There’s no disputing that Healthcare is a hot sector. These days we see an increasing number of Darden students with healthcare experience and more alumni want to move into the field of management in this interesting, challenging and growing field. One such alumna, Anna Maria Anthony from the Darden Class of 1996, graciously shared her experiences as part of a panel of Healthcare MBAs at Darden last spring and we asked her to share her story as a Career Corner guest blogger. Anna Maria now manages client relationships for athenahealth and her journey to this point highlights many of the concepts and skills needed to successfully navigate an evolving MBA career: the need for resiliency and flexibility in the face of mergers and acquisitions, the power of a strong and well-tended network, a logical progression that aligns with personal interests, and a commitment to continuously apply training and learning to grow deeper skills and knowledge in a field.
I’d always planned on transitioning careers at 40. However, two weeks before my 39th birthday, the fates (read, “the banking crisis”) intervened, and my hand was called a year early. Lehman Brothers collapsed, the DJIA dropped more than 1800 points in a week, and it seemed that U.S. economy came to a complete and abrupt stop. My employer—a $600M IT consultancy– eliminated its entire strategy group. After consulting for about 15 years, I was out of work, and needed to find something quickly in a very bleak job market.
As much as I wanted to think I would now switch careers, I had no idea how to make it a reality—especially on such short notice, and in that climate. First, there was the financial aspect. Stepping back from 15 years in consulting meant starting over in a potentially big way. Not so appealing. Second, my family needed to get new healthcare insurance quickly, as my son had just been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Three, I had no idea where to focus. After Darden, I had joined a boutique strategy consulting firm that was eventually acquired by an IT services firm. During the dot-com boom, I jumped to an Internet strategy firm…acquired by, you guessed it, an IT consulting firm. The firm that had just laid me off was the third IT consultancy I had worked at after being acquired. I had this very odd mix of market research, product strategy, organization strategy and program management experience. I’d been successful in all these roles, enjoyed all of them and had proven myself as the consummate generalist when no one wanted generalists.
The first thing I (in this case “we”) addressed was finding new healthcare insurance. Since my husband was a small business owner, I had always carried the health insurance. The timing turned out to be great—Massachusetts had just launched universal coverage, and he was able to find an affordable plan. Next I called the founder of the last strategy firm I worked at and asked for help; he couldn’t believe I didn’t want to stay in consulting. “What do you want to do?” he asked. “I want a position in marketing at a venture backed firm,” I said. I had made a decision, just like that.
Within three weeks, a company funded by one of the country’s leading venture capitalist firms called me. No joke. (Yes, David has an amazing network). In another three weeks I had a consulting gig at a firm repositioning itself as a provider of healthcare IT (HIT) services. They were “hot,” had great backing, and didn’t require me to relocate. Unfortunately, I hated it. Marketing was not my thing. I didn’t love the culture at this particular company. Going to the same small office every day made me feel claustrophobic.
However, a couple of interesting things happened. Former clients and colleagues started calling me for consulting projects. And I discovered that HIT was really, really interesting– especially given my experience caring for my son. My career transition started in earnest. I decided that I would consult independently until I found a full time position in HIT at a company I loved.
It took four years, and was probably one of the best professional experiences I had. While selling and managing my own work, I improved my sales, negotiating, client management, and yes, marketing skills. Many of my clients understood where I was going, and found ways to connect me to the healthcare sector. To accelerate my ramp up on HIT, I took a class at Harvard, where we evaluated changes in the healthcare sector from multiple stakeholder perspectives. Class readings and discussions offered me an opportunity to develop well-articulated views of the most significant challenges each sector was facing, and their approaches in addressing those challenges. Of course, I focused on issues associated with IT. Ultimately, this research served as the foundation for my employer research. At events hosted by the Mass Technology Council and the Massachusetts Hospital Association I learned how providers were deploying the latest technologies, broadened my network, and increased my ability to speak like a HIT native.
For a couple of years, (yes, years) one of my mentors had been suggesting I look at athenahealth, a provider of cloud-based services and mobile tools for medical groups and health systems. Four years after she initially made the suggestion I took her up on her offer. She introduced me to a former colleague who worked there, and in 2013, I started in account management. Professionally, I’ve never been happier. My search took a while, but making the transition was completely worth it.
Anna Maria’s path from strategy consultant to successful Healthcare IT account executive shows how career transitions require planning, networking and knowledge growth. If you’re in transition, call Alumni Career Services for guidance and resources to support your career journey.