Interviewing Carla Corkern, CEO & Chairman of the Board of Talyst

Date June 10, 2010

carla_corkern.jpgCarla Corkern is a mom, first and foremost. She’s also a Girl Scout leader, a passionate advocate for Girl Empowerment, and the CEO of one of Washington’s Best Workplaces.

Carla has almost 20 years of experience in Science and Technology, and is currently Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board at Talyst, Inc. of Bellevue, Washington. Talyst is the leading provider of acute care hospital pharmacy automation software and hardware, and is building innovative systems to service long-term care facilities and correctional institutions. Prior to Talyst, Carla helped build several highly-successful technology companies, most recently as COO at Vykor, Inc. She also served as a key executive for Netegrity of Waltham, Massachusetts and DataChannel, Inc. of Bellevue. Carla founded and ran her own successful Systems Integration company in Dallas, Texas before moving to the Pacific Northwest.

She holds a B.S. in technical communication from Louisiana Tech University, and conducted graduate work at Southern Methodist University.

How did you earn your first dollar?
My father worked for the United States government. He was responsible for designing and building many of the flood control systems throughout the Middle East. When I was 13 years old we lived in Saudi Arabia. I took part in a summer jobs program as a key-punch operator.

What do you appreciate about being over 40?
While on vacation, I don’t feel like I have to do things I don’t really want to. For instance, I can sit by the fire in a lodge and read a good book instead of skiing with everyone else. Oh, wait! I don’t think I’ve been on vacation since I turned 40.

What or who inspired you to get where you are today?
When we lived in Saudi Arabia, my mother started her own business “doing hair” in our kitchen. She had been a beautician before we moved overseas but, when we lived in Saudi Arabia, there were no commercial beauty shops for women. My mom saw the opportunity and built a good business over 4 years. When I started running my own company, mom said “you’re like your Dad – smart about business” but really, I learned almost everything I knew by watching my mom bootstrap her operation. Mom will probably be surprised by this answer because her identity is more of a “wife and mother” than a “business woman.” Seeing her as both really helped me believe I could “have it all.”

What advice do you have for the under 40 crowd?
If you want to start your own business, do it before you know too much. I was 26 years old when I started my first business. I was willing to take a risk because I didn’t have anything to lose.

What do you still have to achieve?
Raise my kids!

What are you passionate about?
Helping people develop to their full potential. My role may vary from a bit part to complete mentorship, but the reward is the same; seeing someone succeed using what they have inside still gives me a real buzz.

How do you balance work and life?
I take all of my obligations seriously and through that I find balance between home and work. I’m an involved mom and wife, I am active in my church, I’m a Girl Scout leader, and I sit on the Board of Trustees for the Seattle Girls School. All of these things really matter to me, so I make the effort to be fully involved and engaged.

What book is on your nightstand?
Ramona, the Brave. I’m reading it to my son. I’m also reading Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs – A Parody. It’s really a social satire and incredibly funny.

What is in your iPod?
Well, my daughter lost it. It was all country music and a ton of NPR podcasts.

What other career would you like to try?
LBO Fund Manager. I’d also like to open a wine bar in ski town USA with Julie Baker. That’s really her dream, but I’d have fun going along for the ride.

What other person would you like to meet — living or dead?
I’d like to meet Barak Obama so I can explain how pharmacy automation can save the United States Medicaid program $10B. And I only need six minutes to do it!

What superpower do you want?
That’s easy – I’d like to be invisible so when I leave the room, I can find out what people really think about my ideas. Unfortunately, once you are CEO, people often agree with you — even when they know better. I try to encourage honesty and discourse with others, but I still sometimes have the sneaking suspicion that they don’t give me as much push back as they should. I heard a “This American Life” podcast on this subject and they said that most people say invisibility!

Favorite movie?
Fight Club. I know that’s totally a “guy” answer but I love the movie.

Guilty pleasure?
I love peanuts in the shell. I like eating them at a place where I can throw the shells on the floor and not worry about it.

What is your favorite quote?
“If you can’t say something nice…” …well, you know the rest of that one. “First, do no harm” is also pretty good, and even “Live long and prosper” has something to it.

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