Health IT

Former athenahealth CEO slams Elliott Management in CNBC interview

“My experience is running a company with a gun to your head is no way to run a company. Better to just say, ‘Pull the trigger,'” Bush said when asked about having an activist investor like Elliott take a stake in his company.

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In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” earlier this week, former athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush criticized Elliott Management, the activist investor that took a stake in the health IT company and eventually bought it with Veritas Capital.

When asked about having an activist investor take a stake in his company, Bush responded in his usual colorful manner: “My experience is running a company with a gun to your head is no way to run a company. Better to just say, ‘Pull the trigger.'”

He went on to say that athenahealth was a “very candid, honest, open company,” but Elliott’s involvement changed the culture. “The death of optimism at athena made it a hard place to run, made it a hard place to sell,” he said.

Elliott took a 9.2 percent stake in the Watertown, Massachusetts company in May 2017, according to CNBC. In May of this year when it made a $6.9 billion offer for athenahealth, Elliott said its stake in the health IT vendor was 8.9 percent. After a lengthy process, athenahealth was eventually sold to Evergreen Coast Capital (Elliott’s Menlo Park affiliate) and Veritas Capital for $5.7 billion last month. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2019.

Athenahealth was also in the news this summer when Bush stepped down from his positions of president, CEO and a member of the board of directors. His June departure came after he admitted to physically attacking his ex-wife and as allegations of his inappropriate behavior at athenahealth were brought into the spotlight.

During the “Squawk on the Street” interview, Bush addressed his past behavior regarding his ex-wife. Without explicitly blaming Elliott, Bush raised his eyebrows at how the Daily Mail found a single accusation in a lot of pages of divorce court documents.

CNBC reported that Elliott has denied it was responsible for the accusations against Bush.

Looking ahead, Bush hopes the company he founded becomes a “secure, reliable, connected tectonic plate that allows liquidity in the healthcare system. I think it has everything it needs to be that as long as it can get the tone back, get the cultural energy back, somewhere where people want to come and get excited.”

Regarding his future plans, Bush was asked whether he plans to run for office. He responded: “I like going where they ain’t and where honorable people aren’t operating. Certainly healthcare IT was one of those places. It could be that politics is becoming one of those places. I don’t know. I know I just want to be of service.”

Update: The last quote in this article has been updated to reflect more of Bush’s commentary.

Photo: Digital Vision., Getty Images