latin America. At GE, she was chief commercial and marketing officer, responsible for leading the global commercial strategy for marketing, sales, service, and delivery operations. Prior to GE, Ms. Williams was president and general manager of 3M Health Information Systems, a business of 3M Company, where she was responsible for overall management of the division and worldwide growth of a broad portfolio of intelligent software and consulting services to hospitals and health systems, commercial payers, and federal and state agencies.

 Ms. Williams is a contributor to industry publications and has been interviewed as a healthcare opinion leader by NPR’s Morning Edition news program and by numerous healthcare publications. She is the recipient of Health Data Management magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT Award and was recognized with the Women in Tech Champion Award from the Utah Technology Council. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

 

As CEO, time is the scarcest resource you have. You have to decide 'what is the work that only I as CEO can do,' and trust your team to do the rest.

Transcript

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Sanjula Jain  0:03  

Women make up 70% of the healthcare workforce but only 20% of its leadership. On Her Story, we’ll explore the careers of bold and influential women from Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill and learn how they’ve overcome the odds. I’m your host, Sanjula Jain and this is Her Story, a program where we explore what’s beyond the glass ceiling.

 

Sanjula Jain  0:25  

I’m delighted to introduce you to JaeLynn Williams, CEO of Air Methods, one of the largest patient transportation companies. JaeLynn, thanks for being with us today.

 

JaeLynn Williams  0:34  

Thank you. Happy to be here.

 

Sanjula Jain  0:36  

Your background is really quite unique, one of the more unique ones that I’ve come across personally. From studying English to healthcare marketing to now being the CEO of an aviation company, do you consider yourself to be an accidental or intentional leader?

 

JaeLynn Williams  0:52  

I’m definitely an intentional leader. I started without a clear perspective of where I wanted to end up except for definitely being in business and making a difference. From there, it was a little bit of a step at a time of how to get there, but most decidedly with the idea of “I want to do something where I can have an impact.” I started from pretty humble beginnings, so I don’t know that it was completely clear to me exactly how that would all come together, but the drive and the desire to have an impact was certainly there.

 

Sanjula Jain  1:25  

Sure, you didn’t quite envision that you’d be running an aviation company that early on. To some of those beginnings, what was your childhood like? How did that shape what you were thinking professionally in those early days?

 

JaeLynn Williams  1:39  

It starts at home. My parents are real “salt of the earth” type of people. My dad was actually my first exposure to healthcare, but not in the way that you would think he worked his entire career, over 30 years in a McKesson distribution warehouse. He didn’t make a lot of money, certainly doing that job. But I learned how to work from my dad. He was really committed. He was there all the time, on time, very reliable. They measured productivity, he was always at the top. It was a real commitment to him. And he really worked hard at that. And then on the side, at home, he was a hobby gardener. I mean, and Martha Stewart would be jealous of his garden, it was perfectly straight, perfectly weeded, thanks to Melvin’s children. But it was amazing. Every fall, we would dig up carrots and beets, and kind of shake him off. And it was dirty work. But every time at the end of that he was, he was always so full of praise. Like because it’s been hard, and you’ve worked really hard in the sun. I love those times because it was just this great time to feel like I was successful at something. And while that was really great, I did something that was hard for me and I got this praise. And then on the other side, my mom, she actually was blind in one eye. She was born with cataracts, she was blind in one eye. And so she didn’t learn to drive until she was in her mid-30s. So I remember this as a kid, my mom learning to drive a car because out of necessity, where we live, she really needs to be able to drive to take us kids and stuff around and she was nervous about it. And she went out and she did it. She could get everywhere in our town by taking a right turn, literally. She had figured out how to get there with just a right turn. And it wasn’t always the most efficient route. She was always nervous about it. Always a little frightened. But she still went out and she did it. The third thing that characterizes who my family is and how they impacted me was we used to go camping all the time as my dad’s favorite thing. And he didn’t make a lot of money. So you want a travel trailer because he wasn’t a big tent camper. So they built a travel trailer in the 70s. And it was amazing to me because I remember being at Yellowstone Park and we were in a campground and comparing the travel trailer that my parents had built on their own, with the same model that they had essentially copied, and you couldn’t really tell much difference. At that moment, I was so impressed as a kid, I was so impressed with my parents. I’m sure they had no idea what they were doing when they embarked on this idea of building a travel trailer and all that’s in it and really successful at it. Some of those fundamental things as a kid that shaped who I am taught me how to work. Looking at my mom, she taught me to do things that are scary. You do things that you do want to do or you need to do even though they’re frightening. This is the ultimate can-do kind of creative attitude. Embarking on building things like this travel trailer—and that was throughout my life—shaped how I thought about problems and how I thought about myself and those values are still a big part of who I am today.

 

Sanjula Jain  4:50  

I’ve had the pleasure of personally working with you over the years and I can definitely see that sentiment because it seems like no problem is a big deal in some ways because you always have a fresh, crisp perspective on it. I can see where that comes from now. You had a little bit of a healthcare influence growing up, but you decided to major in English and then some of your first roles post-college were in marketing. Tell us a little bit about that trajectory and why marketing?

 

JaeLynn Williams  5:17  

I went to college. I was the first college graduate in my family and I really intended to be a lawyer. That was what I thought I would start out doing. It was expensive, and it was difficult so I graduated from college not really clear about what I was going to do. I finished my undergraduate right with tech getting started (I know, I’m actually that old), so I took this technical writing job because I had student loans coming due in six months. And I didn’t really know where that would lead me. But it was the pattern of my life, it was the next thing. And from there, it kind of evolved. So I took a role actually working in a marketing team there on an online magazine that was called cool solutions. And so it was this magazine that was designed to be irreverent and humorous, and yet provide technical support, so we did that. We had a ton of fun with it. From there, a friend of mine who had moved to 3am and called me and said, “They want you to come and start a website here at 3am and do their intranet and their external website. Will you come and do this?” I interviewed and got the position, so that was really good because I had learned how to code in HTML, so I could build websites. That would not be the case today, so don’t ask, but that was my move. And that was in Marketing Communications at 3am. And so that was the shift from college and how I got into marketing. And I felt like that was like the first step of success, because it was in the business side, I was like, “Hey, I’ve made it into the business.” That job was really unique at 3am. In that particular division, the person who was in charge of marketing communications also sat on the division’s operating committee (the executive committee for that) because they weren’t a real member. They did all the strap plans in a narrative format at that time. It was a written Word document that was a narrative, your strategic plan. And so they have the marketing communications person sit on that throughout the years, they really understand the business. When it came time to the strategic plan, you could write this and you’d have all the skills without having to reiterate or whatever, so I watched that. When my manager left, the lady who had been doing this left, and I thought, “That’s the ideal job. I’ll learn the business, I’ll get connected to strategy, you get all this visibility. I want that job.” I really didn’t have any qualifications for it. If I think about it now, it’s a little ridiculous, but I just went and I asked. I asked to be the interim Marketing Communications Manager. The answer I got was something like, “You can be the interim marketing communications manager, but you do know that you have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting this job permanently?” I remember just thinking, “I’m not going to be buffeted by that.” So I was like, “Well, that’s okay. I’ll learn a lot in the time that I am the interim, so I took the interim role.” Obviously, they never hired anybody else, so I was able to take that and be literally a fly on the wall in the executives’ committee. I could see people come in and present, I saw what went well, I saw what didn’t go well. It was just a tremendous opportunity to learn and build relationships. And that moved on to the next opportunity, which in between there, Jim McNerney, came to three m as a new CEO. And with him, he brought the whole idea of, we’re going to be a six sigma organization. And the way that they rolled it out is they took all the high potential employees and they invited them to basically be your master black belts, or black belts is a development and then you did that for two years. Then they would catapult you into this great opportunity if you did well. I think you just sunk into oblivion or whatever happened if you didn’t, but I was invited to be a master black belt for the division. So the lead now feels like an English major sort of thinking, “What am I doing? This is a statistical job, and it’s all math-related. You got an English major doing math.” One of the key things I learned for people to take away is I stepped out and took a job that was kind of risky. I didn’t know how I would do it. I didn’t know if I would even have the skills to do it really well. I spent a lot of my nights studying statistics. I really did study it, figuring it out. My life was standard deviations and it was p-value and r-squared, and it all came together. It took a lot of work, but the key thing was seeing that as such an opportunity, just stepping out and taking it even though you knew you weren’t a 100% match.

 

Sanjula Jain  10:04  

That’s what’s so powerful though because so many of us don’t put ourselves out there, like you did to say, “Hey, I’m gonna I can help with the shop.” Healthcare is one of those few industries where it seems like it’s technically oriented. You have to have some kind of foundation there, but I love that you’ve challenged the status quo and said, “Yeah, I’m gonna figure it out. I’m gonna learn it as I go.”

 

JaeLynn Williams  10:30  

It’s been a theme. Coming out of that Six Sigma experience, the whole hope was to get a P&l, which I did, but the P&l was to go to Atlanta and run an acquisition that we had acquired about three years before. The acquisition was a consulting firm that did revenue cycle consulting for hospital providers. I had zero experience in the revenue cycle for hospitals but I was going to run a consulting business to go in and tell CFOs how to improve their revenue cycles. I thought this could go either really well, or this just could go really bad. I remember sitting back and thinking, “Atlanta is a very large city so, if it doesn’t go so well, I probably can find a job, probably be okay.” But I had a really strong team and it worked out really well. I also had a really strong mentor, the person I worked for then. She was very clear and articulating to me what I needed to do to get to the next level. She said, “You need to show you can grow a business,” which was the objective of the consulting business. She said, “You need to show that you can turn a business around,” and she gave me an opportunity to take a medical necessity business that they’d also acquired and to really dive into that and evaluate it and make decisions about what to do with that. And we were able to turn it around. And so that was just an amazing experience. Again, I remember reading some of the proposed rules around when they implemented a PRD or cheese and going out and actually doing a presentation and thinking people have paid for this. Is this unfair? They paid for this? Do I know enough? And I really think I had that entire proposed rule memorized, I probably could still quote it to you.

 

Sanjula Jain  12:08  

That’s impressive. I don’t want to gloss over that because it takes a lot of determination and just commitment to do what you did there. Did you get any pushback or skepticism from peers? It sounds like you had a supportive mentorship system and bosses. But you What was it like actually going through that where you’re figuring it out? As you go, you’re training yourself, you’re doing it? Well, clearly, but you weren’t maybe the typical profile of someone who might be in some of those roles. If I can be so bold as to say that.

 

JaeLynn Williams  12:37  

You can definitely say that because that’s definitely true. Gentle teasing. I felt like, “Is it really fair that someone was actually paying for me to deliver this financial analysis after the implementation of the rule?” I actually had a peer who’s like, “Are you actually charging these people for you?” I was like, “Of course I am.” The reason I did it was because we were so busy. All of our consultants were booked, and they really wanted it. It was kind of standard. After a while you kind of understand it. And it was helpful, and I really want to go out and be helpful. And that went really well. But there were other times where we did a lot of documentation, improvement consulting, which is still a significant challenge and issue and there were a couple of experiences there where I went out early. I think my slip was showing and you walked away from that knowing that, in that interaction with the CFO, your gap of understanding and knowledge was fairly apparent. Part of what I did was I had these really great people that worked with me, experts in health care. They really drove some substantial changes. I just said, “How did I do?” Some of those conversations were hard, but they really helped me improve. They helped me understand what I needed to learn more. Because I was open, people generally want to help people. We come to work to succeed and we all like helping people, especially in healthcare. There’s a general sense of wanting to do good and being open to feedback, even though sometimes maybe it wasn’t what you always want to hear, worked pretty well for me.

 

Sanjula Jain  14:21  

It sounds like you really owned it and you really invited others to be a part of that journey with you, which is really refreshing to hear. It takes a village to raise kids and finding that village is hard enough. Is it fair to say that this was the point when healthcare started to find you and you started specializing a little bit more specifically in healthcare roles as you progressed?

 

JaeLynn Williams  14:45  

It really is. When I was in consulting, that was my first experience of spending substantial time within health systems themselves. And really understanding the payment and the reimbursement challenges that exist even today in the health care system. How we have so much need in our payment systems is a complex mix of hidden subsidies and underpayment here and overpayment there. And it makes it expensive. And it reduces access. That’s what made me really gravitate to healthcare. I felt like my background, coming from software, and automation prior to getting into healthcare, that those were things that could be applied to healthcare, that would actually bend the cost curve, you look at 20% GDP going towards health care. And I just kind of caught a bug that there’s, there’s a marriage here, there’s something that technology and that my background can bring that will really have a positive impact on healthcare and make it affordable and make it accessible.

 

Sanjula Jain  15:50  

You pursued a lot of that while you’re at 3am. We had the pleasure of working together many years ago when you were leading up some of the healthcare marketing efforts there. Fast forward a little bit to then why you made the leap over to era methods.

 

JaeLynn Williams  16:04  

There’s actually a piece in the middle there that is really interesting and that was really transformative to me: I had the opportunity when I was at 3am, to be part of a small group, there were five of us that were mentored by the CEO of the 3am company. One of the things he taught us in that activity was to start with the end in mind. He had us put out a paper and it had an X and a Y graph up in that top right corner. What is your ideal job like? Where do you want to end your career? What’s the job you want to have? At the time I wanted to be the CEO of the Red Cross. That’s what I put up there. And I don’t think that’s going to happen. But that’s what I put up there was I would love to be the CEO of Red Cross someday. And so then what he had us do was walk back and say, Okay, if I want to be the CEO of Red Cross in 15 years, then what experiences do I need to have? Like, do I need international experience? Or any people experience like, what are the leadership experiences, I need to have to be qualified for that role. And then what would be the Jobs was the other access that would get me there. And so that was really transformative for me because it’s actually why I left 3am. I went to GE because I realized, if I ever wanted to be the CEO of the Red Cross, I needed more breadth of experience. So I had this great continual expansion of opportunities within 3am. I needed to expand and broadening my exposure to healthcare outside of 3am, so that’s how I decided to make the leap to go to GE, which took the digital component of what I’ve been doing, and added medical equipment to it, which was a nice marriage. And then that was sort of the same philosophy that brought me to Air Methods. So when Air Methods called, it was very unusual. So I’d always been up to that point in the acute care provider space in one way or another. Air Methods is obviously the largest air ambulance company delivering critical care in the country. And so it’s all pre-hospital, for the most part. So you’re EMFs. Then you also have an inner facility, but very much outside of the walls of the hospital. I thought that was interesting. The other piece was, can I take what I’ve learned from a digital world in launching products and growing companies and financing operations? And am I capable enough to apply that to a completely different and more complex world around aviation? So can I take this crazy world of regulated healthcare? And this crazy world of regulated aviation? And can I bring those together? And can I actually create something interesting and good? And can I be a part of that? And that seemed like a pretty significant challenge. It was interesting. It fit that grid of like, this is an experience of getting into the delivery of healthcare because we are healthcare providers that are methods. So we bill and we have patients and so that was great for me to say I’m going to take my experience and move to this new experience that I need to have on my way to being CEO of Red Cross someday. I’m not sure if they’re listening, but I’m sure they’re probably having second thoughts about that with the English major background, but there’s always room to hope.

 

Sanjula Jain  19:25  

Well, you know what they say now. Healthcare has just become so complex, and there’s so many are consumer-oriented. And so all these different, non-traditional outside industry perspectives are really in high demand. So you’re really the prime candidate. I remember you had just come to Air Methods and you started off more in the sales and marketing function. You were heading that up and you were asking all the tough questions and really taking inventory of where the company was headed. But then relatively in short order after you then took over the CEO of the organization, which is probably not what you came in not to originally do. Tell us just a little about your goals going into the role of CEO like what were your initial thoughts of what you were really wanting to accomplish.

 

JaeLynn Williams  20:11  

The initial year that I was here and I got a chance to learn a little bit about our methods as a provider and the role that we play in healthcare. So what part of the healthcare system we provide, what became really apparent to me is that we are the link between rural access and healthcare for critical care. So as we watch all the critical access hospitals closed because of funding and financial issues, it’s leaving huge swaths of the population with literally zero access to critical care and for things that can be solved by the medical prowess that we have. And so if you think about a stroke, a stroke is a time-based event that in many cases, if I get the right treatment, I get the right medication, I can have a stroke, and literally within hours, I can walk out of that hospital, as good as new. But the alternative is, if I don’t, then I could have a permanent disability by having long rehab. And so I just gravitated to the fact that we are, we are the link for these people, and we can save their lives, and that this business is important. And it’s an important part of our healthcare network. And it’s a part of it that people don’t often think about, we don’t talk a lot about it in the healthcare publications. But it’s kind of out there. And so as CEO, I felt that there was an opportunity to bring some of what I know from the digital space, watching this space, be largely disconnected, largely non-digitized. And to both bring awareness of what a critical component This is, as well as to bring digitization to what we’re doing. And it may even bring a few innovative things like drones and stuff into space. So that’s what was super exciting. We’ve started to embark on some of that and I think our teams are amazing. They do heroic work every day and I just admire them so much.

 

Sanjula Jain  22:02  

You have proven time and time again that you’re always up to the challenge and try new things and learn new things. Becoming a CEO of a large organization, a very important organization, there’s a learning curve with that, too. What were the most challenging parts of those first 90 days when you entered the role?

 

JaeLynn Williams  22:21  

When I entered the role, I would say the most challenging part was that it was right as COVID was entering the country. Within three months was when we shut down. And so that’s, that’s a pretty heavy lift as the new CEO to think about that. One of the challenges there is that sometimes there’s a preference to say, let’s go for structural change that structurally takes cost out, let’s reduce people. Yet, my leadership team and I felt strongly that we have a commitment to the communities that we serve. It’s a contract in a way because we’re their access to health care. It’s not really the time to reduce spaces or to reduce staff. Some of the hard things were is as a new CEO, I went to the leadership team, and I asked them to basically cut all their pay, we cut a few things like 401k, and vacation benefits, but we were able to not have any furloughs or layoffs, which allowed us to keep our bases even though they weren’t operating in operation and to be there. And so after a little bit, then we obviously started transporting a lot of COVID patients. And our supply chain, which we had invested in quite a bit, was able to supply PP when people were not able to get it. And we were even able to share it with other air medical providers and even with some of our hospital partners, and we shared ventilators and, and really were able to meet that commitment. That was all really great. The other side of that was working with the board and to show assumptions about whether this volume is going to return in three months, or it comes back at this level in three months and actually developing scenarios. So I developed basically four scenarios of different timing to give them comfort that we didn’t need to move right now to like close bases and lay people off because I really felt strongly that in a couple of months, we would want them all back. And we had this commitment and it worked out. Honestly, it’s the first time in my entire career where a model has ever worked out the way that you want it. So maybe there was help from some other place for that. But it did work out and that was challenging because you needed to build trust with your team, trust with all your teammates out in the field, trust with your board. In a really volatile time when no one has ever been through this before and you’re going with your gut, a lot of it is just with your gut and with what you think is the right thing to do to be good and to do good.

 

Sanjula Jain  24:46  

In the industry there’s a lot of discussions around when organizations are thinking about succession planning and doing CEO searches of the internal candidate versus commissioning an external search and what you earn as an Internal candidate, how do you think that has uniquely positioned you to hit the ground running, so to speak when you took on the role?

 

JaeLynn Williams  25:07  

One of the challenges when you’re an internal candidate is you’re really well known. All of the good is known about you, but all of your bad is known as well. The person that’s on the outside is a little bit like a perfect, shiny object because nobody knows any of their bad. They just know they’re good, so going into one of the things that was really good for me, and it’s what I like about being able to participate in this, but also others I’ve listened to as I was reading Bob Iger, Disney’s former CEO, I was reading his biography. And he walks through how he was an internal candidate, he got advice about being very proactive, and going through and like you go, and you write down the three things you’re going to do for Disney. Then you go out to the board, and you tell them what you’re going to do. So I was reading that at the same time this whole process was going on, I thought, well, that’s a brilliant idea. I’m going to take his idea and modify it. And I did the same thing. So I wrote down, here’s where I want to take our methods. Then I talked to the CEO at the time and I said, “Are you comfortable with this?” He was, and I met with all the board members and said, “Here’s where I want to take our methods.” That was a great way of these types of forums, just like Her Story, where we can share. He had shared in a book, but it really helped me. It was the clincher for getting the job. When COVID came, I knew all the people, I knew the customers, I knew the system. It was a really smooth transition into CEO. If it had been an outside person at that time, that would have been really, really challenging. It worked for all of us without knowing that was coming. It was a nice, smooth transition. There wasn’t a big learning curve about the business, which helped me focus on some of the other aspects of being ready to be CEO.

 

Sanjula Jain  27:00  

Absolutely. Staying on the theme of advice, what advice would you have for a first-time CEO? Regardless of internal or external candidate, established company, startup company, just overarching advice.

 

JaeLynn Williams  27:13  

The first one is—everyone says this, but everyone says it because it’s true—it’s about the people. The first thing you have to look at your leaders and your team and are they going to help you implement your vision and take you where you need to be because one of the things that become really apparent, once you get into the CEO see is you literally do not personally control anything, everything gets done through someone else. And that’s not true of any other role that you hold in your career. So it makes that leadership team the most vital component of the company’s success. I have an amazing leadership team here at our methods. They’re phenomenal. They make my life pretty easy. That’s number one. The other thing is around time management. And this has been an evolving thing for me, but really deciding, like, what is the work that only I can do, that only I as a CEO can do. And that’s where my time and energy need to be focused. And then I need to trust my team to do the rest. Because time is probably the scarcest resource that you have. And so really making sure that you’re not double-dipping, or you’re not doing something that someone else in the org can do for you. And then the last thing is just being well prepared. I read everything that comes to me, I look at every project, your plan, I look at all of our daily metrics and dashboards that we have. I’m not sure people are always thrilled, but I’ll send questions off about things. But what about this or what’s driving it and part of it is so that people know that I’m looking at this, and they feel that there’s accountability. But it’s also important to stay in tune with what’s actually happening in the business. Being really well prepared and making sure you make time for that, and that you really understand the details of your business is crucial. Once you’re disconnected from understanding those details, you’re less effective.

 

Sanjula Jain  29:10  

That’s very well said. Shifting gears a little bit, from working with you and the team in the early days, I thought it was very interesting to note that you’re operating in two industries: healthcare and aviation, and they really are some of the two most highly regulated industries that we have. I’m curious, like what lessons have you learned from each of them and how do they apply to each other?

 

JaeLynn Williams  29:36  

They are really dissimilar, but they’re actually more similar in some ways than you think. The driving principle of both healthcare and aviation is safety. Think about patient safety. Safety is such a key component of aviation as well as health care. As an organization, you can see that complement and come together in the culture and we have really focused a lot on creating an adjusted culture. “Raise your hand when something isn’t right” and trying to not have people feel like there are punitive consequences for calling out something that’s not there, really complementary components of those two businesses. The other thing when you say that, thinking about what’s different, you’re talking about highly-skilled, very technical, highly trained workforces. Our teammates, even though they do very different things as pilots or clinicians, have tremendous respect and camaraderie because they are both very, very highly trained individuals that are working at the top of their skill set to deliver life-saving care. They’re very committed to the mission. The mission is a driver for most of our teammates, so there are a lot of similarities. There are regulations on both sides, for sure—and that keeps all the lawyers busy, so they like that—but there’s a little bit more similarity there, then maybe sometimes we think off the top of our heads.

 

Sanjula Jain  31:05  

Honing in on that, one of the pieces I think is somewhat new for some stakeholders in healthcare is the idea that the government is the largest payer and regulator of health care services. Hospitals and health systems are getting accustomed to some of the newer entrants, maybe less So what advice would you have for other healthcare leaders as relates to navigating a business within some of those regulatory limitations, so to speak?

 

JaeLynn Williams  31:30  

Well, it’s not easy. Having a background in revenue cycle, I understand payment very well. Moving into our methods has been really challenging. So we pick up anybody and everybody who needs care. So 70% of the transports that we complete are either Medicaid or Medicare. And they are reimbursed significantly less than even the cost of the transport. So we lose money on those. The management of that with your commercial payers is complex, and that’s pretty similar to what else is happening in healthcare as well. So how do you deal with that, I mean, we’re really focused on, first of all, being 100% in the network, and making sure that we can negotiate fair rates that make sure this service continues for all those people that are out in those rural areas. And that’s been a really huge focus for us as a company. And as we look, we were big supporters of the no surprises act, we think that patients shouldn’t be in the middle of payment. We are concerned about what we see in the first draft of the proposed rule, we all know those changes. So I’m hopeful. But it doesn’t consider the different types of providers. So hospital-based providers versus private providers, geographies, and so we’re working to get some of that in because it’s so essential, that the payment stays kind of as it is today. Because if it changes substantially, what will happen is you won’t be able to cover those bases and those rural areas. And so it’s always an ongoing challenge. So the first piece of advice I suppose is you really have to be on top of it. And you have to understand it as the CEO, you really need to understand where your money comes from, and what’s important so that you can navigate it appropriately. And then what we’re doing is, is brings that whole Six Sigma playbook back into play, and I know that we see this in healthcare with high-reliability organizations, that efficiency has to be what we think about and how do you get it to be efficient in this world, a lot of it is through automation. It’s digitization, it’s how can you make information more available? How can you reduce errors and repetitiveness so we’re really focused on that both internally and externally? We’ve just purchased a software company called motion in motion. It’s all about patient movement. And it’s a place you can’t see today. So if you think about healthcare, you have the hospitals, you have ambulatory surgical centers, physician’s offices, we have really great electronic health records. And all of those, the part we currently can’t see is how the patient moves from one place to the other and why and who sent them there. And now with motion, what we put in all of Kansas is currently using this, you can see the patient movement. So if you were to go to most hospital providers today, he said, how many people fly out of your hospital on any given day, they would have a very difficult time answering that question. But it becomes important when we think about people taking on risk-based contracts, and leakage and you need to keep those people in your system to make that financially work. You need to know where that patient went. And if they went outside of your system and who sent them, they’re like, how do you help change that behavior internally. So that whole focus on digitization and just making sure that we’re being creative or being efficient and cost-effective is kind of the other component but it’s not easy. I’ll say that. This is the only place where basically your payment can change overnight without you having much say in it. And so it makes it dynamic and interesting, but we have a good mission that makes it worth it.

 

Sanjula Jain  34:57  

I can see all the pieces of your different hats, expertise in marketing and digital all coming together. It makes a lot of sense. You trained up on statistics and you’ve been studying other leaders. You’re always learning, which is one of the things I love about you. What are you learning these days?

 

JaeLynn Williams  35:16  

It’s interesting you would say that. I’m learning a little bit how to listen more, not that I didn’t listen before, but one of the things like if we think about vaccinations, and there are mandates, and there’s not, we’re really in this place where there’s a lot of visceral employee feedback, either one way or the other. It’s been really interesting to just listen and to create forums just to listen because it helps us find creative alternatives because what we really need is all these skilled people to still be taking care of patients. But it’s such a confluence of differences of opinions. Honing my listening skills, not trying to solve problems upfront, but really trying to hear what’s being said is something I’m practicing, and it’s paying off. I’ve heard things that will help me make more wise decisions about some of this. The key thing is just really listening.

 

Sanjula Jain  36:18  

As you think about your trajectory—and this is Her Story, I’m sure you have many stories to this—how has the fact that you’re a woman leader shaped some of your experiences in the workplace?

 

JaeLynn Williams  36:31  

There are two things that come to mind when you say that. One, I’m more of an introverted person, which doesn’t mean I’m not social, I fill my bucket via alone time. I’m a closet introvert. Most people don’t think that, but what do you do that rejuvenates you? Someone once told me the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is that an extrovert fills their bucket by being with people. That’s what energizes them and they put it in. An introvert does that by having alone time, so I am definitely an introvert, but it took me a while to realize how important it was to network and to build a network because of your preferences. I just assumed. That’s something that’s a little bit different when you think about the trajectory of a woman versus a man. It’s better in healthcare because there are so many more women leaders in health care. It’s great for things like Her Story for us to all connect. It’s a little harder because the dynamics are just a little different compared to going out to golf or going out for something after dinner. The dynamic isn’t quite all the way there yet where it just feels completely easy and uncomfortable. That’s been maybe one thing that’s been just a little different. It’s just finding that way to effectively network and to feel like you’re completely comfortable. Maybe I need to learn more about football. That would probably be helpful.

 

Sanjula Jain  38:05  

We’ve had a couple of guests on the show that I’ve shared the sentiment with. One of my favorite comments made was this idea of why don’t we flip it? Why don’t we invite the men to come get mani-pedis with us?

 

JaeLynn Williams  38:17  

There are more and more men showing up and getting manicures. I’m all for that, too. I’m a big fan. Tidy feet are super nice. That’s one thing that’s been different, but the other thing actually is something that happened to meet our methods. As a woman when you are assertive and when you’re tough, it’s perceived differently than when you’re a man. When you’re a man and you’re assertive and you’re tough, people like “Wow, they’re really a strong leader.” When you’re a woman, it’s kind of like, “She’s just me.” It was actually some feedback I got in the first 360 review, not as CEO, but before I was CEO, it was like, “She doesn’t listen to what people have to say. She’s too assertive.” I had to think about that a lot. Because my first reaction was, this isn’t true. Like, this is not like, this isn’t accurate. And I had to really humble myself a little bit. And I talked to the CEO and I said, “What do you think if I were to just go to my peers, and just ask them for a little bit more feedback on this? Because I personally don’t see this in myself.” I was really strong. I was like, “That doesn’t reflect me.” I did and I have to say that was really hard. It’s very hard to go and share something from your personal 360 with your peers and say, basically, “You think I’m immature? Can you help me understand?” I got some good feedback. A job about being vulnerable about sharing more of your personal life, I tend not to share a ton of my personal life and just sort of making it easier for people to connect to you. That was super helpful to me, so there are both sides to that, but sometimes there still is a tendency that it can come off a little different depending on whether it’s a female or a male that’s delivering a tough message. I think that will change. It’s getting better, but I think it will change.

 

Sanjula Jain  40:14  

Thank you for sharing that. It takes a lot to lean into that and being vulnerable enough to even share that with others. So I can only appreciate how difficult that is, but that’s a great segue into my next question on the personal front: What is a personal routine or something you do for you that is just your time?

 

JaeLynn Williams  40:33  

I am a morning person. A lot of CEOs brag, “I come into the office at 6:30.” I don’t. I’m an eight o’clock person because I get up at five every day without fail sometimes earlier and that morning time is my time I read. I have a certain set of newspapers I read. I read one local paper from each place that I have a residence where I spend some time and I read some of the national papers and the business papers. I kind of do my cursory review of what’s happened in the world while I’ve been asleep. I journal a little bit and meditate and exercise. That is just my time. It helps me plan my day. It kind of helps ground me. It’s super relaxing. I prefer it in the morning over the evening. I’m just a morning person. Anytime people like to infringe upon that time I feel really jealous of it. It’s like, “No, this is my time.” It’s probably my favorite point of the day.

 

Sanjula Jain  41:33  

Are there any personal hobbies or special skills that maybe people don’t know about you?

 

JaeLynn Williams  41:39  

I can shoot a rifle. I can hunt. I don’t anymore, but I was raised by a hunter, so I know how to hunt deer.

 

Sanjula Jain  41:47  

That is a very unique skill.

 

JaeLynn Williams  41:49  

There you go. That’s probably unique and personal right there.

 

Sanjula Jain  41:53  

Yeah, I love it. JaeLynn, this has been phenomenal. I could ask you questions all day long but, for the sake of time, maybe we’ll close with two final thoughts. One, what advice would you give your younger self?

 

JaeLynn Williams  42:06  

I have two daughters. I kind of think of them as my younger self. They’re really different. One is married. She got her master’s degree, but she’s married and she’s at home with two very, very tiny kids, basically only 15 months apart. It’s quite a workout. Then I have another daughter who’s in college. I think about them often. The advice I would give them is to get after it. You just need to do what you want to do. Try it, whether you think you’re mediocre at it or you’re good at it. I spent so much of my time in my early career feeling like I was an imposter. Because you weren’t 100% feeling like you had mastered it 100%, yet you were stretching yourself to take on these roles. There was a lot of time where I somehow felt like, “Am I an imposter? Is this real?” I think that’s a female way to feel, so stretch yourself. Try things out there and don’t feel like you’re an imposter doing it. The second thing is you need to begin with the end in mind. That’s really helped me on the balance of work-life and family. I had someone tell me this analogy that we’re juggling glass balls and rubber balls. He said that you’re always juggling, so you’re always going to drop a ball. The key in life is to make sure that you don’t drop any of the glass ones. I think about that a lot as I balance work and family life. You have to start with the end in mind before you have the decisions. You have to decide what your glass balls are and what you are not going to drop. I had something when my now college-age daughter was 15. I was offered a CEO position in Atlanta, which is my favorite city to live in. It was a perfect thing and I wanted that job more than anything. I got right up to the wire and I had kind of pretty much almost accepted it but I said I can’t do it because I couldn’t move and take her away from her dad and the rest of the things. The recruiter was really angry at me. She said, “Women don’t get co offers and you may never get another one again. This is really foolish of you to do this.” It was easier for me because I had already decided that was one of my glass balls. It took a while. It was probably another three, four years before our methods came around, but it worked out. Even if it hadn’t, it still was the right decision. What do you want to be when you grow up? I’ll probably never be CEO of the Red Cross, but start working backward from that and know what the glass balls are in your life before you get to the place where you have to make the decision about them.

 

Sanjula Jain  44:56  

Yeah, I love that analogy. That’s so well said and makes a lot of sense, I guess as an English major at your core, then I’m really interested with the end in mind. What do you think about the autobiography that’s going to be written about your leadership legacy one day? What would be the title of your book?

 

JaeLynn Williams  45:13  

I think it would be Don’t Count Out the English Majors.

 

Sanjula Jain  45:16  

Spot on. Jalen, thank you so much. This has been an incredible interview and I’m looking forward to part two, maybe when it’s you in the Red Cross or maybe something else.

 

JaeLynn Williams  45:27  

That’s great. Good to talk with you. Thank you.

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