As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Wells, president and CEO, Midmark Corporation.
Jon Wells is the President and CEO for Midmark Corporation. Wells most recently held the position of President and Chief Commercial Officer. As an award-winning senior executive, he has more than 30 years of experience in designing, leading, and implementing a broad range of corporate growth and realignment initiatives.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Before I came to Midmark more than 30 years ago, I began my career in architecture, given my love of building things. Upon graduating from design and architecture school, there was a recession, and the economy wasn’t particularly favorable to young architects entering the field. As a result, I became a project manager, working alongside architects and assisting them in designing and specifying their projects.
At Midmark, this experience translated into creating medical products and solutions to improve the quality of care provided and clinical outcomes achieved. It’s this purpose-driven work that inspires me each day. While my role has evolved at Midmark, I’m still able to apply my love of design and building — whether that’s creating new products, workflows, departments, or businesses.
I’m fortunate that I’m able to marry my architectural degree and the healthcare knowledge I’ve amassed to guide Midmark in its evolution from a traditional equipment manufacturer to a clinical environmental design company, enabling a better healthcare experience.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
At Midmark, we encourage collaboration and an honest sharing of ideas, feedback and assessments. In fact, one of our core values is that we are authentic. We value open and genuine communications and relationships.
I’ve worked at Midmark for more than 30 years. Many of these people aren’t just my colleagues; they are personal friends whose opinions and advice I respect and often seek out. Some of the best conversations I’ve had at this company were around a differing opinion or strategy. Sometimes I would change my thinking. Other times, I’d sway people. Regardless, I always walked away knowing the final decision was much stronger because of the conversation.
But at one of my first meetings as the new CEO, I realized that this healthy dynamic was in danger of changing. The meeting felt different. It was an immediate change. No longer was my opinion just my opinion. It was now a declaration coming from the new CEO. Since that meeting, I continually remind myself just how much weight my opinion now carries. I also encourage people to still engage when they disagree. Sometimes the only way we find the right path forward is by learning through disagreements and healthy discussions.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the earliest experiences in my new role as CEO had to do with dressing for the part. As the CEO of a major healthcare company, I now find myself attending functions and meetings with government officials, industry leaders and presidents of universities and colleges.
I noticed many leaders used pocket squares, so I realized that I should probably consider adding it to my attire. I figured it was as easy as stuffing a handkerchief in the pocket. Boy was I wrong. I had no idea there was an art to it and it took me 30 minutes the first time I included it. I watched a number of videos and ultimately sought help from a Midmark teammate. I’m happy to say that I confidently added a pocket square.
I often use this example to remind myself that sometimes it’s a collection of many small things that make an impact. I can honestly say that I never thought a pocket square was in my future.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Rather than listing names, for me, it’s important I remember I didn’t get here by myself. I’ve been very lucky to have so many people help me along the way. Whether it was giving me a break, offering advice, showing how the best leaders effectively lead, or challenging me when they thought I needed guidance or was capable of accomplishing more. I had people helping me every single day of my career, and I take every opportunity that I can to offer the same to others.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the support that my family has provided. My wife, Suzanne, and my four kids continually support me and remind me of who I am and where I’ve come from. My father fueled my work ethic and business sense. He taught me the value of a dollar. When I was younger, he would often remind me that when you earn a dollar, that means someone else is giving up a dollar, and it’s not taken lightly. You need to offer something of real value to earn that. I encourage everyone at Midmark to approach every existing or potential customer with that in mind. What value are we providing for their dollars?
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It simply makes good business sense for the executive team leading your company, driving business growth and strategy, to reflect your customers and employees. It fosters a better understanding and inclusion of diverse backgrounds, experiences and approaches, which ultimately leads to better decisions and a stronger level of respect and trust from customers and employees.
I’m very proud of the work Midmark has been doing in regard to diversity, equality and inclusion within our company, industries and communities. Work that started long before I became CEO, and to which I’m committed. For instance, Dr. Anne Eiting Klamar was appointed Midmark’s first female president in 2000. In 2003, she became the first female CEO in the company’s history. Currently, half of our board of directors are female.
These achievements, of course, do not mean our job is done. It’s a journey that is filled with many milestones and challenges. It’s always good to celebrate the incremental changes as you work to maintain momentum and identify the next goal.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I truly believe that every company, no matter how large or small, can be a force for change. It’s just a matter of where you focus your efforts. Is it on a global scale, in your communities, or do you work within your industry? Regardless of where you put your focus, it needs to have the full support of the executive team and the CEO. Your employees, partners and customers must know that the company is willing to invest time and resources to effect real, meaningful change.
As a CEO, it’s my job to embody that commitment and ensure it is ingrained into the company culture. We can do this by making sure we have the right leaders in place, encouraging open and honest conversations, and creating a safe space where all voices and experiences are heard, respected and judged on their merits.
And sometimes, it means that I will need to roll up my sleeves and do the hard work necessary to directly affect change. In this way, I hope to model our past CEO and current board chair, Dr. Anne Eiting Klamar. In 2004, she co-founded and chaired Professional Women in Healthcare. This nationwide organization of more than 500 women is dedicated to furthering the careers of women in healthcare through mentoring, education and networking.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Most importantly, CEOs own the culture. They own the tone of what is important to the company and the resulting messaging used throughout the organization. They provide the strategic vision and leadership that will help deliver not only on today’s goals, but those of the next five years.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth I’d like to dispel is that CEOs have all the answers. We don’t. Successful CEOs surround themselves with talented executive teams that not only make great decisions day in and day out, but also set goals and develop strategies. While the CEO is often the face of the company, there are teams of talented people helping ensure the success of the company.
As a CEO, it is my job to empower the executive team, guide and resource their decisions and trust their judgment. At the end of the day, I ultimately own the result of those decisions, but my success and the success of the company are dependent on their success.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I was president of Midmark before becoming CEO. I expected this new role would be an expanded version of my old job, bigger and with a new title. Everyone would continue to see me as Jon Wells, a dedicated teammate at Midmark. I soon realized that it was actually a whole new job that came with a whole new set of expectations that changed how people viewed and approached me.
And understandably, now, when I attend a meeting, the engagement is different. I can no longer be an attendee and expect not to influence a discussion. There is often an expectation that I’m there to decide on a course of action when actually I’m often there to listen. I regularly remind myself of the increased influence my opinion now holds.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think anyone could be an executive or CEO. The difference is whether you would be successful at it or not. Just like everyone is not cut out to be a great pilot, salesperson or athlete. I think we often get too hung up, assuming that a successful CEO or executive must have a specific background or experience or a degree from a particular school. I truly believe that is changing, in some part, as a result of the conversations we are having around diversity, equality and inclusion.
How successful you are as an executive or CEO is often determined by the type of person you are. Do you have a strong work ethic? A high level of dedication? Unwavering confidence in your abilities and instinct? A burning desire to build something for others? Are you a lifelong learner? A great listener who can inspire action? And most importantly, will you not only embrace the wins, but also own the losses?
Sometimes it comes down to being the right executive for the right company at the right time. Before I came to Midmark over 30 years ago, I began my career in architecture. Believe it or not, my architecture degree has significant relevance in my role as a CEO of a healthcare company.
Midmark is currently evolving from a traditional equipment manufacturer to a clinical environmental design company, providing solutions in medical, dental and veterinary practices that enable a better healthcare experience. This transition is based on a core belief that better care begins with a better-designed experience. My architectural degree, combined with the healthcare knowledge I’ve amassed during 30 years at Midmark, gives me a unique perspective and insight.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Trust is essential to creating a great work culture. It provides a strong foundation from which the culture grows and evolves. Employees must trust the company and its leadership team, and CEOs must have trust and faith in their employees.
This means fostering an environment where open and honest discussions can occur, and constructive feedback and disagreements are welcomed. It means, being as transparent as possible when you can be. This earned trust will give the culture the strength to carry the company through times of crisis or difficulty.
At Midmark, this is exactly what has carried us through the difficulty of the COVID-19 pandemic. That level of trust that was shared among our teammates and with the company allowed us to have open and honest conversations about the situation. We shared the good news as well as the bad. We were as transparent as we could possibly be, and we were also empathetic to everyone’s situation. We knew that we were all in this together and we had each other’s back.
And the great thing was that our healthcare customers trusted us and also knew we had their back as well. We made it a priority to be there and offer any support they needed, as well.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At Midmark, we believe that all patients — human and animal — deserve accessible, quality healthcare and are committed to doing our part to make this happen. As the CEO, this is what I live and breathe. For me, it’s also about using my architectural background and experience to bring clarity and focus to how we can help design a better healthcare experience for patients and providers.
This also is exemplified by the company’s strong history of corporate philanthropy at global and local levels. Whether setting up a clinic in Africa, arranging a mission trip or hosting a local charity race, we’ve established a supportive environment for communities. And our teammates are encouraged to participate in causes that are important to them.
Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Your voice will be the loudest in the room, even if you don’t realize it or mean it to be. (I’m no longer Jon Wells offering an opinion. I’m now the CEO of Midmark, providing direction.)
- Your role is to disrupt mediocrity. (I try to always support my team to view opportunities through a 10x perspective, as well as incrementally.)
- Prepare to live in the future. (By nature, most of us are taught to focus on the task at hand. As CEO, I continually have to be thinking years ahead. I have to consider not only what this decision means today, but what it also means for the future of the company.)
- Manage your time wisely. (While I would love to talk to everyone and get invested in every issue or discussion, I know I can’t. I empower and trust my executive team and determine where my attention is most effectively spent.)
- Now more than ever, you really need to rely on your family. (They keep me grounded. After a long day of everyone seeing me as the CEO of Midmark, they remind me that I’m still Jon Wells.)
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My movement would be around the concept of getting back to having healthy disagreements where differing opinions are welcomed, respected and judged on their merits — understanding that civility is not a sign of weakness but rather a mark of maturity. This is more than Midmark, this is dialog in our neighborhoods and society. No one has all the answers, and there are genuine opportunities to create a better society if we sincerely listen and learn from each other
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Always be in a defendable position.” This quote guides the way I approach things in both my personal and professional life. It influences how I interact with people, my behavior, what I say, how I say it, my expectations of others, how I inspire others, etc. If your statements and actions are always coming from a clearly defendable position, trust will naturally grow.
For instance, if we claim Midmark is the only clinical environmental design company that enables a better experience at the point of care, we will defend it.
We show our customers how the design of a clinic and the equipment it contains can significantly impact the effectiveness and safety of any clinical space. We help our customers identify and incorporate patient-centered workflows that increase efficiencies and create an efficient and effective experience.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Bono from the rock band, U2. His music reminds me of all that is good and right in the world. But most importantly, his activism and charity work reminds me that together we can be a positive force for change.