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Silver Anniversary Award winner: Brent Lang

The president and CEO of Vocera Communications learned invaluable life lessons as a swimmer at the University of Michigan

Business was in Brent Lang’s blood from a young age – he relished a game of Monopoly more than most of his peers, after all – and those early dreams of success eventually became a reality. Lang learned about leadership and teamwork as a swimmer at the University of Michigan and has since ascended to the role of president and CEO of Vocera Communications.

Vocera is a Silicon Valley communications technology company that creates solutions for mobile workers. The firm provides hospitals with devices seemingly pulled from Star Trek – the company’s communicator badges allow nurses to instantly reach others in the building when time is precious. The technology has transformed how some hospitals approach patient care.

“We hear stories all the time from our hospital customers about how Vocera saved a life because a nurse was able to get help as soon as possible,” Lang said. “This idea that we're saving time, steps and lives is really the cornerstone of what motivates our employees come to work every day.”

In just seven short years, Lang helped transform a startup with only 12 employees into a publicly-traded corporation with more than 400. This is due in large part, he said, to his ability to understand how to assemble a team that has an ideal blend of talents and to trust them to execute his vision. 

Lang adopted that leadership philosophy from his former coach and University of Michigan swimming and diving legend Jon Urbanchek. The International Swimming Hall of Fame inductee gave Lang, originally recruited to swim backstroke, a chance to compete in the 400 freestyle relay race at the national championships. Lang posted one of his fastest times in that race and switched to freestyle permanently.

“[Urbanchek] really became a second father and a mentor,” Lang said. “His whole approach to coaching has been a huge influence on my leadership style and how I run my company today."

Because of the risk a coach took on his athlete, Lang became a four-time NCAA champion and won gold at the 1988 Olympics.  Despite the success, Lang knew he had a slim chance of a career as a professional swimmer and his early passion for business never abated.

“A big part of my style is about believing in people,” Lang said. “I learned from my coach, who took risks on me and stood by me.  That turned me into a big believer that you hire the best people you can, give them the opportunity to excel and then get out of their way."