SOUTH JORDAN Amy Rees Anderson types fast, speaks fast and tells jokes fast.
In a little more than a decade since she started as an entrepreneur, she has raised more than $50 million in capital for various companies.
She's now chief executive officer of South Jordan-based MediConnect Global Inc., which last year ranked No. 311 among the 500 fastest-growing private companies in America, according to Inc. magazine.
Rees Anderson works long hours at her company, whose employees in India and Utah digitize and save medical records. She also balances a family life with her work and is raising two children, ages 15 and 12.
It isn't the life she initially envisioned for herself back when she was attending Brigham Young University.
"I came to BYU to get my 'Mrs.' degree and managed to get that quite quickly," she says. "Typical Utah story."
She was engaged when she was 19, married by the time she was 20, had her first child by age 21, and her second by age 23.
"By the age of 29, I was divorced," she says. "I had two kids and was on my own. It was a scary thing. I had to start over."
And she did: She has gone on to become one of Utah's most notable entrepreneurs. In the past couple of years, she has been recognized as an entrepreneur by Ernst & Young, the Utah Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, vSpring Capital and MountainWest Capital Network. She sits on the board of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, Utah Valley University's Woodbury School of Business board, the University of Utah South's Asia Advisory Board, as well as the University of Utah Technology Commercialization board and the Salt Lake Chamber board.
But her path had inauspicious beginnings.
When Rees Anderson was 24, she had two small children and wanted to work from home. She obtained the license to sell and install scheduling and records software in doctors' offices.
"Her entry into the venture world began in her provincial garage," said Tim Layton, managing partner with Sorenson Capital, at a recent gathering for the MountainWest Capital Network's Entrepreneur of the Year award, which Rees Anderson received. "She started with $23,000 and conviction."
As Rees Anderson sold the software, she became frustrated by its limitations. She tried to acquire the rights to change the software, but was unsuccessful, and then hired computer programmers to
design a new Web-based software program.
She eventually moved from a house filled with programmers at kitchen tables and living room sofas to their own place after raising $12 million a few years later, Layton said.
She sold the company in 2002.
Rees Anderson says she learned about venture capital through the Internet. While she got her first $23,000 from family, the next round came from "e-blasting" anyone and everyone she found on the Internet. Since then, venture capital has come through networking.
Through connections in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom, Rees Anderson met people from all over the world.
"I became friends with a lot of people from there, and they're very good networkers, and the next thing I knew, I was getting calls from people from all over the place, including India."
After a few consultant gigs, Rees Anderson started a medical billing and coding company in India with partner Naveen Trehan, who is based in India. She continued running that company, Globerian Inc., when she was approached by local venture capital firm vSpring to help turn around MediConnect.net, a company that digitized and electronically stored medical records.
"This company had been flat for a long time," she says. "They had built amazing technology, but they just weren't growing, and we had to do something drastically different. We had to cut costs, and we had to increase sales."
To cut costs, she turned to India, where millions of English speakers demand a fraction of the salary of U.S. employees. To increase revenue, she began to promote the company to lawyers involved in mass tort litigation and pharmaceutical litigation.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs to workers in the developing world, but Rees Anderson says that her decision to hire abroad was made to help the company expand.
The money saved on wages overseas was invested "to hire higher paying jobs," she said. "So for me, outsourcing wasn't so much about getting rid of jobs. It was creating more high paying jobs in the U.S., which is, I think, preferable in many ways to the other way around."
In 2007, MediConnect's revenues were more than $35 million. When Rees started in 2006, revenue was $3 million.
A CEO's beginnings
Rees Anderson was born in Portland, Ore., and raised in a family of 10 children. Her father was in the FBI, and the family moved frequently. She's lived in Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, California and Utah. She says that frequent moving taught her to make friends easily.
She describes her parents as hard working and says they instilled that ethic in their children. When she borrowed money from her dad to buy a car in college, he made her sign a notarized loan with compounded interest.
At BYU, she recalls, she was excited about dating, getting married and starting a family. She once enrolled in an economics course at BYU "and decided it started too early in the morning and was interrupting my dating life, so quickly I dropped that," she says with a laugh.
She dropped out of school to help put her husband through college, "and found myself in a situation where I needed to support my family, and I had no idea what to do," she says. "I was the girl who at 17 didn't know how to balance a checkbook."
She found her way through the job selling and installing the software in doctors' offices, which allowed her to stay home with her young children. Then came the divorce, and her path toward founding new companies.
Along the way, Rees Anderson hasn't been afraid of the gender stereotypes imposed upon women. She's even embraced some controversial stereotypes. For instance, she doesn't hesitate to cry, and she flatters men. And she does it with a sense of humor.
Once, during a tough negotiation with a new investor, she recalls feeling frustrated, having hit a brick wall. She called Layton, who is a friend and the founder and managing director of Sorenson Capital, for advice.
As Rees Anderson recalls the conversation, Layton asked her to sit down. "Why?" she asked him.
"Sit down," Layton said. "I have one word for you: Cry."
"I was so offended," Rees Anderson recalls. "I said, 'Tim, you've never treated me like a girl in business before. I can't believe you just told me to cry."'
"I'm not being rude or disrespectful," Layton said. "I'm telling you, cry."
Rees Anderson hung up disappointed, because she had never gotten what she thought was poor advice from him in the past. But she tried it.
"I'm not going to say what happened in my meeting," Rees Anderson says. "That's under confidentiality. All I can say is, the man's a genius."
During the negotiation of an asset Rees Anderson was trying to sell off, she was trying to increase the valuation price and sought advice from another male friend and mentor, who reminded her that "every man in the world believes inherently, 'I can do better than a woman,"' and it was her job to remind him of his belief.
She tried the strategy. "Very strong advice, it has worked very well," she says.
As a busy CEO, Rees Anderson also works to ensure she has time for her family. Rees Anderson was a single mother for eight years before she remarried this past Dec. 31.
Because of the almost 12-hour time difference between Salt Lake City and Delhi, India, the workday in one part of the world is winding down when the workday in the other begins, and MediConnect is a 24-hour business. "Oftentimes, I have to do really late-night calls," she says.
She strictly schedules evenings with her family, and her office knows not to call her then.
"You have to protect your family time, for sure, because otherwise it will get sucked in," she says. "It is hard."
Working mothers need to forgive themselves for not having perfectly clean houses, and they shouldn't compare themselves to stay-at-home mothers, she says. "I don't bake my own bread. I go buy bread and that's OK. God's not going to punish me for buying bread."
Despite the success she's achieved, she says she would prefer that her 12-year-old daughter choose to stay at home with her children, if afforded the choice, when she's an adult.
"I think if you can be home, that's awesome, a great blessing," Rees Anderson says. "If you have to work, if there's a way to do a career from home today, that's one of the things that didn't always exist. And now there's these opportunities. It's hard to be outside the home with kids, because you still have your mom duties when you get home. You have work, and you still have got to do laundry."
When her children were younger, she employed a nanny during the day, and she took care of them at night. She also frequently brought the kids to the office. They had little desks and kiddie telephones and "worked" while their mother worked.
"They're not the typical kids," she says, because they grew up around computers and office technology. She recalls an occasion when her daughter approached her with a piece of paper and said, "I drew a picture for Grandma. I want you to fax it to her because it will get there faster."
And despite wanting a more traditional path for her daughter, Rees Anderson knows that may not happen."My little girl, she's going to be a good little CEO some day," she says. "She learned to command the forces at a very young age, and she was never intimidated by anything, because she just grew up with that. She grew up walking around the office and pointing at what she wanted and getting it from most people. She's very tenacious, I would say, in a good way."