Jay Alix grew up surrounded by an unlikely team of experts. That, and a supportive community, gave him a push that turned him into a world-class business leader. Now a member of the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees, he’s sharing his legendary business acumen to help Mayo Clinic educate the next generation of physician-scientists and to transform medicine.
To understand Jay Alix’s desire to give back to education, it’s important to go back to the unlikely time and place where he began his own learning experience — at his family’s Shell service station nestled in Waterbury, Connecticut.
From the time his mother stitched Jay his very own service station uniform at age 4, Jay received business lessons that laid the foundation for everything that would come in his career — and eventually his transformational gift to Mayo Clinic that the organization recognizes by naming the medical school Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.
The Shell service station was more than just pumps — it was a hub of activity harkening back to an earlier time when stations provided full services, from repair to towing, and worked hard to cultivate a regular clientele by solving the customers’ problems.
One of the ways his parents encouraged him to work harder in grammar school was by rewarding Jay with additional hours at the station. He learned all manner of business and life lessons from his father, the mechanics and car dealers, the customers and their families, and more who came through the doors weekly, for years.
At 18, Jay became the youngest person in the Shell dealer training organization to be certified as a Shell dealer. It was a result of what he’d learned: developing expertise, putting customers’ needs first and relying on a team of employees with specialized skills. Jay and his father took pride in Shell’s motto — “Service Is Our Business.”
But one thing Jay wasn’t sure about was what was next in his life. He loved the service station. His vision revolved around a regional network of stations — maybe bigger. He went to the local junior college for an associate degree in marketing and management to further those goals.
“I was happy. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to a university, but my dad said, ‘Why don’t you try it? You can always come back if it doesn’t work out,’” Jay says. “There were two parts to his advice — first, there were no expectations. Second, I could always come back to what I knew and loved. It was encouragement without expectation.”
Still, that didn’t mean Jay was primed or successful in everything that came next. It was perseverance and unwavering values that drove him to eventually become an innovator so visionary that a whole industry sprang up from his work of solving corporate problems and turning around distressed companies.
Jay’s parents and the community of regular customers who watched him grow up encouraged him to broaden his horizon. Jay entered the only school he applied to at the time — the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to Rutgers University, where he earned an MBA and then passed the CPA exam. At the age of 25, just a few years out of college, he founded his own business, Jay Alix, CPA PC, a corporate turnaround firm.
Success followed. The firm evolved into Jay Alix & Associates, and at 31, he turned around Phoenix Steel Corp., the oldest steel company in the country. Soon more national and international brands came calling — Unisys, National Car Rental, Zenith, DirecTV, Ryder Trucks and countless others. His firm eventually became AlixPartners in 2002, and Jay retired as the largest shareholder in 2006.
While growing his own business over 25 years, Jay always sought out mentorship from entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics. In particular, he took a strong interest in and studied Mayo Clinic and other organizations started by a single person or family that later grew into top-flight businesses in different fields, such as finance, law, health care and more.
“I became fascinated in my continuing business education with Mayo Clinic’s model of care, which had thrived for more than 150 years,” Jay says. “It was impactful for me to see the health care analogies and metaphors as I built the architecture of my ‘corporate health care’ businesses.”
Studying Mayo Clinic and modeling parts of his company after it in the 1980s, Jay became even more interested in Mayo Clinic’s success following his first patient care experience in the 1990s.
“In 1994, I went to Mayo Clinic for my first executive physical. I was so impressed and so taken by it,” Jay says. “Now, I go many times a year, not because of a health issue, but because of the people.”
Watching Mayo Clinic, and searching for his main philanthropic mission, Jay saw an opportunity to make a significant impact at Mayo through conversations with former President and CEO John Noseworthy, M.D.
Jay’s advising role and gifts grew over many years, supporting the Mayo Clinic Model of Care, which features unhurried exams and focuses on the highest-quality patient care with comprehensive and efficient evaluation, assessment and treatment. But there was another need — addressing the prohibitive costs young people must bear to receive a medical education.
“We need to ensure more people can choose to go to medical school. We need to make a medical education more affordable for people,” Jay says. “We must lower the cost burden to enter the profession so the best and brightest will choose to become doctors.”
To do so, Jay made a transformational gift to Mayo Clinic of $200 million. He also deepened his time commitment to Mayo Clinic to ensure its long-term success by joining the Board of Trustees. In recognition of the gift, Mayo Clinic named its medical school Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine and recognizes Jay as a Philanthropic Partner.
“It couldn’t be a more satisfying, gratifying, enriching part of my life,” Jay says.
“Mayo Clinic’s unique approach to medical care, education and research changes the outcome for patients and provides hope. This was the inspiration for my own successful business model, and if I can pay that forward and help Mayo Clinic by using my time, abilities and resources, that’s my way to impact millions of lives as part of the Mayo team.”Jay Alix
And that’s a big part of what drew him to supporting education — solving a pressing problem and the need for more doctors by providing a large-scale solution to help educate the next generation of physicians.
Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine is a top 10-ranked national medical school, currently growing to graduate 100 doctors each year by 2021. About one-third of those graduates go on to join Mayo Clinic’s staff, while the rest use the knowledge received through training at Mayo Clinic to enhance other medical practices.
“The next generation of Mayo Clinic’s leaders is being trained now,” Jay says. “They will perpetuate the Mayo Clinic Model of Care and will fulfill the mission to meet the needs of patients first.”
Jay’s philosophy is refreshingly simple.
“I’ve become convinced that the nature and quality of our lives will be determined by the nature and the quality of our relationships,” Jay says. “So, if we form positive, productive relationships with high-quality, high-integrity people, really good human beings, we will likely have a high-quality positive life and we, too, will help them improve the quality of their lives.”
That’s what he sees in the eyes of all the students he meets at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. Jay mentions that one of his greatest joys and a source of inspiration is to hear the students’ own stories of overcoming adversity, because it reminds him of the vital role education played in his own life.
“One of the lessons I’ve learned — the pursuit of happiness isn’t a job; it isn’t climbing a career ladder,” Jay says. “It’s about being productive, intellectually honest and doing things for the greater good. That gives us a stronger sense of self-esteem and self-worth, and purpose, and that’s where we find real satisfaction and ultimate happiness.”
And, when people of integrity have the time and space to think clearly and logically as well as humanistically about issues at hand, Jay believes that’s when even the biggest problems can be solved.
For Jay, it starts with a No. 2 pencil and 3-by-5 notecards and a time management system he learned from an early mentor about 40 years ago.
“The cards are my priority-setting and time management system. It helps clear my mind. The idea is, people make a big effort around a to-do list, but you can only do one thing, one task at a time. Most important achievements are made up of big, complex projects and solving major problems. But if you break complex things down to one item at a time on an index card, it focuses all your attention, and in a physical way it can be accomplished or solved quickly.
“Life is lived in the present, from moment to moment, from task to task. The past is gone, the future is not yet here. By being as present as possible, you can listen carefully and become a positive influence for solving problems.”
Jay’s list of people he admires at Mayo Clinic runs so long that he’s afraid of missing someone, but he acknowledges his friendship with Dr. Noseworthy and Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., Mayo Clinic president and CEO, as well as Mayo Clinic’s internal leadership board and department chairs.
In appreciation, he wanted to do something beyond his $200 million gift that would be innovative for Mayo Clinic’s future leaders. He worked with Dr. Noseworthy, who was president and CEO from 2009 through 2018 — a period of unprecedented growth as well as challenges — to create an endowment.
“One of the things I witnessed in the clinic from leadership is that there are always more great ideas than there are funds for,” Jay says. “By creating an endowed position supporting the CEO this year, it’ll produce a source of funding so President and CEO Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., and all future CEOs can bring about bright ideas that will advance Mayo Clinic as a global institution.”
No matter what the future holds, Jay believes Mayo Clinic’s mission will remain paramount because of the personal commitment and individual dedication of Mayo Clinic’s staff.
“It’s a joy to collaboratively work with Mayo people. They are dedicated, smart, hardworking people; they have personal missions to help heal and cure the world,” Jay says. “When I see people at Mayo Clinic working together, collaborating to discover a solution to a patient’s problem because they’re sick or hurting and they’re healed and they feel better, that’s very inspiring.”
And it’s one thing that won’t ever change.
“Mayo Clinic keeps its eye on what makes it special — patient encounters. Each individual episode of care makes Mayo Clinic the exceptional place it is every day,” Jay says.
“The world is changing rapidly, and that won’t stop. Mayo Clinic will continue to evolve and lead the charge of the change in health care. Mayo Clinic will continue to influence the practice of medicine through doctors, scientists, researchers, students, staff.”Jay Alix
There are opportunities for milestones ahead in Jay’s own life, including several he’s looking forward to with his partner, Una Jackman. He’s taking it all in stride, one day at a time.
“It brings me joy to think that I’ll be a grandparent,” he says, smiling.
Is one of Jay’s or Una’s six children between them expecting a baby?
“Well, not yet,” he chuckles. “But our kids will definitely be reading this.”
Still smiling, he thinks about their impact in his own life.
“Watching them as young adults as they take on life’s challenges makes me so proud. It’s joyful to see their lives continue to unfold as they grow and prosper.”
And with that, Jay reflects on all of his experiences, and how bright the future is to come.
“It’s meaningful and purposeful to see my own life in context, with the abilities and opportunities I was given, and to be able to fulfill the legacy of sacrifices my parents and grandparents made, by making a gift to help students work for the greatest good and help Mayo Clinic,” Jay says.
“And now I see it continuing far into my family’s future because in the end, it’s about how we help each other, and how we help humankind — in all ways.”
This story was originally published in Mayo Clinic Magazine.
The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science includes five schools: