If Royals owner David Glass wanted to talk about selling the team, Cerner co-founder Cliff Illig said he would sit down and listen.
Just before saying that, he gave a resounding “no” when I asked him if he would be interested in buying the Royals. With what is happening now — the Royals in the World Series — he intimated that the team wouldn’t be on the market. And if it were, the price would be sky high.
Glass paid $96 million in 2000 to become the sole owner of the Royals. The value has soared to more than $500 million. Illig smiled at the figure, suggesting that would be quite a price to pay. Add the fact that the Royals are in the Series and you know the value will go up — the big market LA Dodgers sold for $2 billion in 2012.
This exchange with Illig came during and after last Monday’s 40 Years Ago Column Club meeting at the Brio. Illig was the guest speaker. I’ve met a lot of powerful people in my time and Illig ranks up there as one of the most dynamic, intelligent, mesmerizing, personable, forward-thinking persons in my book. Of course, my observation is one of many. He’s a world-wide figure of renown.
I asked the question about buying the Royals after he discussed global meetings among professional soccer owners. Cerner is a principle owner of Sporting Kansas City, a Major League Soccer team, and Illig mentioned that he usually was the only representative at the league meeting with just one professional franchise. So I asked him if he would like to become a multiple owner. That’s when I received that first no.
I interjected that Glass was an absentee owner and that usually didn’t sit well with fans and many civic leaders. Illig shook his head, thought a few seconds and responded, well yes and no, noting, “I think he’s done a good job. I know how difficult it is to run a sports franchise.”
The soccer team has been successful, as well as Cerner, a multi-billion dollar world-wide business that supplies health care information technology solutions, services, devices and hardware. With corporate headquarters in North Kansas City, Cerner has plans to expand the size of its Three Trails office campus in south Kansas City. Cerner now employs 16,000 worldwide, including 10,000 in four office campuses throughout the Kansas City area.
The company was founded by Illig, Neal L. Patterson and Paul N. Gorup in 1979.
Illig, who went to Shawnee Mission East, is a graduate of the University of Kansas with a degree in accounting and business administration. He wants more business action for Kansas City, from new companies to qualified employees. He said the company was looking at innovative ways to develop more business, pointing out Cerner would spend $650 million next year to research and develop prediction and prevention health care formulas. Of course, the costs of medicine and related care are skyrocketing and he believes Cerner’s approach will attack the problem.
How has the Affordable Care Act impacted Cerner’s business? He shot back, “ACA was a gift to Cerner. Every health care entity wants to get into more information and they’ll buy in.”
He also pointed out the program is working and despite its critics, costs are going down. It’s here to stay and will improve dramatically in the coming five years, he noted, as ACA reaches its goals.
He doesn’t see government as a road block to getting things done, singling out the Food and Drug Administration, for example, in protecting blood supplies and pill production.
After Illig’s luncheon talk, Jim Murray, a friend of mine, and I headed for the bar at Brio’s and ordered two Jameson’s on the rocks. As we sipped and enjoyed, we noticed Illig striding down the stairs and heading our way. He wore a blue suit with an open-throated collar dress shirt. He had a ready smile and his full head of salt and pepper hair was neatly in place. “Terrific job,” I said.
He stopped, slipped in between Jim and me and began to discuss the items he had brought up earlier.
A battler of nay-saying and inaction, he backs an Enterprise KC, one that will go out and find jobs and companies. Jim and I looked at each other when he took on the KC Chamber of Commerce. He said the chamber went after jobs and firms in a passive manner, noting, “We need a full-contact plan.” He believes the chamber should be more aggressive and open-minded., indicating it makes mistakes by being so politically centered and becoming derisive in the process. In other words, the focus should be growing and developing more business solutions.
He switched gears and sternly chastised the city for not being any fun. Fun, of course, being the eyes of the beholder. The city needs to create fun to help keep the good young people here instead of going to places like Chicago and to attract others from throughout the country. Young professionals can enjoy making $200,000, he said, but they can make that in salary and have fun, too, in other places. He wants to form a group of people to set up a platform to guide a program to create this fun. He said gray-haired men don’t have the answers for the young people to do just that.
He lamented the shortage of computer-trained young people. He blames the institutions of higher learning for that, saying that they seemed more interested in saving their precious liberal arts curricula instead of producing good students to help the country advance in business.
I asked him if he had talked to Leo Morton, the chancellor at UMKC, and another pretty dynamic guy. Yes, of course, Illig shot back. Morton, he said, is trying to procure funds to set up more classes to train students in computer science and work. But he has been unsuccessful so far because school administrators don’t want to give up liberal arts funding to pay for computer-related classes, plus legislators have been tight with budgets.
He had criticism for bankers and lawyers, too, ones who make money off businesses like Cerner but don’t put back the effort to develop more constant and consistent programs for business expansion.
He’s certainly not a negative person; he just wants to keep Kansas City active and viable. He said he didn’t like hiring 1,800 people in India to do out-sourced work but that Cerner had no other alternative with the lack of qualified computer-related candidates at home. Cerner is expanding at home but he foresees a time when it must go elsewhere. No threat. Just reality.
He talked politics, he talked sports, he talked business. And his knowledge in all was impressive.
During our conversation, two guys walked by and said to Illig, “Still here, huh.”
“I’m just watching these guys have dessert,” he retorted. Witty, too.
After a half hour or so, he said he had to run. I told him that we sure appreciated his stopping by. He said, “I enjoyed it. You are fun guys.”
Hey, our new best friend.