Gus Malezis, President and CEO of Imprivata, has been at the head of the company since 2016 where he’s focused on creating a sustainable company that’s driven to improve healthcare. While many may be familiar with Imprivata’s solutions (Note: They have 6 million users across 2000 healthcare customers) even more healthcare professionals use Imprivata every day and don’t even realize it. That’s the beauty of a well architected IT solution. When done right, it becomes invisible, but essential to the user.
Achieving this goal is extremely challenging and requires an expert team that has the intellectual curiosity and goal driven approach that Malezis has been building at Imprivata. To learn more about Malezis and his leadership style, I sat down with him to find out about his history and what drives him as CEO of Imprivata. During our broad ranging discussion, I learned seven important principles and lessons Malezis gleaned from his life and career that he’s now using to improve healthcare.
Lesson #1: Be Nimble
In college in Canada, Malezis started studying architecture and then tried psychology and even studied some philosophy. Unfortunately for him, he’d browse pages of jobs and find very few architect positions, but instead found pages and pages of computer science jobs. Considering he was “always a geek”, he saw the opportunity and seized it by entering the world of tech.
This life experience taught him that you always have to be nimble. Life gives what it gives you and you have to be nimble enough to work with the opportunities that present themselves. Malezis found this to be true at Imprivata. When he started with the company, he thought that international expansion would be where Imprivata would see much of its growth, and this aligned well with Malezis’ own international experience and background.
While Imprivata is now in 39 countries, it’s US growth has far surpassed even his expectations. Much of this had to do with the US’s efforts to address the opioid problem using EPCS (Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substance) which requires 2 factor authentication. Imprivata’s fast, convenient, hands free EPCS authentication option was created as a unique fit for what many could see as a cumbersome process. Imprivata was nimble enough to capitalize on this opportunity.
Lesson #2: Listen Very Carefully
Early on in Malezis career, he worked as a tech support agent at a call center. While many customers called in angry and upset, he quickly learned that the best thing he could do to help them was to calm the customer and then assess the situation. Malezis told me, “The customer is always right even if you as an expert – or self-perceived expert – think you know better.” By keeping a cool head and listening to the customer carefully, you can truly assess what’s going wrong for the customer and how you can then help them with their problem.
Beyond just great customer support, Malezis found that by taking this approach he’d actually build a unique trust with the customer. So much so that customers would start calling him directly with tougher and tougher problems because they knew he’d listen and work towards a reasonable solution. This trust allows you to do what Malezis shared is key to success, “Do Your Job. Solve the problem!” That feels a lot like how Malezis approaches things at Imprivata. Listen very carefully to the customer and then do your job and solve their problems.
Lesson #3: A Sustainable Company is Key to Long Term Success
When Malezis started at Imprivata, they had been very successful, but still hadn’t turned the corner on profitability. The promise he made to the team when he started was that “We will become a self-sustaining business.” And Imprivata did so within the first year of Malezis at the helm. Why was this so important?
When Malezis had previously worked at 3Com, within 1.5-2 years at the company, 3Com had a near death experience. His office went from 25 employees down to 3 and then eventually to 2. Malezis says that when he went into the office after this, “You could just smell the energy in the air. You could just feel the dark energy.” With a family of his own, he saw first-hand the impact this had on him and his family. Imprivata was a company full of people like him with families they had to take care of and so it was extremely important for him to apply the lesson he learned early in his career about sustainability to Imprivata.
Lesson #4: Customers Don’t Care About Components, They Care About Solutions to Problems
Malezis career took an interesting turn into sales for organizations like McAfee, nCircle, and Tripwire. This sales experience likely combined with his past tech support experience helped him understand that customers don’t care about components. Customers care about solutions to their problems. Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is not a good approach.
Instead, Malezis learned that he was most successful in sales when he knew the details of the problem and understood when he could be a solution to their problem and when he couldn’t. Malezis suggested that you “Don’t take customer feedback personally” and that “If we think of ourselves as salespeople vs solution providers and problem solvers, that’s the key.” He shared that healthcare customers are overwhelmed with the technology infrastructure they have to support. At Imprivata, they think about how they can reduce the technology burden rather than adding something to the list.
Lesson #5: Knowledge and Curiosity Are a Powerful Combination
One of the core principles Malezis espouses is “Knowledge and curiosity of both the job and the task at hand.” While it’s impossible to know everything, there’s a real power when you combine knowledge and curiosity. Knowing your stuff is powerful, but being curious about when there may be other options or people on your team with more knowledge is even more powerful.
Malezis shared how one of his leadership approaches is to be curious with his team. He warns his team that he’s going to “poke at things.” Why is he looking over their shoulder? It’s not because he’s there to judge. Malezis says that he pokes at things to learn what’s being done because his employees are doing it so well. This curiosity creates knowledge that can better help him run the company.
Lesson #6: Never Compromise on Principles
In our conversation, Malezis covered a lot of the principles they follow at Imprivata. One principle stood out to me and that was being professional and ethical in everything you do. This seemed especially poignant in the current environment we live in. Plus, Malezis was quick to acknowledge that most companies, including Imprivata, are running really fast and really hard and that sometimes it’s easy to ignore some of a company’s principles. Malezis said that “We should never allow that to happen.”
Instead he espoused that we should all be professional and ethical in our actions and continue to raise that ethical bar even higher. He even shared the commonly heard golden rule that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. However, Malezis suggested that this was not enough. We should actually treat others in the best possible way and treat others better tomorrow than we did today. The reality is that we are all impacted by healthcare. Even Malezis has been through his own firsthand healthcare experience with his family. Maybe this is why this principle was so important to Malezis and Imprivata and should be important to each of us.
Lesson #7: The Power of Team
This lesson seems like an obvious one, but Malezis framed it in a powerful way. We all know that the problems we have in healthcare are hard. If they weren’t hard, then they would have been solved long ago. However, Malezis suggested that “If we don’t solve hard problems, we’re probably not going to think very much of what we’ve accomplished.” He further added “How can you accomplish anything of scale, anything that really matters without a team? In order to do that, you can’t just direct and dictate to them. You have to create a clear goal. If you don’t have a goal, you don’t have alignment.”
A great example of this was Imprivata’s efforts to integrate their single sign-on (SSO) solution, Imprivata OneSign, with the cloud. They accomplished this first by integrating OneSign with the Microsoft Azure cloud and then with any cloud application. Turns out that this wasn’t an easy problem to solve. The number of cloud applications and how they handle logins is vast and complex. Solving this problem required a team of people that understood all the nuances of SSO, cloud, and device idiosyncrasies that would allow them to architect a solution.
Looking at these seven lessons, it’s no surprise why Malezis and Imprivata have been successful. When he started at Imprivata he began phase 1 of his effort to provide operational efficiency. That included streamlining processes and using what they had available to them more efficiently. Phase 2 of his work at Imprivata included pulling products together to provide more efficiency for their customers. This included efforts like automating 2 factor authentication and invisibly accessing cloud applications.
What does Phase 3 look like for Malezis and Imprivata? It’s all about the Future of Digital Identity. No doubt this includes challenges like Identity Governance and Identity Anywhere-Anytime-Anyplace. Doctors and nurses are increasingly mobile and want their identity to follow them around. And while Imprivata’s efforts have been and will be predominantly healthcare employee identity, Malezis sees an opportunity in the Patient Identity space as well. While every patient has a number of non-trusted digital identities like name, address, email, etc., what if every patient came into the hospital with a trusted and verified digital identity? That would be valuable to the patient and the healthcare organization. A verified patient identity is similar to how Imprivata creates a trusted physician identity for EPCS today, so watch for it in the future.
There’s little doubt that Malezis has a strong vision for the company and works hard to effectively manage relationships with both his customers and employees. Maybe those psychology and philosophy classes back in college are really paying off. No matter how you look at it, he’s definitely architecting a plan for the future at Imprivata.