Estimated read time: 4 minutes
In 1983, Mike Williams’ career in the oil industry was slowing down. He and his wife were ready for a change and with family in Kansas City, they thought it was the perfect place for a fresh start. After an intense job search, PGI & Associates co-founder Cliff Illig offered Mike a chance to join the new health care IT firm that would become Cerner. Mike turned down a job he’d already accepted at a telecommunications company, loaded the moving truck and started a career that would span decades.
On June 6, 1983, Mike became the 27th associate ever hired at Cerner. In the past three decades, he’s had a front-row seat to the company’s growth and evolution. In celebration of Cerner’s 40th anniversary this month, we talked to Mike about what it was like to work for Cerner when the entire company could fit on one floor of a building, how his career at Cerner has evolved and what he’s excited about for the company’s future.
Mike Williams in 2002 (top) and 2018 (bottom)
Note the plaque behind him at his desk in 2018, celebrating Mike’s 20 years at the company, which was given to him in 2003.
Q: Were you always interested in health care?
A: I have a degree in electronics. So, when I first came to Cerner, this was just a tech job for me. But over time, I learned health care because that’s part of working at Cerner. You can do a lot of different things here; it’s like working at 10 different places, but it’s the same company.
You make connections and learn things along the way. I’ve learned that health care never closes. People don’t realize that health care workers are just like carpenters. They can get a hammer, and if they don’t like that hammer, they can go buy another one. We provide a tool for clinicians – our systems are their hammer and saw. Our clients have options, so we have to hang onto the footprint we have and add a lot of value for them.
Q: How has your Cerner career evolved during the past 36 years?
A: I was the first person at Cerner hired to lead hardware. In fact, I was the first-of-everything for a long time. I’ve done phone and client support on printers, interfaces, systems and terminal servers. I worked in capacity planning, and later I was part of the team that started the consulting practice. Paul Gorup, one of the company’s three co-founders, recruited me to the hosting business in October 2001, and I’ve been here ever since. I love it. One of my biggest projects was working with the consulting team to develop Cerner’s disaster recovery processes. The company honored us with the Cerner Best Innovation award in 2002 for Cerner Hosted Disaster Recovery. After that, I was recognized as the data recovery expert.
I also developed the CernerWorksSM system integration process and represented CernerWorks and Shared Services Engineering for the 2015 Siemens Health Services acquisition. Now, I’m in the security organization focused on the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs projects.
Q: How have you adapted to all the changes you’ve experienced during your career?
A: Cerner has always been an entrepreneurial company. We know that with health care and technology, you can’t drive a stake in the ground. You can’t have double-digit growth and stay the same. Cerner has always pushed the boundaries ─ we’ve never been afraid to say if we’ve made a mistake and we need to call another play. It comes down to whether you can define the problem and attack it. In my career, I’ve learned that things are going to change all the time, but you just have to roll with it. You have to be a self-starter, recognize problems, judge priorities and get questions answered.
“I’ve always believed in Cerner’s vision. If you’ve ever been in the health care system, you know there are problems. Cerner believes in making it better.” – Mike Williams
Q: Having been a part of Cerner’s past, how do you view Cerner’s future?
A: The one constant at Cerner has been growth, both in size and in scale. We had a lot of success customizing Millennium®, our electronic health record, with thousands of clients across the globe.
But now we’re building off our expanding global client base by bringing data, AI and machine learning together to accelerate innovation, empower better outcomes and promote healthier communities. If you’ve ever been in the health care system, you know there are problems. Cerner believes in making health care better. I’ve always believed in the company's vision, and I think our future is bright.
For 40 years, we’ve worked at the intersection of health care and information technology to connect people and systems around the world. Learn more here.