WisBusiness: Top Epic executive sees more growth on the way for health care giant

By Brian E. Clark

For WisBusiness.com

Epic Systems’ Steve Dickmann has this piece of advice for travelers flying out of the Dane County Regional Airport: Don’t leave on Monday afternoons.

That’s because as many as 700 of the medical software company’s employees, fresh from Monday morning meetings, are rushing to fly off to far-flung hospitals and major clinics around the country and globe.

And it’s only going to get worse.

Or better, depending on how you view Epic’s explosive growth and its positive effect on the Madison regional economy.

In a rare public talk, Dickmann, Epic’s chief administrative officer, told a packed Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon in Madison that the company plans has no plans to slow its expansion.

This year, when Epic is forecast to have $1.2 billion in sales, the company will add 1,000 employees; that will bring its total workforce to more than 6,000.

Epic is also adding 1.5 million square feet worth of offices and classrooms to its 800-acre campus outside Verona this year, which will employ 1,500 construction workers throughout the year.

And for 2013 and beyond?

Dickmann, who has been with Epic for 13 years and holds a law degree from UW-Madison, said the company plans to continue refining its software and may eventually add up to 6,000 more employees.

The CAO also said the company – founded in 1979 by CEO Judith Faulkner – has no plans to go public.

“Epic is employee-owned and independent and will stay that way,” explained Dickmann, who called its longevity and independence a “huge competitive advantage.”

“Our customers want us to be around 20-plus years from now,” he said.

That’s not the case with some formerly private companies that have been purchased by public firms, he stated.

He said former competitors changed after they were purchased and were forced to focus on short-term results.

Dickmann said one of Epic’s mottoes is to “ignore golden apples” which might look good but in reality are problematic.

Instead, he said, Epic will remain “fanatically focused on customer success” and deal almost exclusively with large medical groups, children’s hospitals (“because we like children”) and research institutions.

Dickmann said one of the keys to Epic’s success has been developing software for “integrated systems, the holy grail, which eliminates silos of information” and brings all medical data together so it is accessible in one place.

And while the health care industry was slow to go electronic data keeping – something Dickmann experienced in the banking and construction industries – he said Epic thrived because it was able to “anticipate where the puck would [be]” and have products to meet those demands.

The CAO said Epic’s campus has grown rapidly because the company wants to keep all of its employees in one place to facilitate better communication. Before the Verona campus opened, workers were spread around Madison in different offices.

All of Epic’s software is created in Verona, he said, and there are no plans to change that.

Nor does he anticipate any changes to the company’s almost nonexistent advertising, sales and marketing staff. It remains at five, he noted wryly.

Instead, the company will continue to emphasize R&D, which employs a third of its workers. And the support staff, many of whom are clogging the Madison airport on Monday afternoons.

“We install and support our software ourselves,” he said. “We don’t use contract installers.

“And when customers have questions, it’s not like calling Mars,” he quipped. “Every customer has a tech support team that they know intimately and that is available 24/7. They don’t have to deal with a call center that is ‘God knows where.’”

He said another key to success is “keeping promises. The worst thing you can do is not keep promises and it doesn’t matter what kind of business you are in.”

Dickmann said the medical records of between 33 percent to 44 percent of all patients in the United States have now been digitized by the EpicCare system.

And when nearly all records have gone electronic?

“There is still a lot in the health care arena that can be improved with new and better applications,” he said. “We spend a lot on research and development to upgrade our software and our advisory councils are always telling us what they like, dislike and need.

“So we’re nowhere near done.”