Be passionate with your work: You’re not going to become a thought leader if you view your work as burdensome. Find something to be passionate about and grow your expertise from there. You’ll find that it isn’t as difficult when you find both professional and personal gratification in your work, since it’s less likely to seem like work.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Ogurchak.
He is the CEO and Co-Founder of STACK, a curated software platform designed to help organizations drive compliance with deliverables, particularly in the healthcare sector. As a pharmacist and educator, he teaches at multiple universities on both clinical and operational areas surrounding specialty pharmacy and serves as an educational consultant for a variety of stakeholders. His expertise helped to grow and own specialty pharmacies and now he’s poised to upset the healthcare industry with some innovative solutions that align many of the disjointed facets of patient care.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I’m a pharmacist by training and have spent a majority of my career in the “specialty” pharmacy sector — focusing on high touch, very complex medications for some life-changing diseases. I served in management roles with one of the country’s largest corporately owned specialty pharmacies and used some available technology (like spreadsheets and macros) to automate operational processes to improve the experience for patients. I left there to help start an independently owned specialty pharmacy and grew the operations from a few of us in a garage to a national player, developing some innovative technology solutions along the way. I’ve always been technologically inclined and have seen technology as a way to improve the typical ways of doing things. It was a logical next step after I left my role at the independent pharmacy to get back into the technology sector, relying on that pharmacist training. Today, we’ve built STACK to meet the needs of pharmacies (specialty, community, and otherwise) that struggle to manage their day-to-day processes and tackling all of the complexities associated with staying on top of compliance through software. We’ve expanded our scope to recently include membership and educational management offerings for professional associations, higher education institutions and other groups, all based on this shared ecosystem that we’ve built with STACK.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
This is a concept that’s surrounded me my entire career — when I started practicing as a pharmacist, it was through a fellowship program within academia. However, I quickly recognized that those educators that were most impactful to me were those with true practice and “life” experience — which led me to enter into the workforce (and ultimately later come back to academia). The notion of having and sharing expertise in order to grow the expertise of others is a fundamental aspect of both personal and professional education. I felt that once I was stepping outside of the day-to-day operations of running a pharmacy, that I would be able to continue to learn, stay engaged, and stay involved in the industry through learning, writing, and positioning my awareness in a similar sort of fashion for others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think the most interesting story is one that’s still being told, and I share with my students frequently: your career is so much more than the first job you take. There’s this notion that you’re always going to find a job that’s going to be your “place” from the time you start until the time you retire — and that’s not necessarily the case. In the time since I graduated pharmacy school, for instance, I’ve worked for 6 different organizations, with promotions and growth during tenure at each. The crazy part is that each new role lends itself to the one that may or may not follow it. Every day, you’re learning something new in both your career and your personal life that translates into how the next day will transpire. So for me, I never would have dreamed that at this point, I would have owned a pharmacy; would have owned a technology company; have served as a consultant and an author; have been married and started a beautiful family — these things continue to evolve as you grow. Personally, it excites me to see what my next steps might be, since I never envisioned this is where I’d be 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?
I’m a Mac guy through and through — however, most pharmacy- and healthcare-based software tends to run in Windows environments. As a result when we were launching out minimum viable product, I created a remote connection to a windows PC in my home office, and I’d take my laptop on the road to demo the product to prospective clients.
During a large specialty pharmacy conference in Las Vegas, I was hosting client meetings (remotely connected to my office in Pittsburgh), and things were going great — so great that I was invited to demo the product for a very large organization. Even though it was bright and sunny in Vegas, thunderstorms hit Pittsburgh, cutting the power and my connection to the PC I was leaning on for demos.
A quick sprint to the mall across the Strip to purchase a Windows tablet, installation as I ran back to the meeting site, and walking into my meeting with my shopping bag in tow, I was able to complete the demo and initiate a client relationship.
Since then, I’ve learned the value of redundancy — making sure to travel with multiple options for ensuring things go smoothly…plus, this helped to catalyze our move to web-based development so that it affords accessibility from any location, especially for us Mac users.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
When I think of a thought leader, I think of those who are not only respected in their craft, but also look to share that expertise with others. Leaders in the traditional sense are responsible for guiding others through the day-to-day, while thought leaders look to create longitudinal change across groups or industries. They often look to establish this expertise for the betterment of the greater good, too — when I think “influencer”, you almost get a feeling of an associated ulterior motive.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
First and foremost, being viewed as a thought leader often follows a period of personal learning and development. Remaining a thought leader requires ongoing work to make sure that your subject matter expertise is always current, appropriate, and relevant. By investing the time in your own learning, it helps to maintain an appreciated level of awareness for your area of “leadership” so that your position as a thought leader isn’t easily questioned. This investment does far more than just maintain a title of being a “thought leader” — it helps you to continually evolve in your understanding and growth.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
One of the things that we’ve done with STACK that has helped us to really grow over the last 12 months is seek out and partner with thought leaders in our industry. I know that others have particular skill sets that could mutually benefit from developing some meaningful relationships. As a result, we’ve found others — those who I admire as thought leaders — to help us round out our offerings. It’s a tactic that you don’t tend to find often in the hypercompetitive space that we exist in, but the old “rising tide raises all ships” mentality truly does help others to grow if you’re willing to approach your thought leadership in a humble way.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
I think approaching your work with the idea of becoming a “thought leader” in mind isn’t necessarily the right way of going about it. When you work, and strive to be great at what you do, thought leadership becomes a byproduct, not the primary goal. With that being said, I think there are some tactics that help in the process:
- Be passionate with your work: You’re not going to become a thought leader if you view your work as burdensome. Find something to be passionate about and grow your expertise from there. You’ll find that it isn’t as difficult when you find both professional and personal gratification in your work, since it’s less likely to seem like work.
- Approach multiple points of view: There’s always another side to every story and establishing your thought leadership without considering multiple points of view can be detrimental to your own understanding of the subject matter. As I started to build a curriculum surrounding the history of specialty pharmacy, I relied heavily on my own exposure to stories, anecdotes, and more. It wasn’t until I started asking more questions — Who else was involved? How did areas expand? What am I missing in the full picture here? — that I was able to unearth more details and paint a fuller picture. This more agnostic approach to learning helped me to gain a better overall understanding of the realities surrounding the subjects where I hoped to serve as a thought leader.
- Be humble: Let’s face it — no one knows everything. Even as a thought leader, you have new things to learn on a daily basis. I once had a student who had 15+ more years of industry experience than I did, and I was able to learn so much from her experiences while also augmenting her understanding of other areas that she may not have been as familiar with. By approaching new ideas with humility or approaching conflicting ideas with an open mind, it helps you to reestablish the truth in your understanding and maybe learn a thing or two yourself. It may even help to solidify your place in thought leadership since you can help to support or refute new ideas through broader understanding.
- Keep honing your craft: If you establish a reputation as a thought leader, it’s only yours to lose. By resting on your laurels and not changing, you can quickly be passed by and thought of as out of touch. Keep writing, keep learning, keep putting yourself out there when it makes sense to do so — you’ll only get better over time
- Carry yourself with integrity: your personal integrity is more valuable than any title, job, or accolade, and once it is lost — it’s far more difficult to regain that other areas of your personal and professional life. Follow your moral compass and stay true to who you are, even in the face of dissention, and your reputation can grow along with you.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
A dear friend of mine, Dr. Ralph Gigliotti, is one of the leading experts in crisis leadership. He became passionate about the topic through his personal and professional experiences, and found ways to learn more, build more, and fully understand all aspects of the topic — so much so that he’s published multiple works on crisis leadership in higher education — that he’s frequently called upon to speak on the subject both nationally and internationally. That internal desire to learn more led him to this place of thought leadership, because there was more of a calling to learn and do, and all of those characteristics I mentioned above clearly align with his strategic approach to subject matter expertise.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
As I mentioned above, when people go after “thought leadership” as their primary goal, it could possibly devalue the concept of a thought leader. The work may not speak for itself. I don’t think any real “thought leader” goes after that title, it’s something that is earned through demonstrated work and expertise.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Find a balance in the passions that drive you and areas that you need to fulfill yourself on more of a personal level. When I decided to leave my ownership role at my specialty pharmacy, I was burned out — working way too many hours, bringing work home with me, and realizing that I was missing out on the life that I was striving to hard to build. That reset for me allowed me to better balance time with my wife and kids, and really see what’s important. You can build your expertise and your areas of focus, but only once you’ve been able to better center yourself within your true purpose.
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. 🙂
Too many areas in healthcare are commoditized. Solutions that could have the most benefit to the most people — like patients — are restricted to help drive market share. For patients to experience the maximum benefit, there needs to be a more standard approach to delivery of care that takes the market share component out of it (and just maybe STACK and some of the other projects we’re developing can help to be a catalyst of eliminating market share and barriers for healthcare stakeholders). That “rising tide raises all ships” mentality could truly help to inspire more informed, collaborative patient care.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I am the one thing in life I can control” — Aaron Burr, Hamilton. You aren’t able to always control the messaging that circles around your experience. However, if you live your life with integrity, your reputation will speak for itself. Once you lose your integrity, you lose yourself and your ability to maintain meaningful relationships. I’ve found that putting my integrity first, and controlling myself, has always won out and helped me to grow both professionally and personally.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I think Steve Wozniak would be an excellent person to speak to in a brief manner such as this — he played such an instrumental role in the initiation and growth of a major industry player in Apple before his departure (citing that he “missed the fun of the early days”), that I’d love to hear similarities to our individual experiences since I’ve gone through them myself. Learning alongside others and their experiences is fascinating to me (and lends itself well to the topic of this interview!)
How can our readers follow you online?
Personal LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jonathanogurchak
Company LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/managewithstack
Company Facebook: www.facebook.com/managewithstack
Company Twitter: @managewithstack
Company Instagram: www.instagram.com/managewithstack
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.