Two Women CEO’s from Nashville’s Health IT Scene Share Their Stories: Here’s What We Can Learn From Them

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In a recent panel discussion hosted by Leah Glover Hayes, CEO and Co-Founder of Her Story of Success, Relatient CEO, Michele Perry, and Tammy Hawes, Founder and CEO of Virsys12, shared their stories and fielded questions about how they started their careers, balanced motherhood and career ambition, and how they continue to better themselves. Twenty-five women attended the invite-only event, hosted at The Engine, Fueled by Ankura, to listen to two of Nashville’s Health IT CEO’s talk about, “Running a Company From A Woman’s Perspective”. Below is an overview of their stories, lessons learned, great advice they’ve received along the way, books that have influenced them, and how they embrace self-care.

No time to read? Catch the cliffs notes here.

Michele Perry

Perry is Relatient’s CEO, a role she stepped into in 2017 after almost five years of looking for the right company to take leadership of. Michele says, “I always knew I wanted to be a CEO, but I wasn’t willing to take any CEO opportunity. I wanted to be the CEO of the right company, and as a result I turned down a lot of things.” Originally a math major, Perry later switched her major to Decision Sciences after realizing she had a knack for solving problems, improving processes, and strategy. She started her career at IBM, later leaving to pursue her Masters at Harvard Business School, which she used as a launch pad into leadership roles in marketing and technology. A natural born leader, Michele says, “I’m the oldest of four kids so I got used to being bossy at a young age”. 

“I always knew I wanted to be a CEO, but I wasn’t willing to take any CEO opportunity. I wanted to be the CEO of the right company, and as a result, I turned down a lot of things.”

While making her way through c-suite level roles in companies like GetWellNetwork and Sourcefire as well as holding Advisory and Board Director roles, Michele and her husband, Joe raised two children. When asked about the relationship between executive leadership and motherhood, Michele says that learning to appreciate and lean into the unique traits and needs of her kids prepared her to lead a company in the same way. “Some of your employees need to be pushed, others will need you to slow them down a bit, it isn’t a one size fits all. Learning this about my children really helped me look at the individual needs of each person on my team.” On a lighter note, Michele says that years of organizing kids’ events and trying to coordinate with soccer parents made it easier to be direct about needs and expectations within the organizations she leads. Michele also talked about the women who have opened doors for her along the way and the men who supported her professional pursuits. Getting promoted while she was on maternity leave, Perry says, “I have had a lot of support, mentors, and encouragement from both men and women along the way.” She goes on to say that of every board seat she has held to date, she was referred to the opportunity by a woman who believed she had something of value to offer. To date, Michele has been part of three successful IPO’s and her expertise in fast-growth technology companies continues to be highly sought after.

“Some of your employees need to be pushed, others will need you to slow them down a bit, it isn’t a one size fits all”

Michele says she exposed her kids to her career early, often taking her daughter to meetings when she needed to be both parent and executive at the same time. The most influential book she’s read during her career is Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore and after years of competitive swimming, she still considers laps in the pool her favorite form of self-care. The best advice she’s ever received was, “go slow to go fast”, something she continues to repeat often at Relatient. 

Tammy Hawes 

Hawes is the Founder and CEO of Virsys12, a Salesforce AppExchange and Gold Consulting Partner, focused on healthcare innovation. A big believer in seasons, Hawes says, “I believe women have been sold a story that we can do it all. And we can do it all—just not all at the same time”. Getting her start as a software analyst for Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), Hawes says she too knew early that she wanted to be a CEO at some point, so she worked through Health IT roles, including Director and Vice President, eventually reaching CIO and CTO. Along the way, Hawes says she listened intently and soaked up every lesson in leadership and business acumen she could for use at the right time. Though she wanted to run a company of her own, Hawes chose to table that dream until her kids were grown, believing there would be a right season for such an endeavor later on. And there was—Hawes started Virsys12 in 2011 and has since grown the company to 30 full-time staff members serving healthcare organizations in over 30 states. She talks about the network in Nashville and all the healthcare and business leaders who encouraged her to take a risk and get started and have supported her along the way. 

Hawes is heavily involved in Nashville’s entrepreneurial community, serving as a member of the Nashville Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the Nashville Chapter of the Women Presidents’ Organization. She was selected as a member of the 2016 Nashville Health Care Council’s Fellow Initiative and was one of four “Most Powerful Women in Technology” chosen by the Nashville Post the same year. In addition to other recognitions, Hawes was named a Woman of Influence by the Nashville Business Journal and is a member of the East Tennessee State University’s School of Business and Technology Hall of Fame. 

“I believe women have been sold a story that we can do it all. And we can do it all—just not all at the same time”

Hawes says she tries to serve as her kids’ reality check whenever she can, providing them a peek at the juggling act that executives are tasked with every day. The Lean Startup by Eric Reis and A Daybook of Comfort & Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach have been two of the most influential books she’s read over the years and self-care includes regularly scheduled manicures and massages as well as a cleaning service for her home. Hawes says, “cash is king” is some of the best advice she’s ever been given and has fueled her frugal nature in an effort to preserve cash flow and ensure a strong financial foundation for her company. She encourages other women to be authentic, to embrace who they are, listen intently to others, and think strategically before speaking. 

Leah Glover Hayes

Leah Glover Hayes is the Co-Founder of Her Story of Success, an organization for women business leaders in NashvilleThe breakfast event included women from startups and long-established businesses all over Nashville, including Magpies, Premise Health, Brain Trust, iQuity, and Petra Coach. Hayes, CEO and Co-Founder of Her Story of Success, hosted and moderated the event.

Throughout her career, Hayes has sought roles in businesses and nonprofits where she could fuel growth and make an impact. Inspired to help leaders achieve the next step in their businesses, Leah set out with business partner, Ellen Hoffman in 2017 to start Her Story of Success. More than a podcast, Her Story of Success provides resources and networking opportunities to Nashville women at all levels of their careers, encouraging and equipping them to reach their next milestones. Honest and inspired by her guests, Hayes pulled off an event that was engaging, relevant, and true to her company’s mission. 

Major takeaways from the discussion, “Running a Company From A Woman’s Perspective”:

  • Motherhood doesn’t disqualify women from professional success, rather can deepen leadership skills and offer learnings that transfer to high-level leadership roles. 
  • Age isn’t a disqualifier either. Both Hawes and Hayes started their companies after years of working for other organizations and used lessons they learned during their earlier years to fuel success and avoid common mistakes when they set out on their own.
  • Don’t settle. Not for the wrong opportunity or the wrong season. Both Perry and Hawes spoke of times in which they let go of opportunities because something wasn’t right. Whether it be the wrong company or the wrong timing, forcing a perception of progress towards your personal and professional milestones can derail long-term success and sacrifice excellence in your commitments.
  • Build a strong network. Hawes and Perry both referred to networks of professionals, leaders, and entrepreneurs who opened doors, offered encouragement and discernment, and helped create other connections for them. In turn, they both mentor, connect, and encourage other rising leaders. 
  • Read. Whether by audio book or physical book, read works that inspire and entertain you. Is this self-care or professional development? You decide. 
  • Listen—really listen—to others. Hawes says, “when I’m in a meeting, I try to just listen as much as possible. When I do speak, I want it to be profound—I want it to get their attention. We should use our brains and our strategy to our advantage”.