As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Morris Panner.
As CEO of Ambra Health, Morris leads the company on its mission of delivering better care through better technology. Under his leadership, Ambra has been named the top medical image exchange provider by leading healthcare industry analyst, KLAS Research six years running and an Inc. magazine Best Workplace for the last two consecutive years. Before Ambra, Morris built and sold an industry-leading business-process software company, OpenAir, to NetSuite (NYSE:N). Prior to that, he was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. and spent a year fighting narco-terrorism at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia.
Morris is an active voice in the cloud and enterprise software arena, focused on the services and healthcare verticals. He is a frequent speaker and contributor to business, healthcare, and technology publications including Forbes, Washington Post and CNBC. Morris serves on the board for Drug Strategies and SIIA (The Software & Information Industry Association). He has a BA from Yale University and a JD from Harvard University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have always been drawn to public service and trying to make the world a better place. I started my career in law and government, but was drawn to entrepreneurship because of its social impact. Although the two paths seem pretty different, they were unified for me because I was looking for the best way to have an impact. As a digital health entrepreneur, I think I have found the perfect match!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
At one of my first companies, we were trying to find ways to increase engineering throughput and predictability on the product. I met with the head of engineering and suggested an arbitrary target of ten features to work toward. The head of engineering actually walked out of the meeting after that suggestion. I was mystified. After asking him what happened, he informed me that by picking the number ten, I had grossly underestimated the capabilities of the team. I responded that this was just an example for illustration. He and his team could pick any number they wanted. It all worked out and it helped me realize that you have to be very careful in your communication, particularly when you are working across departments with different skills and backgrounds. We went on to work together for many years and I always appreciated the insight this interaction gave me.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There are so many wonderful books, but one recent volume has really caught my attention. It is “Turn the Ship Around” by a retired naval officer, L. David Marquet. He takes over a troubled nuclear submarine and goes from one of the least desirable commands to one of the best. His secret is enabling his team to be accountable for their own decisions. It turns the traditional Navy command and follow model on its ear and really enables everyone to be a leader. That really resonated with me because that is the essence of how emerging companies triumph. Leaders need to empower everyone to be a leader. There is no way you follow your way to innovation. It is a fun read and a great lesson for anyone trying to innovate even in the most traditional of environments.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My son suffered from respiratory problems as a baby and young child. We were blessed to work with the NIH and he is now a varsity swimmer on his high school swim team. I always remember the complexity of sharing information, particularly x-rays and other medical images during his treatment journey. Our business is dedicated to making every patient journey just a little bit easier as they can share and access complex medical data. Our most motivational moments in the company are not the big deal wins (although those are great!), but the stories we get from the field where we have helped someone get a better outcome for themselves or a loved one.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
We believe we are making a difference in the world. A friend once said to me that I was lucky because I had “an ethically meaningful job.” I have adopted that motto. We hope we will be commercially successful, but we all know that will be a derivative of our efforts to improve the world. In the time of COVID, we have had so many impactful customers who have used us to enable field hospitals and vital research, we feel privileged to be doing what we are doing.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have been lucky. Our business moved to a remote footprint with relative ease and we were able to continue to serve our customers and keep our team employed. We know we are lucky to be in that position. We see so many that have been shut out of work and sometimes had to deal with significant illness at the same time. That said, we have had to manage the stress of the unknown and the demands of family members who confronted the illness.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We had a three part strategy, which we are still executing. First, we had to stabilize. That meant, we had to make sure our team was safe. We moved to a virtual environment quickly and put in a lot of support (often just emotional boosts around staying in touch) to keep morale up. We also had to work with customers to ensure that they had what they needed to interact with patients in a more virtual environment. We also had to work on our own business to make sure we were stable.
Second, we decided as an organization to seek to grow and thrive during this difficult time. Our engineering team has never been busier and we are improving the product every day. Our services and support team also booked record results because they were needed on so many telehealth fronts. Our sales and marketing team has been working hard to demonstrate empathy first and then see how we can help. Everyone knows this is a complex business environment, but it is also a time when we could demonstrate true partnership. Our customers appreciate it and we believe we are building relationships for the long term.
Third, we are constantly learning and adjusting. We are a performance-driven organization and we evaluate everything we do on a regular basis. We believe we have the insight and control to drive progress in response to any changes.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Turn off cable news! There is so little real information being communicated in today’s super-heated news cycle. It is so politicized that I find it hard to tell whether what we are seeing is opinion or reporting. Our approach has been to follow those with established credibility and try to look at longer-trends rather than the hyperbolic daily news cycle.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Post-Covid we believe that telehealth will be a more important part of how we deliver healthcare. We had already been seeing more and more virtual approaches in our business and think that trend will accelerate. Virtual care is here to stay which presents a number of opportunities for the healthtech industry.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Humans are resilient and social. We have faced challenges before. Soon this will just be one more medical mystery solved. I hope we take from this that we are all so interconnected that we need to nurture that spirit. Maybe we all come out of this a bit more caring and a bit more capable of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We plan to keep on doing what we are doing now. Healthcare is a mission-driven business and we expect to continue to work with our customers so that we can thrive together. Ambra’s medical image management suite enables large multi-hospital institutions, as well as imaging center networks and small medical groups, to easily access and share medical images with physicians and patients anytime, anywhere — critical capabilities in today’s healthcare industry. We effectively serve as the backbone of medical imaging innovation — a critical component as facilities adapt to the new normal.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Find a mission. Covid put us all on a united effort to make the world safer. There are gaps and entrepreneurs are best positioned to fill those gaps and make a difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
MIke Tyson: “Everyone has a plan, until they get hit.” As an entrepreneur, you have to have a plan, but you better be ready for adversity and then be able to adjust, even under a lot of pressure.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Our work can be followed at Ambra Health, Twitter or LinkedIn.