Pioneering Leadership – Dana Sellers’ 2017 Foundation Industry Leader Award
When starting a new business, it’s tough to be successful. Doubly so, to be successful twice.
Dana Sellers, co-founder of Trinity Computing Systems and Encore Health Resources managed just that –building and steering companies that grew alongside the growth of computing technology and helped to transform health and care.
She began her career as a systems engineer for IBM, and eventually struck out on her own by utilizing new technology for the time, the personal computer. “We started a company doing applications for departments in hospitals using the Apple II. We anticipated that IBM would release something, and we would be in a good position where it would be more legitimate technology. So, we started Trinity Computing Systems… We were pioneers, the technology was so new. We didn’t have multiuser access on the file server, we had to basically write that ourselves.”
Trinity Computing Systems would later be acquired by Dupont, then primarily a chemical company. They had an interest expanding their foothold in radiology and saw Trinity’s technology as a way to grow their business. As she began to integrate with Dupont’s leadership, the start-up itch never seemed to fade. The ten years that Dana helped grow Trinity taught her a lot about running a successful business, and eventually Dana would begin to write the next chapter after her time at Dupont. “I spent a little bit of time with Dupont, but I loved the entrepreneurial feel of things. I met Ivo Nelson and wound up joining what ended up becoming Healthlink when it was first being formed. We grew from nothing to over 600 people and were acquired by IBM.”
Even though she returned to IBM in a much different position than early in her career, just like her time at Dupont, she yearned for something more. After what many might argue was a successful career arc, Dana wasn’t through ascending quite yet. After a stint at IBM, Dana would go on to start what would be her most successful point in her career, Encore Health Resources.
Over the course of Dana’s career, CHIME had been a boon for her. It was a conduit for relationship building and a space to nurture great contacts within a rapidly changing industry. Dana summed up her long association with CHIME along the axis of the value created in the interactions between foundation partners and CHIME members. “We are always very loyal with our CIO relationships; we didn’t go over their head or jeopardize them in any way. We valued that relationship and we treated it with a lot of respect. We invested in it…”
CHIME’s focus groups provided Dana with a unique opportunity to field-test her team’s ideas. “We were big users of the focus groups… We really valued that opportunity to test our theories and see if we were going down the right path. One meeting, we came up with this idea, and we hired a guy to lead a new service line. When we went and presented to the focus group what our plans were, the CIOs said “that’s really stupid, we would never buy that”. So, we found a new job for the guy in the company and we shut down that whole idea.”
It’s clear the feedback that Dana and her team received though CHIME’s focus groups helped curb a potentially poor product idea, and likely saved the organization time and ‘face’. She went on to share her thoughts on what a successful focus group entailed: “We got it down to a formula that worked real well for us, we would do introductions around the room… usually no more than one slide on if you don’t know Healthlink or Encore… then we would tell them what our objective for the day was. We (would explain) we were there to get their counsel and we would value it and we would act on it. And I would usually tell the story where we did the focus group and shut down a whole service line that we had hired a guy to start up.”
By telling an important story that demonstrated the impact the next 90 minutes would have on the business trajectory of a firm, Dana gained CIO buy-in in the first few minutes of her focus groups, ensuring the group was more apt to provide honest feedback to her team. After all, no firm wants to prepare and utilize their time for a bunch of nodding heads – unless those nodding heads line up to buy their product after the focus group! The speed at which the focus group participants would feel comfortable having some uncomfortable discussions about Healthlink or Encore’s products needed to be almost instantaneous. Dana’s skills building trust and strong relationships as an entrepreneur certainly helped facilitate strong CHIME focus groups that provided a huge return on investment for her organization.
“One of the dangers of a focus group,” Dana continued, “is you can get one person who dominates the whole conversation and you lose the value, so we would work real hard and use facilitation tools to make sure everyone got to contribute. We would have them break into groups and do a brainstorm.”
Encore Health Resources would go on to become a hugely successful chapter for Dana, and she would eventually retire from Encore’s CEO role in 2017. Shortly after her retirement, in recognition of the lifetime of change Dana brought to the healthcare IT industry, Dana would be nominated for and would receive the Foundation Industry Leader Award from CHIME.
During the worst flooding her long-time hometown of Houston had ever experienced, Dana received dozens of calls from friends and colleagues checking up on her. She was safe and living three hours west in Austin at the time and fielded every call – but one was different. “I got this call from Russ (Branzell, the CEO of CHIME) and thought ‘he’s calling about the floods.’ He told me about this award, and I was just floored because I had no idea really.”
The consulting resources that Dana and her team at Encore had built were a testament to her longtime hunger for entrepreneurial greatness, and their success was a reflection of the trust in the great teams she was able to put together. But often, it’s the small things that go unnoticed and need to be recognized. “I don’t like to put myself forward for thing,” Dana recalled, “but we had a great marketing department (at Encore) that was always looking for opportunities to promote the company and that means sometimes promoting an individual, and nominating them (for an award like the Foundation Leader Award).”
Foundation partners can recognize greatness within their own organizations through CHIME’s award process. Our firms are collaborating with provider members, leading the industry forward in new and innovative ways, and modeling CHIME’s values for healthcare IT firms looking for a space to meet CIOs and build lasting relationships. I hope you’ll consider nominating yourself or a deserving peer for one of CHIME’s many awards. You can read more about them here.
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