When Joseph Hawes ’88, MBA ’94, hired KaLynn Gates ’11, JD ’14, he knew he had found an energetic self-starter.
They met at a dry cleaner. The CEO of Hawes Financial Group recognized Gates from her presentation at the University of Oregon New Venture Championship (NVC) and offered to connect her with his legal team. The first-generation college student from Lebanon, Oregon followed up and got the job which ultimately led to her heading up HealthFirst Financial, which was acquired by AccessOne in May for an undisclosed sum.
Hawes couldn’t have imagined back then that he would soon be handing over one of his biggest ventures for Gates to run. And with his guidance, run she did, ushering in $10 million in revenue and growing for the software-enabled service provider of patient financing programs to healthcare organizations. Likewise, four years ago, Gates hadn’t imagined she would be returning to NVC, judging, alongside her boss and mentor, the same competition she took part in as a student.
The mentor/protégé relationship is a powerful force that can catalyze maximum career advancement for the protégé, satisfaction for the mentor, and inspiration for both. When a connection works, the personal and professional growth is near limitless. So it was when Hawes, also a member of the Lundquist College Board of Advisors, recognized Gates as a standout performer he wanted on his team.
“Businesses are only as good as the people who run them,” said Hawes. “It needs to be about the business for everyone to be successful, both from the investor/inventor to the managers. I recognized KaLynn’s ability to provide value early on.”
And as a manager, you have to be willing to step in and do whatever tasks need to be done, he said.
“You need to continually evaluate your staff and find the heroes and exit the headaches. A big part of KaLynn’s leadership has been her ability to find people’s strengths and well-organize her team.”
When it was time to spin-off HealthFirst, Hawes said he and Gates both learned a lot from the project.
“KaLynn learned the obstacles associated with a growth business while I learned where my larger business had become too bureaucratic,” he said.
Gates said the pair’s success was built on a shared foundation of loyalty to the mission.
“We both knew, even if we disagreed, that our convictions were rooted in what was best to meet HealthFirst’s goals,” she said. “This is what allowed us to move quickly while knocking down unnecessary bureaucracy.”
“It has been fun to watch KaLynn grow the company,” Hawes added. “It was just over $10 million in revenue and she was starting to feel many of the management hurdles that occur at that level. For me, I have a lot of fun with the ‘I told you so’ comments.”
Good natured kidding aside, both believe respect is the foundation of their relationship.
“Although she probably knows more about patient financing options at this point better than I,” Hawes said, “She is still respectful of my opinions, and she always works in the best interest of the shareholders. I feel very fortunate that I found KaLynn to run HealthFirst, and am hopeful that I will find others with her integrity and sinew in the future.”
Gates feels similarly fortunate for Hawes’s guidance, honesty, and commitment to excellence.
“Joe is a great mentor to me as he is a great match for my highly competitive and assertive personality,” she said. “We have a collective mission to aid in resolving the healthcare affordability crisis and the expectations we set for each other and the company are high. Joe really pushes me to be my best, take smart risks, and challenge the status quo. Although the company has since been acquired I know Joe will continue to be a great mentor and champion for me. His experience and ability to see the big picture transcends the HealthFirst business.”
It’s partnerships like these that have inspired our Oregon MBA Mentor Network. Do you have wisdom to share with an MBA student in a respectful, mutually beneficial relationship? Please contact Oregon MBA Mentor Network program staff member Chris Bennett.
—AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom '05