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The Impact of People and Teams
An Interview with Melanie Marcus, Chief Marketing Officer, Surescripts
I had the opportunity to chat with Melanie Marcus, chief marketing officer of Surescripts, for our Leadership Insights series. Melanie is a healthcare IT veteran and an accomplished marketing leader and shared some of her unique career journey and lessons she learned along the way. Listening back to our conversation, what really struck me was Melanie’s emphasis on people and teams; the people she invests in as well as the ones who have made an impact on her, both personally and professionally. (5 min read)
To start, tell us a little bit about your career path and what led you to where you are today.
In college, I was a government major with a math minor and everybody, including my advisor, asked me what I really thought I’d do with this odd combination. And, although I agreed that it was an unconventional mix of studies and I didn’t know where it would lead, I assured them I was committed. And as I ventured out into the career world, I experimented – a lot. I tried the TV reporter path, then the paralegal path and even a week or so in finance. Eventually, while I was getting my MBA, I had the opportunity to write a business plan for a hospital midwifery program. That project was a career-defining moment – it really combined my different skills and interests. From there I’ve spent time in sales, product management, strategy and, ultimately in overall marketing. For me it has been great – I’m passionate about healthcare and I’ve been fortunate enough to make it my career in a way that combines both my creative and analytic skills.
So where you landed in marketing and what you found you loved happened to be in healthcare; did you always stay in healthcare from then on?
Yes, healthcare is a special market. The work we do ultimately is pointed at improving the care we and our loved ones receive as patients. Interestingly my dad was a hospital CEO so I basically grew up in the business of healthcare. One of the biggest lessons I learned at the dinner table is that it’s really all about people. The art of finding the right people and pairing them with the right projects was often a focus of dinner conversation….yes, right along with the latest school basketball game and homework. This made a big impact on me and my own career journey. The people you work with and the teams you build along the way – I learned from him and that is what it’s all about.
When you look back at your brief stint as a journalist and even your government major, did you ever question your career choice? Did you ever want to switch somewhere along the way?
Yes, for a little while I thought it would be cool to be a press secretary. Honestly. And actually sometimes what I do today is similar to that type of role. I find the stories, wherever they are and put them together to help express our brand.
Whether in those previous roles or even in your current position, what have been your biggest challenges as a leader?
I think that it’s leading change. As a leader there are so many variables here. The overall marketplace is changing, there is not an organization or a department, or a function in the country where staying the same is going to work for terribly long. As a leader I have to make sure I define the right vision for the team and make sure I put the right change management process in place to bring the team along. That is hard. You know, you think you’ve got the right vision but if you forget the change management process it can all fall apart.
Considering this challenge of leading change, who have been the best partners inside these organizations for you during your career?
I’ve found that establishing a great partnership with my colleagues across the business has been incredibly important, including finding those colleagues around me who are supportive, understand the change equation and are not detractors…and of course a boss who is the same. Honestly, though, I think the most critical piece for success, and this is somewhat hard to define, is having really good gut instincts – and listening to your gut. Understanding your gut, pausing to find out why something doesn’t feel right, following your instincts – that is crucial to success as a leader.
What are you most optimistic about?
We’ve talked about the opportunity for technology to have an impact in healthcare for a very long time. Today we’re starting to really see where that might take us. We’re saving patients money on their prescriptions, getting patients to care more expeditiously by automating administrative processes like prior authorizations. There’s a long ways to go but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
I recently read a book by Adam Grant called Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World and it was interesting for me to think about this idea of breaking rules to get things done. What rules have you broken along the way that have led to your success?
Oh wow, breaking rules! (laughs) Well, the rules I broke that mean the most to me were to accommodate being a working mom. About twenty years ago when our daughter was born, I worked part-time for about five years so that I could spend more time with her. I was definitely breaking rules and I continued to advance in my career. In one particular instance there was a new position open with new challenges and I knew I could do the job. I made my case and confidently outlined how I would do the job and do it part-time. Luckily, my boss gave me the chance and it worked out. When I went back to work full-time, I continued to challenge the system to make sure I was present for her. Now that our daughter is in college, we have relocated….this time for my career instead of for my husband’s career. So I think the big lesson here is, you do what’s right for your family and your career and if it means breaking a few rules along the way, so be it.
Okay, one more serious one and then I’d like to hit some fun questions. What is your business legacy, what do you want it to be?
Building great teams who make great things happen that ultimately transform healthcare for the better.
What personal indulgence keeps you balanced?
Ha, not much these days, to be honest! (laughs) Exercise and chocolate, that’s probably it. Seriously though, exercising every day is critical. And chocolate is always great. Maybe the occasional spa visit isn’t so bad either.
What are you reading right now?
Well, for business books, Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. I really love all of her books. For fun, I’m reading A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell about an American woman who established spy networks throughout France during World War II. It’s quite a story.
What do you look forward to every day?
Oh, that’s an easy one – my coffee! (laughs)
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self? Your 30-year-old self?
Stay connected to your family and your friends, really stay connected. Work and life can easily sweep you up. It’s so important to stay grounded and those people from college or whatever part of your life, whoever they are, stay connected to those people.