Guillaume Castel of PerfectServe: “Connect the dots”

Connect the dots: One of my most important jobs at PerfectServe is to make sure each person understands how their work impacts the organization at large — and it’s not an easy task. When people see how their efforts move the business forward, they feel more connected to the mission. This is an ongoing process that requires […]

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Connect the dots: One of my most important jobs at PerfectServe is to make sure each person understands how their work impacts the organization at large — and it’s not an easy task. When people see how their efforts move the business forward, they feel more connected to the mission. This is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort, and it’s never far from the top of my mind.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Guillaume Castel. He was named CEO of PerfectServe in July 2019, a critical juncture for the company following its acquisitions of Telmediq, Lightning Bolt, and CareWire. Castel is charged with continuing the company’s vision to enable communications at scale and in a cross-continuum way for the largest health systems in the United States. He brings nearly 20 years of experience in strategy, business development, finance, and operations across the technology and healthcare industries.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Guillaume! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, I looked up to my mother, a nurse by training who was a health system administrator in France. Additionally, my wife of 20 years is a pediatrician and epidemiologist, so healthcare has always been present in my home life — in a big way.

On the professional front, I would attribute my career path to a bit of randomness and hard work. After spending 13 years with IBM and Cisco Systems, I ended up working for The Advisory Board Company, a D.C.-based healthcare firm, in 2014, and it completely changed my trajectory. At The Advisory Board, I met and worked with the most interesting people, I learned and was challenged every day, and I was drawn to the concept of bringing the best group of people together to solve the hardest problems — and solve them well.

After The Advisory Board, I took on an executive role at Inova Health System in the D.C. metro area, and it was there that I learned firsthand where it’s possible to have the greatest impact in the healthcare industry. That experience is what drew me to PerfectServe, which has been in the clinical communication space for two decades and has layered in provider scheduling and patient engagement capabilities over the last few years. PerfectServe sits at the intersection of three important initiatives: enabling communication across care teams, improving patient engagement, and reducing costs for hospitals. I had a strong desire to solve problems beyond the catchment zone of one health system, and coming to PerfectServe gave me a chance to expand my purview by impacting hundreds of hospitals on both a national and international scale now that we have customers in Canada and Ireland.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’ll reframe the question a bit by calling this the most consequential story of my career. In 2001, Peg Cantafio — my manager — nominated me for IBM’s Black Executive Forum, and I was selected to be a mentee. For some context, I had been working at IBM for one year and was doing a pretty good job, and Peg took it upon herself to put me up for this selective program. She advocated for me and got me an audience, and I often think about this as a pivotal moment in my career. Peg was a good manager who cared and wanted to make sure I had a concrete opportunity to shine.

I met people during this year-long program whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise, including Lou Gerstner (IBM CEO) and Ken Chenault (American Express CEO). It was an honor to meet both, but Ken was certainly the most influential Black CEO in corporate America at the time and arguably ever, and that left an indelible mark on me. I also got to follow some of IBM’s senior-most executives to client meetings and other important business venues. Think about it this way: It’s my second year in the United States, I’m still struggling with English, and I come from a middle-class French family. This opportunity changed everything for me.

In my 20-year career, this is the only program I’ve seen that was committed to helping minorities come together in a structured way to build fellowship and drive value. The theme of the program, then managed by Head of Workforce Diversity’s Ted Childs, was “Reaching back and pulling through.” I still carry these values today.

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?

To be honest, it’s challenging for me to put the words “mistake” and “funny” in the same sentence. It’s always much funnier in hindsight, but in the moment, it can be hard to find the humor.

Nevertheless, I’m flashing back to my first job working for IBM as a consultant. I had been in the U.S. for a grand total of one year, and my English was still pretty wobbly. I remember showing up for meetings where my colleagues and clients alike were more interested in my thoughts about the best places to visit in Paris than my thoughts about the various problems we were working on. It stung at the time, but in hindsight, it was valuable for a couple of reasons. First, I was getting to know people I might not have talked with otherwise, and second, it served as a major motivator for improving my grasp of the English language.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

  1. You will win more.
  2. You will enjoy what you do more.
  3. You will participate in making the communities around you better and stronger.

To elaborate just a bit, we should strive to look like our clients — or, better yet, we should strive to look like what our clients wish they looked like. Most health systems have committed to increasing diversity within their ranks, all the way up to their boards. To be frank, the numbers leave a lot of room for improvement at the moment. In healthcare, we need to remember that provider organizations are trying to reflect the communities they serve so patients of all backgrounds feel welcome and understood.

More broadly, can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

More than ever, the United States is a multicultural country. Embracing people for who they are and finding ways to make the workplace inclusive, rewarding, and safe are critical goals. As a Black man with a white French mother and a West African father, who married an American woman with parents from Trinidad and Cleveland, Ohio, I have two amazing children who feel connected to many parts of the world. I understand deeply what it means to have layers, so to speak, and to want to bring all of those layers with you to work every day.

One of the primary jobs of a leader is to create and foster an environment that welcomes everyone regardless of heritage, values, religion, affinities, or beliefs — an environment that allows people to be who they are without compromise and bring their best, truest selves to work. We have a lot to gain by becoming very good at this. Greater inclusivity will help our innovation and creativity multiply, and we will all become a bit smarter in the process.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

  1. Have measurable goals, not just discussions about what feels good or reactions to yesterday’s news cycle. As a society, we tend to be easily distracted — we too often over-rotate to an issue because it’s in the news, and then we lose track before anything has been accomplished. Meaningful progress takes time and commitment. We can’t just react to social unrest in the moment — we have to have a long-term plan armed with data to measure our efforts, and those efforts have to be in service of real goals.
  2. Be intentional. When I think of intentionality, I often go straight to hiring practices. Being intentional in this context means going to places like historically Black colleges and universities or organizations that help disabled people find jobs — as two examples among many — and building bridges. Rather than simply being aware of underrepresented groups or understanding that some people don’t have access to the right opportunities, you establish contact and build relationships with the idea that you’ll be hiring from within these groups.
  3. Do the hard work of pushing your teams to go where it is less comfortable. This works in every direction because learning necessitates that we all push ourselves to be uncomfortable every now and then.

Beyond these points, I would also emphasize the egalitarian nature of healthcare. No matter who you are, where you come from, what you believe, or what you look like, we all need care at some point in our lives. Because we serve all people, we need just as many people at the table to inform our decisions. PerfectServe touches more than 50 million patients every year, and we’d be doing ourselves, our customers, and the patients they treat a major disservice if we didn’t make diversity a key part of the company DNA.

How do you define “leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My view of leadership can be separated into three main buckets:

Live the values that matter to us: On the topic of values, it’s always an ongoing conversation. At PerfectServe, building software that helps clinicians take better care of patients is what we do, and we have to stay laser focused on that. It’s easy to get distracted, and it’s tempting to want to go down every rabbit hole in pursuit of the next big thing, but it’s my job to make sure we stick to this core value.

Be clear about what’s important: When it comes to defining what’s important, my approach is to spend a lot of time on the front end digging into details, understanding the lay of the land, and building a consensus. After that, it’s about holding people accountable to those decisions and being flexible enough to make tweaks along the way to ensure success.

Connect the dots: One of my most important jobs at PerfectServe is to make sure each person understands how their work impacts the organization at large — and it’s not an easy task. When people see how their efforts move the business forward, they feel more connected to the mission. This is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort, and it’s never far from the top of my mind.

What are your “five things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Not five, but three that I think about often:

  1. Have intellectual competency. At a given point in your career, you should always be the person in the room who knows the most about a certain topic — full stop. This means that, earlier in your career, you need to ask “why” a lot. Don’t be constrained by rules — just learn as much as you can. I’ll simplify it a bit further by saying your 20s should be marked by asking lots of questions, your 30s should involve learning as much as you can to become a subject matter expert, and after that, you should deploy what you’ve learned as effectively as possible.
  2. Seek mentorship. I outlined this idea earlier when I discussed the Black Executive Forum at IBM, but my experience as a mentee showed me what’s possible for a Black man in corporate America. The lessons you learn from others who have already walked the path are invaluable.
  3. Be clear about what drives you and what you are passionate about — professionally and personally. You can’t be great at something that you don’t feel passionate about. It almost requires you to be obsessive about something — to read during nights and weekends, to crave knowledge, etc. I’m not sure how anyone could immerse themselves in a topic they are not passionate about. I know I couldn’t.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’ll start by noting that I try to ground myself in humility at all times. It’s about having responsibilities versus having influence. I try to carry out these responsibilities in a way that reflects well on PerfectServe’s leadership team and our many talented and hardworking team members.

I also view the concept of movements with a different lens because I believe in fostering local and manageable efforts. Whether it’s my neighbor across the street who delivers food to families in need, a good friend and colleague who kickstarted a small organization to match Black and white families in the D.C. metropolitan area to build a bridge, or another good friend who spends his Saturdays teaching kids who need help in a church, these are all actions geared toward being open, generous, and responsible and will contribute to the greater good. I try to do my part, and it includes what we’re doing at PerfectServe, where we’ve funded a Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council to help the company do better.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t tell me what you care about — show me your budget.” I was a young kid and often ended up in my mother’s office after school, and I can still hear her saying that to her colleagues in my head. Thirty years later, I think of this adage and use it often — it’s as relevant personally as it is professionally. It’s not just about the funds, but also the action plan you’ve devised and the effort you’ll contribute to turn an idea into a reality. Talking and hoping don’t get the work done!

Is there a person in the world or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Chamath Palihapitiya, founder of Social Capital, a technology company whose self-professed mission is to solve the world’s hardest problems. I find his remarks incredibly insightful, and I listen to him on YouTube most days while walking my dog. He’s provocative, irreverent, unafraid, and often right!

Throughout my career in healthcare, but especially in my time at PerfectServe, I’ve seen how the right technology vastly improves the way clinicians coordinate care for patients. I’d love to talk with Chamath about his views on how care will be provided in 10 years and perhaps rethink some of our own plans to continue to lead our field.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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