Jonathan Weiss, CEO, HealthEngine

A great leader is humble enough to recognize that they do not (and cannot) do everything well. Leaders must have the confidence to hire people who can fill these gaps, while earning the respect of their colleagues by communicating the company’s vision honestly and passionately. They should never be above doing any job themselves that they would ask others to do.

August 2016

You hold a lot of degrees: two BA’s, an MBA, another Master’s and an MD. Were you always good at school?

My dad was a physician and unfortunately retired due to disability when I was 16. I was a terrible student until eighth grade and so at the time, I think it’s fair to say that my becoming a doctor was not on anyone’s radar. The last quarter of that year I turned it around because my dad promised to buy me a pool table if I got B’s rather than C’s and D’s for just one term. From then on, I never again slacked academically.

Was your goal to establish a healthcare company specifically? Or were you simply pursuing what interested you and seeing where things would lead?

What encouraged me at a very early age to do a joint degree in medicine and business was witnessing physicians like my dad losing ground in the battle with a new healthcare system. They both feared and didn’t understand the “business of medicine.”  At that point I decided that doctors who knew business could prove valuable in combating overreach by financial interests. That stance also allowed me to differentiate myself from peers. I didn’t think about starting a company at that time, but I knew well before college that I would combine business and medicine.

Tell us about the process you went through to develop the skills and knowledge to start HealthEngine.

Other than the joint MD/MBA, my trajectory was completely unplanned. I was fortunate enough to be able to combine a number of advanced degrees which interested me, on scholarships for two of these, and by combining courses efficiently and concurrently, the total time it took to get the four degrees only ended up taking a year and a half longer than if I had done the medical degree on its own. Although certainly unanticipated, every degree I earned ended up being put to use.

At Harvard, I focused on government and economics and only took the four basic science courses required to apply to medical school. Understanding how politics function came in handy when, for my first company, my client ended up being the UK government.

The MBA degree gave me basic understanding and confidence of business and augmented my ability to raise capital. The law degree was useful in having a working knowledge of the arcane aspects of regulatory and contractual issues. I also did an MSC in health economics and policy at Stanford University, which taught me the international healthcare system perspective. That enabled me to understand, for instance, a national or social insurance healthcare system such as the UK’s, as well as the role marketplaces can have in optimizing value-based healthcare. In fact one of my thesis supervisors (who himself pioneered the notion of managed competition in healthcare) had helped Margaret Thatcher in implementing some of the UK’s earlier reforms.

An opportunity came to build a hospital company on the back of groundbreaking government reforms taking place under Tony Blair. Fortunately, I was in a position to seize the opportunity to participate.

How did your business and law degrees interact?

Law defines the bounds within which commercial organizations operate. When one person can singularly navigate both realms simultaneously, many more opportunities present themselves.

What was the best advice you received going into the healthcare industry?

Age and experience often mean rather little.  I’ll almost always bet on someone with a bit of innate talent mixed with confidence, an ethic for working hard, and some innovative perspectives any day of the week.

Also, try to team up with honest and ethical partners. [As an entrepreneur], don’t give up too early, and remember that in the worst case, you probably won’t starve if you fail.

What are the key difference between HealthEngine and its competitors?

The U.S. healthcare system has become needlessly opaque and confusing. Ironically patients and doctors – the very core of why the system exists – are thought of last and, to a large extent, have become totally dis-intermediated by the same stakeholders which should exist only to serve doctors and patients.

As a physician-led and -aligned company, we are the rare organization that actually puts doctors and patients first. We take advantage of the fact that while clinicians are the ones who deliver quality and outcomes on behalf of patients. They actually contribute only around 8-10% of the total cost of care!

HealthEngine leverages this to the advantage of patients and doctors by once again putting the cart behind the horse. We make hospitals and systems compete [to deliver greater value at competitive prices]. Hospitals are the ones driving most of the costs in the system while correlating very little with actual patient outcomes when compared with actual clinical professionals.

What defines a great leader?

A great leader is humble enough to recognize that they do not (and cannot) do everything well. Leaders must have the confidence to hire people who can fill these gaps, while earning the respect of their colleagues by communicating the company’s vision honestly and passionately. They should never be above doing any job themselves that they would ask others to do.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a leader?

I am a multi-tasker who likes to get things done smartly and efficiently. I am always looking for new ways to solve meaningful challenges, wherever they exist. I try never to be above criticism and identify my own flaws in order to continually improve. With that said, I tend to be impatient and demanding, but only because I expect the very best from my team. I don’t necessarily like to manage. Quite often I trust and prefer to stand alongside colleagues on the commercial battlefield. This is a tendency which can often be taken advantage of.

How have you been empowered or inspired by others, and what impact did this make on your leadership style?

I have found empowerment through my family, my mentors, and my own self-confidence. As long as I can remember, I have been driven and determined to help others, which is one of the reasons I wanted to become a doctor. My own leadership style has grown and matured significantly in that I have learned to listen more to others, especially when they disagree!  I also welcome criticism, if given in the right context and where it’s intended to be constructive.

How have you empowered your employees in their work?

I try to set a good example for my colleagues and inspire them to do great work through a willingness to always go into the trenches myself. I do not micromanage my employees. At the same time they know if they don’t have anything to contribute, they will probably not be sticking around for very long.

I believe if people are honest, ethical, and hardworking, we should go out of our way to empower those employees to succeed. We help those individuals find their own “sweet spot” in serving our mission – even if they take a different role from the one for which they were originally hired.

What’s the most valuable lesson you have learned as leader?

It is not about the glory or the prestige of being a CEO. It’s about working toward a common goal, creatively solving a problem in partnership with others. Even where there may be failure the important things is having done one’s very best to make their team and company successful. So many people get caught up in personal recognition or whether the venture won or lost. I want to deliver positive transformation to the healthcare industry and to do so working alongside people I respect and can learn from.

As an entrepreneur and CEO, what do you want to be remembered for most?

I honestly don’t care if I am in a room and nobody knows who I am. That’s not what is important to me. When I can step back and quietly appreciate having created something from nothing, while helping to solve problems and delivering services which better some aspect of people’s lives – that makes me a very happy camper.


Interview By Mariana Krampien & Trinity Liu

Fast Facts

Chicago, IL
Number of individuals with access
Approximately 2.5 million nationwide
Number of clinicians and other providers
Over 1.5 million, every licensed, qualified, or accredited clinician, facility, and ancillary provider across the country
Time in current role
4 years
Prior experiences
- Nations Healthcare
- Premier Health Partners
- Endeavour Health
First job
Cofounder & CEO of Nations Healthcare
Leader you admire most
Abraham Lincoln

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