By Jay Gonzales –
Quest to Invest
Sunquest & Hawkins Set Sights on Growth
When the opportunity arrived for Matt Hawkins to take the reins at Sunquest Information Systems, he wasn’t looking for a caretaker job on the way to another merger or acquisition.
Hawkins had just wrapped up a merger at his previous company, Vitera Healthcare Solutions of Tampa, Fla., and he was looking to lead a company that had its sights set on growth and sticking around for awhile.
Harvard-educated and a veteran of the healthcare software industry, Hawkins, as Vitera’s CEO, led the company through a 2013 merger with SuccessEHS Solutions and Greenway Medical Technologies resulting in a company called Greenway Health.
“I started to look for what to do next and I started looking at different companies,” Hawkins said. “I knew quite a bit about Sunquest and knew it was a great company. But I knew it from a distance. I didn’t know it up close.”
Sunquest has been through its own series of acquisitions since it was founded in Tucson by Dr. Sidney Goldblatt. In the latest acquisition in 2012, Roper Technologies, out of Sarasota, Fla., acquired Sunquest for $1.4 billion. Roper is an $8.4 billion company according to its 2014 annual report.
“I wanted to focus on healthcare technology,” Hawkins said, recalling his thought process as he looked for his next opportunity. “As I started to really engage in dialogue with Roper, they shared with me their vision and how excited they were to buy Sunquest – and not just buy it and expect to sell it, but buy it, build it, continue to invest in it, grow it. That’s what got me excited.
“So we really looked in earnest about moving to Tucson,” he said. “My core belief is that to be an effective leader in a business, you actually have to really be engaged at the headquarters of the company. You can’t be one of those folks that flies in a couple of days a week and flies back. So we made the commitment to come to Tucson.”
Hawkins did most of his growing up in Utah and did his undergraduate work at Brigham Young University, so he had some connections to the West. But he hadn’t spent any significant time in Tucson when he arrived with his wife and four kids in May of 2014.
“We’re brand new to Arizona,” he said. “Given the fact I’ve lived in different places, I wanted to know about the quality of the business infrastructure. We wanted to know about the quality of the companies here, the quality of the community. And on a personal level we wanted to know about the quality of the schools, the quality of family-type activities.”
“We just love Tucson,” he said. “This is a great place to raise a family. People are so friendly. Tucson is a hidden gem. Maybe that’s by design. I don’t know yet.”
On the business side, Sunquest and Roper together are following through on what Hawkins was told when he took the president’s job.
On Oct. 26, Roper and Sunquest announced Roper’s agreements to acquire CliniSys Group, one of the largest European suppliers of laboratory information management systems, and Atlas Medical, a leading provider of clinical process and connectivity solutions in the U.S.
In a news release, Roper officials said, “These acquisitions, combined with Sunquest and Data Innovations, expand Roper’s portfolio of companies focused on diagnostic solutions excellence even further, creating a unique breadth of capabilities that support clinical testing processes and connectivity to systems, instruments and providers across the world.”
Hawkins contends that the next 10 years in the healthcare industry will be defined by vast improvements in understanding the human genome and the development of technology to use that knowledge to improve healthcare in the United States and internationally.
He said companies like Sunquest, whose mission is to develop that technology, are poised for huge success if they accept the challenge, open their minds and understand their job is to innovate and compete in a highly competitive industry that is built on “making healthcare smarter and patients safer.” To that end, Sunquest relies on its employees to understand that what they do is help people.
“At the core, software businesses are people businesses,” Hawkins said. “Software businesses are not businesses that rely on conveyor belts and fancy robotics to produce our products. We don’t rely on fleets of planes and ships and trucks to move our equipment, and stores to sell our solutions.
“We value people who don’t give up on the first try, who are curious and stay on a task or a problem until we solve it. We think work and fun should never be mutually exclusive. We value agility and the ability to empower our people to take risks and to take action and move quickly to address opportunity.”
Being in Tucson, finding the right people for Sunquest’s mission is part of the challenge for Hawkins. With Arizona consistently receiving low marks for its education system, Sunquest, like other companies in Tucson, relies on a local and highly educated workforce as the company grows.
“There’s a real opportunity in Tucson,” Hawkins said. “There are some biomedical companies here that are phenomenal. Look at Ventana (Medical Systems) up the road. Look at Cord Blood Registry up the road. Look at Sunquest. We are contributors to this national and international movement for improving healthcare.
“But to attract people to Tucson who are willing to move here and pay taxes and contribute to the local economy, you also have to have good schools. You have to have good infrastructure. Since coming here, I’ve relocated three or four executives to Tucson as well. And I can tell you the first thing they ask me is, ‘How is the education here for kids?’
“I think there’s a real desire to keep Tucson that special place that’s naturalistic in many ways. I think you can do all that and still make investments in infrastructure and in education. I think people will be pleasantly surprised at the ability to stay authentic but to also create jobs. That can do nothing but make Tucson an even better place.”