Be kind to yourself: Especially as women leaders who are often juggling a wide array of tasks and priorities, it’s important to focus on all you have accomplished instead of obsessing about the tasks you could not get done. It’s easy to focus on the latter instead.
As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Brown. Amy is currently the Vice President of Product, leading the Health Intelligence program at Springbuk. A veteran healthcare analytics leader with 15 years in public and employer health engagement and consulting, she was a founding member of Truven/IBM Watson Health’s Emerging Analytics practice and is a listed inventor for two patent-pending analytic methodologies. With operations, finance, compliance, pay-for-performance and quality experience at large hospital systems, including New York — Presbyterian Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center, she brings a unique perspective to the health analytics space. Amy has an MPA from New York University in Health Management, Finance, and Policy and an undergraduate degree from Tufts University in Economics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My journey in healthcare began in a personal way when my father was diagnosed with a serious degenerative illness when I was in kindergarten. As his disease progressed, my family made it our mission to get him the best care possible despite a sometimes infuriating and at best challenging healthcare system. In an effort to help my family, I learned everything I could about healthcare finance, provider quality, and clinical best practices. My brain was one that was drawn to solving complex problems and creating order out of chaos. When I attended college and graduate school, I found my place in the complex healthcare system where I could make the most impact centered around creating clinical analytics and methodologies to help people live their best lives. In some cases that means identifying an individual that may have a disease but is unaware, in other cases it could mean making sure a member is educated before getting an expensive and potentially unnecessary surgery. The healthcare system has many strengths, but unfortunately there are still gaping holes that have the potential to have detrimental impacts on individual lives. I see it as my mission to help people live their healthiest and best lives. Today I’m able to meet that goal by working with employers through Springbuk’s Health Intelligence program. The Health Intelligence Insights engine empowers employers to understand members that need interventions to avoid future disease, potentially unnecessary surgery, avoid inefficient care, and mitigate costs. Employers are uniquely situated to make an impact because their employees are at work every day and can benefit from programs, outreach and education at the workplace to help them. Physicians, by contrast, often only have a visit or two a year to impact an individual typically. We have made great strides to help our clients and their members to live healthier lives and avoid expensive complications and costs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
For me, a small moment at the office was a pivotal moment. Springbuk’s Health Intelligence team released several models that our data science team built to identify members that are likely to have a diagnosis of a condition in the future such as thyroid disease, diabetes or stroke. In some of these cases, a member may already have a disease but may not even know he/she has the condition, such as a thyroid disorder. According to the American Thyroid Foundation, “Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware they have the condition…undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility.” I had the opportunity to present to my co-workers and share some of the great impacts and value of the models the health intelligence team had produced. After the presentation a co-worker approached me and said that although he had always abstractly understood the potential impact of the work we were doing, he saw it in a whole new light today when I discussed our model for thyroid disorders. He shared that his wife had suffered infertility issues, and it was because she had an undiagnosed thyroid problem. He said that his wife could have directly benefited from the work we were doing, and it would have saved them a lot of time, stress, and money as a result. That conversation was really impactful and empowering. It helped me to see the true power we have to help people with our health intelligence program.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I guess one “sort of” mistake I made was to assume that anything at a startup/scale-up will stay the same for very long. I learned very quickly that change will be constant, and learning to ride that wave and do what’s in the best interest of the business is what should always be front of mind. When I started at Springbuk I was employee number 42, and now we have over 100 active employees. As we scale to better meet customer needs, it’s really important to remain flexible and open minded. For some people, change can be challenging, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for growth and skill development. Be open minded to the change that comes your way, you may be surprised by the positive growth you will see. I have had four titles at Springbuk thus far, and with each change came opportunity for skill expansion and growth.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
Honestly, I’m not someone that particularly likes being in the spotlight or being the focal point, so I wasn’t necessarily drawn to a high profile role based on aspirations of being a figurehead per se. When I joined Springbuk on the product team in 2017, I saw a business with incredible trajectory, and I wanted to do whatever I could to help Springbuk reach its full potential. In the course of working with incredibly talented colleagues to build Springbuk’s Health Intelligence program that endeavors to prevent disease with data, I now lead that program on the product side. I was seeking a position where I could make a positive and substantial impact, and that led me to my current role.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what an executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
In my role I need to focus on key strategic goals of the business, while also ensuring tactical work is completed and my team is empowered with the tools they need for success. I have found that as one moves up in the hierarchy, success is defined somewhat differently, and decisions are sometimes more gray and less black and white. In some cases it’s less obvious in terms of what is the correct answer, especially in product, so you need to seek as much feedback and data points as possible to determine the best answer.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I love working with our customers, seeking their feedback, and having the ability to be responsive to their needs in a timely manner. Springbuk has differentiated itself in the market by listening to our customers and implementing improvements to our product that substantially improve their ability to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Our goal is to empower our clients to put forth their best work, and Springbuk enables them to do so through our speed of innovation and development.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
Springbuk’s potential in our market is immense, and it is a huge responsibility to make sure we are steering our product in the right direction to best meet customer needs and maximize our ability to be successful. It’s not necessarily a downside per se, but it’s a huge responsibility that I do not take lightly. It requires constant research and analysis to determine how to best steer the business.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I take pride in the fact that Springbuk is a company built upon incredible intellect and aptitude, with no ego. I would love to dispel the myth that you need to be arrogant with huge hubris in order to be an executive. In my opinion, it’s quite the opposite. It’s important to be humble, empathetic, and self-aware in order to be a successful leader.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Even in today’s world where progress has been made in big ways from a generation ago, there are still a lot of challenges that exist for working moms. We still tend to bear more of the burden in terms of needs at home, while also juggling work. I see it as a responsibility to serve as a role model to others in terms of both showing how a woman can find that balance, and also showing other leaders internally and externally, how they can be friendly to female leaders and how that will ultimately serve the business well as well as the individual.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
One of the things I really love about my job that I did not necessarily expect is that I have involvement in work being done throughout the business, from sales to marketing, to client management, even though I’m technically part of the product team. Springbuk’s “win together” ethos cultivates cross-team collaboration in ways I have not seen previously, which has afforded me the opportunity to contribute across the business, and has allowed others to do the same.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
It’s a very personal decision. For me, the desirability of being an executive is driven in large part by the other executive leaders that are my peers. I have great respect for the other executive leaders at Springbuk, and that gave me the desire to be a part of this talented group. I also think those that are more comfortable with uncertainty and making hard decisions are better suited to an executive role. It’s also crucial to have the ability to seek out information from others and delegate effectively.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Whether you are male or female, I believe it’s important to treat others with kindness, empathy, and understanding. No matter what level you are within an organization, everyone has challenges in their lives outside of work, and showing you care as a leader, and learning about the individuals that work for you is important. It can go a long way, not only in terms of building rapport but also in terms of employee loyalty and achievement. If you understand what drives them and what their challenges are, you can help lay the foundation for their success and remove any obstacles.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I was in graduate school at NYU’s Health Policy and Management program, I also worked full-time at a hospital in New York and was mentored by an alumni of my program, Coral Matar. She was an incredible role model not only in terms of teaching me about the complex healthcare system, the revenue cycle, and the multi-faceted challenges that we face in clinical analytics, but also how to be a leader, a role model, and a female executive while also being a working mom. She was honest with me about the challenges so I could learn vicariously. It made a huge difference as my career and life evolved. I learned that there can be phases of your career as a working parent. There may be times when a role that’s more clearly defined in terms of hours and responsibility are best, and then others where it’s time for growth and expansion. Understanding your boundaries and where you are in that journey is crucial when determining what you seek for your career path.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am lucky to have a career that allows me to help people live their best lives. Springbuk aims to “prevent disease with data,” and our team has built models that empower members do that. A member might get diagnosed sooner, or potentially avoid getting the disease at all. Our Insights product also enables members to avoidable inefficient and sometimes costly care that may not be in their best interest. I am grateful we have the opportunity to help our partners with this information in order to save money but also improve the lives of those we serve with Springbuk.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be kind to yourself: Especially as women leaders who are often juggling a wide array of tasks and priorities, it’s important to focus on all you have accomplished instead of obsessing about the tasks you could not get done. It’s easy to focus on the latter instead.
- Delegate and Elevate: You can’t do everything yourself, even if you might want to. Hire talented people to join your team and give them the tools to be successful. It will be the best path forward for the business and for everyone involved.
- Speak up: Even if it might be unpopular at times, have the courage to speak up and share your opinions in a diplomatic and respectful way. Your colleagues will respect you for it.
- Listen more and talk less: Especially in a room of high achievers, it’s often difficult to get a word in to share an opinion. Look around the meeting room at all stakeholders and look for the person that may have not spoken up. You might be surprised to hear his/her perspective and what it can bring to the conversation. Sometimes those that are most quiet may bring an important point to the group.
- Never compromise your core beliefs: Stay true to yourself and the mission you aim to serve. If you love what you do, you will achieve your best.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I feel passionate about changing the path of healthcare in the United States. There’s a great opportunity to beneficially impact the lives of people in this country that cannot afford the basic care they need. There are also incredible opportunities to create greater transparency and remove the market failures and distortions that plague this industry. Members are often unaware of what their options are when faced with a diagnosis, and in some cases may have a surgery that’s not necessarily the best option for them. There are other cases where a member is paying an inordinate amount of money for a drug or treatment when there may be viable lower cost alternatives. The member and the employer has the potential to save money and benefit. My passion is to advocate on behalf of the under-served, and bridge the gap that exists today in the healthcare industry, with asymmetry of information among healthcare stakeholders.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My father was a social worker and director of a program that worked with severely mentally ill patients. Whether he was speaking to staff or patients, he promoted the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would do unto you.” I believe that no matter where you are in your career or what power you have, it’s crucial to show kindness, empathy, and understanding to others. Understanding a differing perspective and why that individual may bring a different point of view is important. Don’t just follow your opinion blindly, be open to other ideas and perspectives.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!
I am a lifelong U2 fan because of their fantastic music, but also because they believe in giving back with a humanitarian orientation. In particular, I would love to speak with Bono about his experiences and perspectives with the One foundation to fight poverty and preventable diseases. I believe it to be a worthy and noble cause.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.