Epic Systems

Medical software company Epic Systems plans to expand its sprawling campus south into the field pictured above. Two buildings will nestle just south of the larger stand of trees in the middle of the picture, while a third building will sit to the left of the retention pond, between the trees and a mixed-fruit orchard. Epic Lane runs along the bottom of the photo.

Although it's now the largest private sector employer in Dane County with a staff of more than 5,200 — up 900 from last year — Epic Systems prefers to avoid the limelight.

In fact, the company prides itself on never sending out a press release in its 33-year history.

"We are relatively publicity shy," Epic Systems chief administrative officer Steve Dickmann told a rapt audience of about 200 during a meeting Tuesday of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

But as the company projects 2011 sales to hit $1.2 billion — up 45 percent — and construction continues on a new 11,000-seat auditorium at the sprawling Epic campus in Verona, it's harder to keep things quiet.

Last week, the New York Times published a lengthy feature on the electronic medical records company and managed to get a rare interview with and photo of Epic's founder, Judy Faulkner. That story is available here.

"I think the reporter really charmed her," Dickmann joked.

That feature let the rest of the world in on one of the most successful companies ever launched in Wisconsin.

Starting in a rented basement on University Avenue in 1979, Epic has grown into a leading provider of medical record-keeping software. Today, the firm boasts that 38 percent of patients in the U.S are connected to their personal medical records via an Epic Systems product made and serviced right here in the Madison area.

Moreover, at a time when Wisconsin is struggling to create high-paying jobs and fund new business ventures, Epic has managed to go it largely alone, save for local tax incentives. The employee-owned company has financed its own growth without taking on large amounts of debt or selling shares to the public.

All the while, Dickmann says, Epic has remained focused on its simple motto: Do Good, Have Fun, Make Money.

"In the end it's about improving health care," says Dickmann, a West Bend native who worked at Nelson Industries in Stoughton before joining Epic in 1999, where he now oversees development of the 800-acre campus on Verona's west side.

Despite the recession and weak recovery, there appears no end in sight to Epic's growth. The company continues to add employees and says it has room to build another million square feet of space at it current location.

How big is this thing getting? Consider this: It keeps a staff of 70 on its "culinary team" to prepare and serve meals on site.

"Most days we're serving lunch for 2,500 or 3,000 people," says Dickmann.

The company is already known for some of the quirky aspects of its headquarters: a treehouse for staff meetings; a two-story slide for executives to let off steam and individual offices for software writers.

But everything is done with a purpose, Dickmann says, to increase productivity and reduce employee turnover. The software industry is famous for its 50 percent turnover rate but Dickmann says Epic is bucking the trend by picking its staff wisely.

The firm makes about 1,500 hires annually and goes through about 150,000 resumes. The average age of an Epic employee is 29.

"Our recruiting runs the gamut but we have found a lot of good kids coming out of Midwestern colleges," says Dickmann.

If there's a rap against Epic, it's that the company operates in its own universe and hasn't helped to expand Wisconsin's IT footprint.

Part of that is the nature of the electronic medical record business, Dickmann explains. It's a complex field with a limited number of players.

"I'm not sure how easy it would be to start another electronic medical records company," he says.

But Dickmann notes the tremendous impact Epic has made on the broader economy. It counts 1,500 construction workers from JP Cullen and Findorff. Almost all of its employees live in the Madison area, buying housing, shopping at local stores.

The company is also the largest single user of the Dane County Regional Airport and is credited with filling local hotel rooms as customers come to the headquarters to receive training in using the various Epic products.

It's the closest thing to Wisconsin's Microsoft.