when executing early doesn’t pan out, learn from mistakes and improve for the next time. There’s almost always a next time. I’ve done this by building an informal “advisory board” in my executive team at CCRM. When one of us missteps, we debrief and assess, pivot, and execute again — this keeps us accountable.
Inthis interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Pardew, CCRM’s President and Chief Executive Officer. In this role Pardew is responsible for executing the company’s strategy, leading the CCRM team, and ensuring the company achieves its stated Mission and Vision.
Previously, Pardew was a Managing Director at St. Charles Capital, a Denver based middle-market investment banking firm. In his role as Managing Director, Pardew led the firm’s Healthcare practice focusing on mergers and acquisitions, financings and joint venture transactions involving provider groups across the healthcare industry.
Prior to St. Charles Capital, Pardew held several leadership positions in both business and the United States Army. Pardew holds an MBA from the University of Colorado and a BA from the Virginia Military Institute.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Growing up in a military family we were on the move a lot. I went to several different schools and we were never in one place for more than a few years. I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and pursue a career in the military, where I enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute and graduated with a degree in history. Once I graduated, I became a Lieutenant in the Army for four years of active military duty followed by four years in the reserves. After completing the required amount of service, I went into operations at General Mills where I worked at a plant as a team leader. I decided I wanted to go back to school and pursue a Master’s Degree and received my MBA from the University of Colorado. From 1999 to 2013, I worked as a middle market investment banker primarily focused on services and healthcare transactions. That ultimately led me to Dr. William Schoolcraft, the founder of the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM), where I’ve spent the past six years as CEO.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Storytelling is always hindsight analysis. Upon reflection, my career arc has truly been about leadership and learning. In the military and in my first role with General Mills, I was focused on operations. After being introduced to finance, I decided to make a career change and went back to school for my MBA. Finding a job in finance without any prior experience proved more difficult than I expected. When I interviewed for a job with middle market financiers, it was like trying to open a locked door. But I remained persistent and eventually landed an interview with Marshall Wallach, who at the time was the founder and managing partner of the Wallach Company, a leading middle market investment bank in the Rocky Mountains. Based on common experiences that we shared, including time served in the military, we quickly connected. Even though I lacked finance experience, he gave me a shot — he saw my potential to learn and lead, and that created the next few chapters of my career. If it wasn’t for Marshall, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
The same thing happened when I was appointed CEO of CCRM — I was seen as a finance guy, not a CEO. For a while, people saw the last thing I had done as the only thing I knew, not the totality of my experience. Becoming a first-time CEO is humbling. I’m constantly pulling from a career of experience while continuing to face new challenges. The greatest lesson I could share is that if you set out to lead, you will enjoy a lifetime of learning and opportunities.
At the beginning of your career, it looks like a “triangle” — in that there are many paths early on, but fewer later. If you can continue to learn and build your skillset to make that triangle look as much like a square for as long as you can, you’ll have more opportunities to excel. It’s critical to always be open to new opportunities and training no matter what your position. I was in operations, but realized that I was being pigeon-holed, so I went and got an MBA to broaden that career triangle and became a finance professional. The lesson is to develop a broad skillset and be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Leadership experience and skills being the most crucial to best position yourself for future success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
CCRM was founded by Dr. William Schoolcraft over thirty years ago as a small fertility center in Colorado. Today, we now operate 11 fertility centers with 24 offices across North America. CCRM is known for its pioneering science and technology that drives our leading outcomes in the industry. CCRM has some of the highest live birth rates globally. This is largely due to Dr. Schoolcraft’s dedication in ensuring CCRM’s clinicians, embryologists and staff are all armed with the best techniques and practices to deliver the best care to our patients. The fabric of our company is really the science, but our technology is only as good as the people on our team. A company won’t go very far without great people, and we have a fantastic organization from top to bottom.
One of my favorite CCRM anecdotes occurred within the first few weeks of my tenure at CCRM. At a dinner I attended, Dr. Schoolcraft opened a letter he received from a patient’s son, which he then shared with me. The former patient’s son was now 18 years old and described how he was a recent high school graduate, going to college on an academic scholarship and listed a series of community achievements. He ended the letter thanking Dr. Schoolcraft, because without him helping his parents 18 years ago he wouldn’t be here. I sat back and was struck with how powerful a moment it was not only for Dr. Schoolcraft and CCRM, but also for me. I am thrilled that I can even play a small role in helping people get access to that level of care that has such a positive impact on society.
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?
I don’t think there’s one person or one experience I can specifically call out, but rather a mosaic of experiences and people that I’ve worked with or for that I’ve learned a tremendous amount from. The military and lessons I learned during a very formative period in my life helped shape who I am today. I take away more than I can ever give back with regard to the interactions with people I’ve worked with over the course of my career. For me, it’s been collaborative effort — it’s taken a city rather than a village.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
- I think it’s the ability to absorb, learn from and pivot off of adversity, whether that be your career or life. Nobody gets through life without dealing with adversity, it’s just how you’re able respond to it that helps you learn and grow from the experience.
- I think poise in the face of adversity and the ability to calmly and collectively make a rational decision in a difficult situation is what makes someone resilient. A poised, open and pragmatic style who is flexible and possesses the ability to adjust. And obviously pure determination — you have to be determined and tough to be resilient.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Lindsey Vonn. She’s one of this generations most elite athletes. What makes her successful is her resilience to power through injuries, as well as career and personal adversity. If you haven’t seen the HBO documentary about Lindsey Vonn’s life, I highly recommend it. She is the epitome of resilience, in my opinion.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
When I joined CCRM as the CEO, CCRM was comprised of two fertility centers — one in the Denver-area and the other in Houston. The plan was to replicate the success of our Colorado clinic and lab and expand across North America in some of the most competitive markets in the fertility industry. Many thought we would fail or at best, be limited in our opportunities.
Part of the challenge was replicating the IVF lab, which is an incredibly complex facility with stringent regulatory and quality standards. From the air quality to equipment to staff training, every detail matters and there is no room for error. Even though we had limited resources and a small team, through the pure tenacity of our dedicated staff and our confidence in the CCRM brand, we have been able to achieve what everyone else believed was impossible.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I was a military brat growing up. We moved every 24 to 36 months and I went to countless schools over my youth and even spent time overseas. If I were to point to one thing that has helped build self-confidence and resiliency, it’d be that upbringing. I couldn’t ask for a better childhood and it was a real blessing to have, especially at such a formative time for me. I learned how to be flexible, adaptable and confident. I didn’t find moving around all the time to be really difficult or upsetting at all, either. It was kind of normal because you’re running around with a bunch of kids in similar situations. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized I had a different experience than most of my peers. But I benefited from it from a worldview perspective and learned to engage with a very diverse community.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Resilience to me is about three things. First, execute. CCRM is growing at an extraordinary pace. My style has always been to trust my team, say yes, go, do — sometimes earlier than what feels comfortable. On the whole, that worked out well.
- Second, when executing early doesn’t pan out, learn from mistakes and improve for the next time. There’s almost always a next time. I’ve done this by building an informal “advisory board” in my executive team at CCRM. When one of us missteps, we debrief and assess, pivot, and execute again — this keeps us accountable.
- Last, it’s about sharing that lesson, so others don’t have to fumble through. I find sharing my stories helps others find their own pattern of resilience. And I’ve said this many times, but it’s worth repeating. It’s not as bad as you think; it will be better in the morning.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them 🙂
I pride myself on being a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, which often surprises people since I’ve never actually lived in Pittsburgh. A big reason why I love the team is because of the Rooney family, which founded the Steelers in 1933. Beyond building a team that would go on to win six Super Bowls, the Rooney’s created an organization committed to its mission, its community and its people. I hope someday I can leave a similar mark on our organization, community and industry. I would be honored to sit down with a member of the Rooney family, as both a fan and as a CEO.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
- You can find me on LinkedIn.