“Make sure that others get credit for the work that they have done. Since you’re are at the top of the organization, you no longer need to get credit. It will be implied with your organization’s success.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. David Lenihan, Ph.D., J.D., FRSM. Dr. Lenihan is the CEO and co-founder of Tiber Health, a technology company that’s focused on innovating medical school education and helping to solve the global physician shortage.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My journey began with a car accident. At the time of the accident, I was running a successful healthcare services company in the U.K., but after dealing with the injuries, I decided that I wanted to be back home in St. Louis and that I wanted to be a medical educator. So I sold the business in the U.K. and got a job at Washington University in St. Louis doing research.
That decision put me on a really unique path: while I was a medical educator at a great institution like WashU, I found that I had the skillset and the mindset of a CEO. This realization set me up to become an innovator in the education space.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading a company?
I can’t pin it down to a single story because humor is really a big part of the culture that I always work to build.
When I was the Dean of the medical school at Touro University in New York City, I would literally come home all the time and my stomach would hurt so badly from laughing. Some of my professors and I would sit in my office until 5:00 AM and just laugh about what we did in class that day. We’d have to close the door during school hours so that we wouldn’t disturb the students.
When I first started that role, some of the people at school thought that I was intimidating, but when everyone heard me laughing out loud when they were walking past my office, it made me a lot more approachable to the community there.
The whole experience really taught me a lot about building a team, and that humor and comradery are essential to getting everyone comfortable so that we can all align and contribute to a single vision.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We stand out at Tiber Health because of the way in which we use data. When analyzing our data, we discovered that the traditional way of assigning grades in medical school as well as defining excellence was wrong. Our models allow us to accurately predict students’ medical board scores while they are in the middle of their academic program. This exclusive methodology positions us to be the first and only company in the world that can help universities to track and analyze the individual performance of their students. It allows schools to intercede early when students aren’t on track and also to help plan early for the students who are performing well and will have lots of options.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! We’re continuing on with our mission — which is to create and scale a global standard for medical education. This is history changing stuff. We’ll be able to deliver world-class medical education to marginalized populations around the globe that never had access to it before.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I’d say hire the right people, especially at two key roles in your organization:
- The CFO. This job role must be filled by someone who you trust to be both transparent and highly competent. As you’re budgeting across a scaling organization, this person needs to be willing to disagree with you and really be committed to making sure that the company is operating in a financially sustainable way.
- The confidant. This role can have a variety of titles — a Chief of Staff, a VP of Special Projects, etc. — but their ultimate function is to be someone who you can bounce ideas off of and even vent to. He/she should have the skills to help develop these ideas and your vision for the company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There are two: there’s a gentleman in the U.K. who doesn’t know I’m going to speak about him, his name is Max Ward. He gave me the tools and guidance to build my business in the U.K. and he believed in me.
Second, Jay Sexter, who is the VP at Touro; he is my true mentor and the one who I still call when I have a problem. He has shown me how to lead a company and how to successfully manage people. He told me that my job is to make everyone under me better so that they can move on to other jobs. It is one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. It was a powerful piece of advice about how to build a winning team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our entire mission is about improving health outcomes for the most vulnerable communities around the world. The work itself is about bringing good into the world.
The business is set up as a social benefit corporation, which gives me the flexibility to tell my board “this is what we’re going to do for the communities that we serve”.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
- How exciting this all is. To be able to go around the world and build medical schools for communities that never had them before — it’s all very exciting.
- Make sure that others get credit for the work that they have done. Since you’re are at the top of the organization, you no longer need to get credit. It will be implied with your organization’s success.
- Crisis management: how to handle yourself and other people when things hit the fan. In my mind, being able to effectively navigate a crisis is what makes a good leader become a great leader.
- Never lie or exaggerate. If there is bad news, get it out there for everyone to hear. How you position that news is critical, but you want to hear the bad news from your team.
- Learn how to manage the “tug of war” between board members, employees, friends, and family. It’s important to think through your strategy of how you want to manage all of the things that are important to you with increasingly limited time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
In the words of my mentor Jay Sexter: “When someone leaves you to go to a better job, embrace them and wish them well”. Your job as a manager of people is to make those who work for you even better. And you never know: five years down the road, you may cross paths with them again.
Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Former Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon. He was the quarterback on that famous 1985 team that won the Super Bowl. He’s a guy who reached the pinnacle of his profession and he did it his own way on his own terms. He would tackle with the linebackers and run sprints with the safeties — he was willing to work side by side with those who he led. That’s the type of leader who I’d like to be.