In this first part, we'll consider Epic's first two principles:
1. Do not go public.So far, success on both counts. Hooray!
2. Do not be acquired.
Ever since I first saw these principles plastered all over campus, I thought these were odd principles to put in front of the rank and file. Cerner can't write a check to me to buy the company. They'd have to go through Epic's army of lawyers, and Judy Faulkner and Carl Dvorak specifically. Neither of these principles are things that I will ever be in a position to break.
So why include them for all employees? Why not just leave them on a plaque in Judy's office, or as explicit instructions to the decision-making board in the event of Judy's retirement or inability to continue running the company?
Almost all the explanations I can come up with are cynical (surprise!). Those two principles could be included as a roundabout way of implanting the idea that even you, the lowly rank-and-file grunt, might be running the company one day and you WILL be in a situation where you'll have to think on these and make a decision.
It could be a roundabout way of discouraging other companies from even asking about potential buyouts or public stock sales. Epic goes through a lot of employees, and eventually those ex-employees leave Dane County and go to medical or tech organizations throughout the country. Judy knows we're all very intelligent (she's said so on numerous occasions), and she knows we will likely rise in authority in whatever company we find ourselves in. Since we've been implanted with these two principles, we know that when we become the CEO of X, we won't just be able to buy Epic outright. If I owned Epic, after all, there are a few DLGs that my users have been whining about that I'd fast-track for the next major version.
I understand why Judy doesn't want the company to be acquired or to go public, and her reasons are sound. If it were a public company, then decisions would be accountable to a larger, possibly much less informed board. In practice, stockholders care more about dollars than about the company's mission, and I get the impression that Judy truly believes in Epic's mission (the part about providing better healthcare, not the part about galactic domination). Epic wouldn't have as much freedom to take risks or to adapt quickly to industry changes were it beholden to a board of stockholders.
"This company was founded on the principles of not going public and not being acquired," said no business owner, ever. They're good guidelines for the decision-making cadre, but I don't think they're worthy of being principles that the proles have to follow.