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Ep. 57: Cerner Chairman & CEO Brent Shafer

Published on 2/2/2018

Cerner’s new chairman and CEO, Brent Shafer, joined The Cerner Podcast to discuss what led him to a career in health care and what he’s most excited about in his new role. Shafer comes to Cerner following a 12-year career with Phillips and three decades in the industry.

Changing health care for the better

Tell us about yourself and your health care journey.

I’m delighted to be here – it’s a very exciting time. I’m 30 years in the health care industry, and it’s something I’ve always been really passionate about.

My story began in graduate school. Like many people, I was struggling to pay for school and was working a couple jobs. One of the jobs that I had was working in a children’s hospital, and I ended up doing that for about a year. It became a really motivational experience, seeing care delivered to children and families there. That’s something that’s driven me since those times.

Following that, I went to work early in my career for Johnson & Johnson, and while I was there, my wife and I had twins that were born quite early. They were high risk and in the neo-natal intensive care unit for nine weeks, and that was also a life-changing experience. Between those two events, I made up my mind that it was too late to be a doctor, but I really wanted to dedicate my career to improving health care and making a difference. That’s been a huge driver for me and continues to be, and I think at Cerner, we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the world.

What experience have you had with Cerner solutions and services in your career?

Well, I mentioned growing up in the industry and spending 30 years in health care, and I’ve seen Cerner grow through those exact same years. I’ve seen the rapid growth and the solutions that have been delivered to key clients around the United States and even in Europe, and have always admired those. In some cases, with my previous employer, Phillips, we were working with the same clients on solving similar problems and improving health care.

Building on Cerner’s vision

In your new role, you’ll be succeeding CEO Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, who served as interim CEO after Neal’s passing. What has been your experience with our founders, Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig?

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get to know Neal personally. I certainly know him through his legacy and through his influence – he was such a huge character in health care and an icon. I think some elements of his vision – including the whole idea of person-centered health care – were so far ahead of their time. Person-centered care is what everyone is trying to do now, and I think Cerner is very well-positioned to deliver on that before anyone else. From a reputation and vision standpoint, I feel like I understand Neal well.

I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Cliff very well personally over the last couple of months, and he is a dynamic, exciting guy. I can see that between the two of them, there was a magic that helped create this company. They had the ability to form a vision and then to execute and deliver on that vision. It’s really exciting to follow such great leaders, and I’m very proud to be in this position.

Delivering person-centered health care

What opportunities do you see ahead for Cerner?

We’re seeing a lot of change and consolidation in health care. You see this playing out in different ways. One you can’t miss is the consolidation of health care providers. In 2017, I think we saw more mergers and acquisition activity with health care providers than any other year. So, you have consolidation of providers, you’re seeing some unique combinations of providers and insurers taking place and, generally, there’s a shift to providing more value-based care.

I think that creates opportunity for Cerner to help deliver on that promise of better outcomes at lower costs. Because our reach is so broad and we play across that whole spectrum and continuum of care, we’re uniquely positioned to help connect the dots and to really focus on delivering person-centered health care.

What have been your observations so far in your experiences with Cerner associates and culture?

The culture is definitely a very strong one. You can see it’s an innovative, creative, energizing place to work. The associates I’ve gotten the chance to spend time with are filled with energy to move forward, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of the senior leadership in the previous weeks, and they’re a great team with a huge drive to deliver on the vision and the mission. I’m very excited to be here.

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