Irv Lichtenwald profile picture

Irv Lichtenwald

CEO, Medsphere Systems Corporation

What’s the background to the business? Medsphere was originally founded by a couple of medical students. They had done some of their training at one of the VA Medical Centers where they were exposed to the electronic medical record system used throughout the VA.

As the system was built with $8 billion of US taxpayer money, the founders saw an opportunity to build on this technology and deploy it to non-federal hospitals. Medsphere helps make healthcare more affordable by delivering this great electronic medical record system at a price point that any hospital can afford. Our belief is that everybody deserves affordable healthcare and we have come up with a way to deliver the most widely deployed electronic medical record system in the US to any hospital who wants it regardless of that hospital’s budget. Last year, 466,000 Americans died because of hospital errors – it’s actually the 3rd highest cause of deaths in America! Errors in hospitals occur when well-intentioned folks do not have complete information to make decisions. Hospitals that are financially stressed are typically under-staffed, which exacerbates the problem. Having an electronic medical record system in place reduces those errors and makes good clinicians even better. Several years ago, while I was being bored in retirement, I happened to meet up with some investors in Medsphere whom I knew from my work at previous companies and they suggested I consider joining Medsphere. So here I am.

BUSINESS BRIEFING

Business goal for the next 12 months: To continue to grow the company. We are becoming more well-known in our target markets. We are growing organically as well as through acquisitions. We continue to execute on our plan to the benefit of the customers and investors.

Advice you wish you had received: I came to a personal realization when I was in my 20’s that there are 7 billion people on earth and, consequently, the world does not revolve around me. It was a message that I discovered myself, but I wish someone had pointed it out to me in my teens. Although I doubt I would have really understood the implications at the time.

Best business decision: My best decisions have always been around hiring the best people. My job is to hire the best then get out of their way. I have been fortunate to hire great people.

Toughest business decision: I’m not sure about the toughest but the dumbest was retiring early. I have discovered that I need to be needed!

Person most admired: With regard to those currently living, in today’s geo-political environment I most admire Pope Francis. I am not Catholic, nor do I agree with everything he represents or believes, but I am extremely impressed with his leadership style and how he approaches issues. He is refreshing and I admire him for that.

On the domestic front, I have tremendous admiration for US House of Representative John Lewis from Georgia. The dignity with which this man has carried himself over the decades is amazing.

Like most about job: I like and need the social engagement. It keeps me happy.

I also like that I feel good about what we do. For example, I remember a call from one of our client hospitals in a rural area. The hospital was understaffed but doing the best they could to serve their local community. Because they started working with Medsphere, they were able to dramatically improve things financially and clinically for their community. Getting a call from the hospital CEO with joy in his voice saying “thanks” is a great feeling.

Like least about job: To be honest, there’s not much I don’t like about what I do; I like it all. I believe you create own happiness.

I would prefer that the Medsphere team be in one location instead of being a distributed organization. I’m a people person and like to engage. I miss being able to walk down the hall and have that personal connection. But as I mentioned earlier, the world does not revolve around me, so I deal with it. Instead, it just means that I’m on the phone all the time!

Dream job: If I were starting all over again, I would probably want to do Broadway … but I have no talent.

BEHIND THE SUIT

Birthplace: I was born in Fish Point, Michigan. There were 12 houses in my hometown, so I guess you could say I’m a bit of a country bumpkin!

Education: In reality, my primary education comes through ongoing daily life. However, I did receive an undergraduate degree from Saginaw Valley State University and a graduate degree from the University of Chicago. I ended up in San Francisco courtesy of Deloitte.

After two years at Deloitte, I moved into the Silicon Valley tech world. After shepherding two companies to the public markets, in my ignorance, I retired ten years ago. Retirement was boring.

Favorite book: I have 2 favorite books. One is The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Self sacrifice, particularly when written so beautifully, makes me cry.

The second is God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet, MD. It is about the Laguna Honda Hospital here in San Francisco and tells stories about the lives of the underprivileged at the hospital. It really opens your eyes and is a strong reminder of how lucky some of us are. I am such a bleeding heart!

Favorite movie: The 1958 version of Auntie Mame, starring Rosalind Russell. She is just terrific.

Outside of work: I’m a farmer. My spouse and I have a 75-acre farm in Sonoma where we have 700+ fruit trees, olives and vegetables. I love to get my fingers in the dirt every weekend.

Community: I’m a trustee of the San Francisco Ballet.

Family: My spouse, Stephen Ripple, and I have been together for 36 years and were delighted to be able to marry 2 years ago. He makes me very, very happy. I am also very close with my brother and his kids and love being Uncle Irv.