“There is no try only do” With Alyssa Rapp, CEO of Surgical Solutions
“There is no try only do.” — Yoda. The difference between an entrepreneur and a dreamer is someone who takes the leap. Whether a Chicagoan leaping into Silicon Valley, a freshly minted MBA with no formal wine industry or e-comm or media experience entering all of those categories as a founder/CEO, or a CEO of a PE-backed healthcare company, each of my greatest leaps was one I had never taking before. It harkens back to my days a childhood athlete (gymnast). At some point you have to try that new trick for the first time without a spotter on the uneven parallel bars or without the extra mats for cushioning under the balance beam. In those moments, you have to commit to taking that chance before you even begin it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alyssa Rapp, CEO of Surgical Solutions, Managing Partner of AJR Ventures, and Lecturer-in-Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business, mom to Audrey & Henriette, wife to Hal Morris. After less than six months as an executive in healthcare, Alyssa was named one of Crain’s Chicago “Top 25 Notable Women in Health Care” (see it here)
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always anticipated that a career move would be what ultimate brought my husband, Hal Morris, and me back to our shared home bases of the Chicagoland area from Silicon Valley. Instead, the ultimate impetus ended up being personal. Upon our return in fall of 2017, I was approached by the private equity firm, Sterling Partners, with an entrepreneurial CEO position in a growth-phase company that I decided to take.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Week two on the job, sending a photo of myself in scrubs from the OR with some of our Surgical Solutions technicians to my best friend, an ENT surgeon, who thought she would never live to see the day of me in scrubs given that I could barely handle dissecting a pig with her in middle school.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know how funny it is or simply embarrassing that I did not know that all scopes are cleaned in the Sterling Processing Department of a hospital by our same technicians who also provide minimally invasive support services in the operating room or ambulatory surgery center setting. I guess this was an example in life of “fake it till you make it.” Fortunately, our Chief Clinical Officer was painstakingly generous with his time in getting me up to speed on our first several site visits.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Surgical Solutions provides “white glove” service in a hospital environment, enabling surgeons and nurses to operate at the top of their licenses. One of our team members explained it best: we sing for our supper every day. So, in one of our hospitals, I saw one of our account managers hold out the blue scrubs for a nurse to put on, as if he was helping the nurse put on a ball gown, and almost bowed afterward. Service with a smile, and a bow. In a hospital. Pretty unique and a perfect anecdote on what makes us standout. “Southern hospitality” a customer described it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our Surgical Cost Management Platform (SCMP) is really going to be something. It will not only help Surgical Solutions to uncover our own costs per procedure but allow us to see what the costs/procedure are across our sites, understanding what trendline data might prove insightful for us to share with customers to help them improve their own operational efficiency/throughput.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be yourself. Jettison imposter syndrome. You’re there for a reason.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Demonstrate compassion and care for all team members in the organization and take the time to get to know as many of them as possible in all tiers of the organization as individuals.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I was raised in a family where service is expected. I choose to spend a meaningful amount of time being civically and philanthropically engaged. My greatest areas of focus as the arts (was a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s board of trustees for over a decade), affordable housing (gubernatorial appointee on the Illinois Housing Development Authority Board), early childhood education/mentorship (as a Spark Program national board member), and as an educator (lecturer-in-management, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business).
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
(1) “There is no try only do.” — Yoda
The difference between an entrepreneur and a dreamer is someone who takes the leap. Whether a Chicagoan leaping into Silicon Valley, a freshly minted MBA with no formal wine industry or e-comm or media experience entering all of those categories as a founder/CEO, or a CEO of a PE-backed healthcare company, each of my greatest leaps was one I had never taking before. It harkens back to my days a childhood athlete (gymnast). At some point you have to try that new trick for the first time without a spotter on the uneven parallel bars or without the extra mats for cushioning under the balance beam. In those moments, you have to commit to taking that chance before you even begin it.
(2) “Until it’s the last inning in the 9th inning, keep swinging, as you never know how the game will end. All you can control is your effort.” — my husband (Hal Morris + MLB World Champion, 1990 Cincinnati Reds)
Deals can fall apart in the 11th hour. But matches can also be won in them. Simply put, to quote my Hal, all you can control is your effort. If you give it your 120% and only if you do, will you have a chance of winning.
(3) If you want people to follow you, lead.
Walking into a new industry, in a new city, with new investors and board members to satisfy, and a brand-new team, I had to remember that as much as I was drinking from the firehose, my team was thirsty for clarity on what my vision was for the company. So, I did a few weeks of work with my board chair before officially beginning, came up with a 12- month strategic plan, and presented it to my executive leadership team in week one on the job. While pieces of that puzzle have shifted over time, I showed up with a vision- and the desire to evolve it with the people around me.
(4) Do Something for Yourself Every Day
As a mom, wife, CEO, and more, there are many people whose lives and livelihoods I am directly responsible. I choose to start my day giving myself 45–60 minutes “for me”- which for me is a workout- for others, might be meditation, reading the paper or a great book, watching the news- you name it. But my time for “me” is what shores me up to give the rest of my day to others. Without it, I’d be constantly depleted.
(5) It All Comes Down to Culture
In thinking about the #metoo movement of the past two years, it is unequivocal that what has been missing in so many institutions is leadership with a core value system of respect. In other instances, there is a lack of vision around which teams can coalesce. Or there is inconsistent communication. Or there are lack of goals tied to appropriate incentives. No matter what, we are people, and high performing teams have a divergence of talent and skill sets and a highly functional system of formal and informal channels and modes of communications to continue to move the ball forward. So above and beyond the math (EBITDA), my #1 goal in joining or advising any company at this phase of my career is assessing culture- and/or my ability to impact/change it. If a goal is bigger than you- if we as a team are trying to achieve something bigger than ourselves which positive benefit to society- the hard work should come naturally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”-Winston Churchill
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