Integrity, Awareness, and an Emphasis on Team
An Interview with Nilo Mehrabian, VP Product Management, Change Healthcare
I had the pleasure of speaking with Nilo Mehrabian, VP of Product Management at Change Healthcare. Nilo speaks about how at a young age she learned how to start fresh and keep moving ahead. She shares these life lessons, and why her work is more than a job – it’s about the team you build and how you develop others for their own path forward. (6 min read)
Tell me about your career background and what led you to where you are today.
When I graduated, what we do now in the healthcare industry with healthcare IT, didn’t really exist. My degree at Virginia Tech was in the School of Business, but computer programming wasn’t the same as it is today. It was the onset in the 90s with the takeoff of technology and I actually got lucky to find a job. I was young, 22 or 23, dressed in a suit. That was when you couldn’t wear pants, you had to wear the skirt. (laughs) It was a company that made lab supplies and testing equipment, so I got thrown into the healthcare industry that way. Most of my career I’ve been with a company that ended up being part of McKesson; I moved to Richmond and worked for a company called General Medical – that is the medical-surgical arm of McKesson now. Next I moved to an organization where we did all the drug distribution for clinical trials for anything going to the large cancer centers – that was really the foray into using computers within healthcare. That role provided a lot of experience with healthcare analytics and reporting in general. My career continued to evolve in that specific area with various roles, and now I’m running product management for one of the larger segments of software analytics at Change Healthcare.
Do you think that working for a large company has provided more options to move into new roles?
Absolutely, working for a large company has definitely provided unique career opportunities for me. But it’s also been a continuously changing company through mergers and acquisition and the general strategy for growth. The healthcare IT industry changes continuously as well, there’s been such tremendous change in the market, and our company has thankfully adapted to this change. These combined factors gave me the opportunity to advance more quickly.
How have you changed from when you were a manager for the first time?
In my first role as a manager I didn’t really appreciate that it’s not just a job, it’s really your team that makes you successful. You can’t do it by yourself. Everyone is an individual, everyone has different skill sets, different desires, and different motivations. On top of that they may also have personal challenges, something going on their life outside of work. As a 26-year-old, I had very little insight into that. I remember I had challenges with one person on my team at the time, and her story stays with me to this day. She was dealing with mental health issues and would show up late so I would talk to her about this, but I never realized what was going on outside of work and the personal challenges she had. When you’re managing a big project this kind of situation can impact everyone – it has a ripple effect so you try to fix it. But I didn’t have the experience to recognize she had something else going on in her life. Now I recognize different signs if someone is not performing, and I feel better equipped to help them versus placing any blame on that person. I think I’ve matured as a manager, always assuming the best of people first.
What do you think has been your biggest challenge as a leader?
I’ve learned you need to surround yourself with good people, smart people. The challenge is you have to keep those good people engaged, motivated and give them a pathway for growth. You can only have so many directors, so many VPs, managers, etc., so you have to know how to keep these folks engaged and not have them go to another organization. It’s important to help give them a career path and unique opportunities, even for individual contributors. You have to know what they’re working towards and know how to grow them.
How have your life experiences shaped your career?
I think it has everything to do with perspective and knowing where you came from, what some people have and what others do not. It’s funny to think about it this way, but my kids are first generation Americans. I’m not – I lived in Iran until I was 12. We moved here because of the Iranian Revolution where my parents lost everything, and they had to come here and start all over.
I remember martial law. I remember when you couldn’t go out of the house. I remember when you had limitations. I remember when schools were closed. We used to go to my aunt’s house, and we stayed the night – we couldn’t go home because it was martial law at night. For me growing up, it was typical Iranian parenting: study and get good grades, become a doctor or an engineer, there’s nothing else. (laughs)
Globalization has impacted our world a lot. There are so many different opportunities now than I had when I started out. Now as a woman you want to have a career, but one that’s going to flex the best for your family, and you can find it. I’m so glad that I landed in healthcare because especially as we move up the ladder, I think for women with families you can find that kind of flexibility to have both.
What advice would you give to someone just starting in a leadership role?
Really understand your surroundings – that could be customers, it could be peers, it could be your team. You need to know what’s happening so you’re able to flex and manage to that, and not be self-absorbed. Folks that are starting in leadership have drive – they know it’s not just minimal work, there are larger responsibilities, but you need that awareness to balance out your own ambitions. I think one thing that makes my team right now very strong is that we are truly a team. No one has hidden agendas and it’s always all-hands on deck. When you know what’s going on around you, this is the kind of team you can have.
What rules have you broken along the way that have led to your career success?
I think within the IT industry we sometimes drag on with products that are at the end of their life. They either need a complete overhaul, or we just need to decide as a company to get out of that area altogether. I remember working on a product team on the services side, responsible for delivering the functionality to the customer, but we were not really investing in it. I pushed very hard to move that along because you cannot leave a customer in limbo – you either have to decide yes or no if you’re going to make it work. When you’re in development limbo with minimal investment, you’re almost guaranteed something will go wrong. You’re scrambling to get it done because you don’t want to make the hard decision. Making those decisions isn’t the most popular at the time, but in the long run it’s the right thing to do.
What you want your business Legacy to be?
Integrity. I always try to do the right thing by everyone, to be selfless and think of others. It’s not just about the big house, and money, and having all the material things. It’s about contributing to your team, to your community, your company and having that awareness to always do the right thing. For me it’s always about the people I work with and spending time with them, as much as the work itself.
What personal Indulgence keeps you balanced?
Well this one is really hard right now with social distancing, but I love entertaining. I love having a full house, the more the merrier! (laughs) That is my favorite thing to do, to have large social gatherings and for my friends and family, all of us be together. You will never come to my house where the music is not playing. I’m missing that and ready to get back to those fun gatherings.
What is your favorite place to travel?
I like a place that has culture as well as some fun. I always like going to Mexico – there’s so much culture there, but then you can also go to the beach and relax. I really enjoy history and to walk in the same steps that folks have walked for thousands of years. That’s one of the unfortunate things about not being able to go back to Iran. I experienced it as a child, but I want to go back as an adult, because there’s so much rich history there.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a book about Genghis Khan, and it’s a fabulous book about the culture at that time, his leadership style, and how he was thrown into it. It’s very interesting to read about something historically and then be able to go there and experience it.
Coffee or tea?
Tea, of course! Every morning.
What do you look forward to every day?
I am always a glass-half-full person, so I want to live, to be healthy, to enjoy life and to experience it, every single day.