This Company Culture Literally Saves Lives
Brandon Dewitt was about to die. According to his doctors, he had developed a rare form of cancer with no treatment options available. He was given seven months to live. If that.
The thing is, Mr. Dewitt was not ready to “go gentle into that good night.” In fact, he was much more inclined toward the second half of that poem: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
As the cofounder and chief technology officer at MX, Mr. Dewitt had a superpower at his disposal: a team of intelligent and able-bodied engineers. At their next weekly meeting, founder and CEO, Ryan Caldwell disclosed the details of Mr. Dewitt’s prognosis and created a Dropbox folder containing all of his health data. From there, team members had the information they needed to conduct research on their own.
Starting with Google and Wikipedia, then expanding from there, the team was able to uncover a number of trials that might be a match for Mr. Dewitt’s diagnosis. Several team members worked to aggregate the data coming in from the team, and their executive assistant began calling scientists and doctors to see which clinical trials Mr. Dewitt could get into.
Eventually, the team had created a several part plan, with options A, B, C, and D. Option A, a clinical trial in Boston, didn’t work. Option B, a clinical trial in Seattle, did. During the six weeks Mr. Dewitt participated, engineers from his company spent one-week shifts visiting him, keeping him company during the treatment process. “They were working remotely,” Mr. Dewitt says, “but it was also about ‘how do I help you? how do I encourage your spirit?’”
It’s been three years. Mr. Dewitt still has cancer, but it’s asymptomatic and he has been given far more time than was originally granted. And though there were several health professionals who greatly contributed to his survival, he credits his life to a team of engineers, a bunch of techies who normally write code for a living.
His story is a miracle. But it’s not the only one.
Two years later Mr. Caldwell faced a similar medical emergency. After taking his two-year-old daughter to the emergency room with a routine stomach flu, her heart began to race. Soon after, her heart stopped. Medical professionals performed 47 minutes of CPR before, as a last resort, placing her on life support. She went through three surgeries that day, the final of which was all but guaranteed not to work. When she miraculously made it through the surgery, she was given a two in 1,000 chance of recovery.
But Mr. Caldwell had been through this before. Using the same methods they had used to help Mr. Dewitt, the tech engineers at MX went to work, researching and prioritizing possible paths to recovery while identifying the foremost experts in each relevant field. “We’re creators,” Mr. Dewitt explains. “So we started saying, ‘let’s find the creators who are on the forefront of this technology, who have pushed beyond what is readily acceptable by the status quo? Let’s follow those individuals.’”
Mr. Caldwell’s daughter needed to fly to Germany, the only place where she could receive a highly specialized surgery critical for her recovery. That’s where the plan hit a snag. The LVAD heart pump powering his daughter’s heart was from the US, requiring the US standard 115 volts at 60Hz to operate. But the plane being used to transfer her was from Germany, and it could only supply the German standard 230 volts at 50Hz. The complex medical equipment wouldn’t be able to complete the power transfer necessary to complete the flight.
Mr. Caldwell immediately called up Brandon Murdoch, the IT and networking operations director at MX who had experience with the diverse power requirements typical of data centers. The two spent an entire weekend researching, ordering parts, and running simulations from a hotel room near the hospital. After practicing time and time again, with nary an hour of sleep, the two were finally able to successfully power the heart pump during and after the flight―assuring doctors, both in Utah and in Germany, that everything would work.
Once again, a tech engineer with no medical background saved a life.
These stories are unbelievable. I mean, one story is enough of a miracle, but two? And the tech company Mr. Dewitt and Mr. Caldwell run is not a medical tech company―though they have had offers to start one. MX provides a fintech platform for financial institutions, and yet, this group of engineers proved to be the most salient medical think tank, not once, but twice.
When I told this story to a friend, she mentioned that she couldn’t imagine her coworkers helping her to that extent―and she works in the medical field. “I have a hard enough time trusting my coworker to move my lunch to the fridge when I ask her to. I half expect it will still be sitting on my desk when I get in the next morning.”
Exactly. We’re not talking about family and friends here, we’re talking coworkers. You know, the people who send politically correct emails and rarely discuss what’s really going on in their personal lives? What snag in the fabric of life led a group of tech professionals to save the lives of their coworkers?
Mr. Caldwell shrugs it off. “Anyone will help someone who is dying,” he says.
Perhaps, but that doesn’t suspend my disbelief. But how do you have all of the people who could?
Mr. Dewitt and Mr. Caldwell have many philosophies when it comes to hiring and retaining the perfect team. And they’re very into the whole “cultivating the culture” thing. “One of the things we’re working on this year,” says Mr. Dewitt, “is partnering with therapists who can spend time here, because what we’ve heard from our employees who work alongside us, is that physical health is really important, but so is mental health. And here we provide free tea and drinks and food, what does it really hurt us to step up and ensure people have access to mental health professionals?”
Mr. Caldwell agrees. “The fact that you pass someone in the hallway, and you can see that their back is just killing them, instead of saying, ‘oh I hope you can solve that in your personal life, let’s get back to work,’ we have an actual massage room downstairs. Not because it’s a benefit like a ping-pong table, but because there are real people in this building, that for a certain percentage of the time, are dealing with real-life things.”
Sure, it sounds like an idyllic place to work―I can’t help but think of it is as a sort of modern commune by this point―but plenty of companies provide the same perks. I’ve heard CEOs spout the same philosophies: the values painted on the walls, the cereal bars found in the breakroom, the masseuse downstairs, the notion that they ”take care of their employees.” Yet, I remain convinced that those employees go home at 5 PM every evening without giving a second thought to their coworkers.
MX is different. They have the perks and benefits, sure. But these people are sitting by one another’s bedside during their darkest hours. How many of us could say the same of our coworkers? Or would even want to?
“This is one of our own,” Mr. Caldwell says when discussing Mr. Dewitt’s fatal diagnosis, “This is a great human, and the world will be better off if this human lives a full life. You can’t abandon your values during a desperate time, you have to continue to live them. Even as a company.”
Eventually, I get a hold of Rebecca Moulton, corporate counsel at MX. She asks for the interview questions in advance and I send her two: Is it really as good as they say? And, can you please give me some dirt? I was thinking that the whole thing might be too good to be true and that talking to someone who wasn’t the founder might give me some inside perspective.
Ms. Moulton was in dire straights after she was forced to become a single mother of two. She had a law degree but hadn’t worked in five or six years. Her brother knew Mr. Caldwell and set up an interview. “I was a bit of a disaster that day,” she recalls. “I wasn’t showing up in my power suit with well-thought-out answers. I showed up very much in the state I was in: emotional and hoping someone would take a chance on me.”
They did. “He was able to see that there was room in his company for humanity,” she says. Ms. Moulton has now been with the company for close to eight years and she says that generosity of spirit has never dampened. “One day, I was spent and exhausted and irritable, and one of my colleagues, an executive here, asked what he could do. Sarcasm being my love language I said, ‘If you can build Addison a castle out of candy that would be great.’”
Ms. Moulton’s daughter’s school project was just another task on her already daunting to-do list. Thankfully she wasn’t responsible for it alone. “He called his sixteen-year-old and the next day she showed up to the office with a bag of candy. Addison came in, and they spent the entire afternoon making a castle out of candy.”
Kameron Bascom, facility manager at MX shared a similar story. Attempting a home repair one weekend, he was replacing shingles on his roof when it caved in, causing him to break several of his ribs. When he alerted his coworkers that he wouldn’t be in on Monday, they rallied around him. Five MX employees showed up at his doorstep ready to help him finish his roof.
A Family Affair
Though I’ve worked for many companies, I’ve rarely found myself so supported by my own staff. Even outside of work, good people feel few and far between. How did MX wind up with such high-caliber of coworkers? And with such a high concentration of them, at that?
The answer, at last, came to me in the form of the company’s genesis story. And it’s a good one. Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Dewitt initially met to discuss whether they might merge their irrespective companies. They did, but only after discovering kindred spirits in one another.
“We’re not material people,” Mr. Dewitt says. “On the very first day, we discussed what was most important. Was it that we make a lot of money? No, okay good.’ Eventually, we peeled back the onion to get at ‘you are a human, what is your ethos?’ And that’s where we really resonated.”
Mr. Dewitt moved in with Mr. Caldwell and his family that day. They shared homes, offices, and cars until Mr. Dewitt could have his things shipped out to him six months later. Even then, Mr. Dewitt stayed another six months.
“Is that how you grew up?” I ask. “Were your parents ‘the more the merrier’ type people?”
“Yes actually,” Mr. Dewitt replied. “I had more than a hundred brothers and sisters throughout the formative years in my life.” Mr. Dewitt’s biological parents were foster parents, and they took in as many as 18 children at a time. “It’s kind of weird now that I think about it,” he says. “Because it does get pretty darn close to being a commune. My family was all about share, share, share.”
That, to me, is a story I can wrap my head around because it isn’t about the values a company puts up on their walls or the food they offer in their breakrooms. It’s about the people who go to work there each day. Mr. Dewitt and Mr. Caldwell have created at MX what they saw in each other so long ago: a family. And they will go to bat for that family time and time again. That’s something no recruiting strategy could quantify.
“The biggest thing you could ever hope for as a creator is that when you get into dire straits, you see people respond the way the company has responded,” says Mr. Dewitt. “Even if tomorrow, the worst should be my reality, I’m at peace. Because there are people defending what is good in the world. And they’re going to go on to other companies, and they’re going to keep doing that. And, as best as I can define it, that’s probably something akin to legacy.”
Photos in this piece were shot by Ori Media.