No joke: Stand-up act aids engineering alum in role as GHX CEO

Calendar Icon Feb 11, 2021      Person Bust Icon By College of Engineering     RSS Feed  RSS Submit a Story

Did you hear the one about the engineer who was also a comedian? It turns out the jokes were funny, but the lifestyle was no laughing matter.

“I was working in Cedar Rapids (Iowa) one time with two other comedians,” recalled Bruce Johnson, president and CEO of Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX). “There were three of us doing a show at a club and the Chippendales were coming on after us. The entire audience was made up of women and they paid very little attention to us. It was so bad, the last guy to perform – the headliner so to speak, came out and did his entire act without a shirt.”

Those were the early days of a professional standup career for Johnson, who graduated from the College of Engineering in 1988 with a degree in electrical engineering. Not only did he embark on an engineering job with General Electric (GE) Healthcare after college, he also spent many nights honing his impressions and telling jokes as a stand-up comic.

“Engineering creates a great foundation for problem-solving,” said Johnson, who grew up in Blair, Nebraska, just north of Omaha. “You can use that foundation to explore many career paths. You don’t necessarily need to know exactly what you want to do right after graduation – the important thing to remember is that you’re building up your knowledge base.”

Following high school, Johnson was intrigued by majoring in electrical engineering “because the technology was exciting” and he was interested in the prospect of solving complex challenges.

“I was fortunate enough to do a co-op (a co-operative education program) at Rockwell International,” Johnson explained. “It had a huge impact on me.”

So did his burgeoning stand-up career. To help pay for college, Johnson and four of his friends would perform at Duffy’s in Lincoln on Monday nights. He says the stand-up routines included skits and improv performances, too.

“For me it was a huge game-changer, getting out in front of people, trying my material on an audience and making people laugh,” said Johnson, who missed his own college graduation ceremony to do a comedy set at a place called Comedy Works, which used to be in Lincoln. “I had a lot of material about my parents in those days. They came to the show that night, in lieu of my graduation, so I must not have thought things through.”

Whether his parents were offended or upset, Johnson doesn’t remember but he does recall how supportive they were of his professional career in stand-up comedy which took him all over the country.

“I was moving around with GE’s training program and was on the road for almost two years,” Johnson added. “I was doing shows five out of seven nights a week on top of my day-to-day job during that time.”

To some, the life of a comic trying to make it big has a touch of romantism to it as the performer who’s doing what he loves takes his lumps until the big break comes but it’s not always glamorous.

“When your agent signs you for a gig it doesn’t mean you’ll always be working a comedy club or an ideal entertainment venue,” said Johnson, who described a job that took him to a small Wisconsin town. “This one time, towards the end of my career, I was working outside of Milwaukee at a pool hall bar near the Illinois-Wisconsin border and the guy in charge hands me the mic and says, ‘why don’t you just go and stand over there,’ and he points to a place between some pool tables and the bathrooms.”

What became comedy’s loss was GE Healthcare’s gain. The company, where he had worked since graduating from college in 1988, now had Johnson’s full attention. He quickly moved up the ranks in a variety of management roles in sales and in marketing during a decorated 12-year career. He eventually left GE Healthcare in 2000 to become a founding member of GHX, playing a crucial role in the development of the leading healthcare trading partner network that securely connects those who buy, sell and use products needed to deliver patient care in North America and Europe.

Johnson is proud to lead a company that has helped healthcare organizations remove billions of dollars of wasteful spend during the past two decades. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created ample challenges for healthcare, GHX used the strength of its network and vast repository of data to help the industry solve for some of the most pressing issues today such as vetting suppliers, identifying product alternatives in the event of shortages or backorders, forecasting demand, minimizing risk and bolstering financial recovery. Johnson believes that GHX’s solutions have never been more mission critical as the pandemic exposed critical fissures in the global healthcare supply chain.

“More than $120 billion worth of medical and surgical supply purchasing flow through our system and we work with hospitals representing more than 80 percent of all licensed beds in the U.S.,” he said. “We do everything we can to create greater transparency to help build a more resilient supply chain, making it more convenient and less expensive for the health care industry to share resources and improve patient outcomes.”

In addition to his leadership of GHX, Johnson makes time to play an active role in the local Denver philanthropic community. He is current chairman of A Precious Child’s Board of Trustees and as an active board member for Colorado UpLift and the Broomfield Community Foundation. He was also named a “Corporate Citizen of the Year” by the Denver Business Journal and is an Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” award recipient.

“Being adaptable is a very valuable skill which comedy first taught me,” added Johnson, who resides in Broomfield, Colorado with his wife, Maura. The couple has two daughters, one who started her college career at Colorado State this fall, and the oldest daughter who recently graduated from Southern Methodist University. “The more experiences you create for yourself, the better off you are both as a person and as an engineer.”

Submit a Story