Navigating the Journey

Ed Hardin helps guide students and young professionals through their potential careers

By Graham Garrison

Everyone wants to play the hero. But every hero needs a guide to navigate the journey.

That’s precisely the role that Ed Hardin, vice president, supply chain, Froedtert Health, has set out to play for many students and young professionals.

For almost 30 years, Hardin has gravitated toward involvement in the lives of young people, whether it be professionally, through education, or community service. “A lot of it stemmed from the fact that quite a few people during my career early on before I turned 30 were really strong mentors. Most of those guys are retired today, but they really left an impression upon me. They reinforced the importance of actively taking people under your wing and helping them along.”

Pay it forward

About 10 years ago, when Hardin began his membership and involvement in AHRMM, he also began to do speaking engagements related to his profession. Over time, as he started to do more of those, he said he got more comfortable. Then about seven years ago, Hardin began formally as an educator, and has taught in a college university setting ever since. He was a guest lecturer for a time, then became an adjunct where he taught full courses. “I’ve enjoyed that work,” he said.

Hardin said he realized pretty quickly that mentoring and coaching could serve others, as well as himself, by just simply learning from young people. “I also realized that it actually became a great source of talent development,” he said. “In my shop, we have probably half of my personnel are under 35.”

Hardin said educating has provided a great opportunity to bring people into healthcare from different focus areas. Many of them, either IT, finance, or supply chain for general industry, get interested in healthcare as a result of the courses. Hardin said he’s hired seven or eight former students in roles where he’s worked. “I have a pretty good affinity for young people, enjoy working with them, and enjoy bringing on talent. My getting involved and practicing this has made it easier over time to get better at it. It’s been rewarding, fun, and energizing – and all because I’ve been intentional and tenacious about it, and I’ve really seen a lot of good outcomes.”

Topics that resonate

Hardin said he has gravitated toward teaching and lecturing on three topics in a general setting – innovation, collaboration and values. “I’ve been very drawn to innovation and unique solutions, as well as collaboration, not just with kind of collaboration within my organization, but also with vendors and other hospital organizations doing things together,” he said. “I believe that resonates with young people. They have a different mindset around innovation, and a different mindset around collaboration and working together.”

Hardin said those under 35 years of age value purpose in their work lives and getting along well with others. “They want to work for organizations with a soul,” he said. “They want to talk about what we can do as a supply chain to not just move product but to do good in this world.”

One of his students has gone on to become a manager for sourcing. Most of them have been entry level roles, but very good, stable roles. Hardin said many young professionals are coming to realize that healthcare is a stable industry with typically not a lot of layoffs like other segments of the economy. A handful of students he would eventually help get hired in healthcare started in another industry before coming back to Hardin. “They got their degree and within a year had reached out and said, ‘You know what, this isn’t working for me. And I think I’d like to come to work in healthcare.’”

Hardin was expected to teach at Marquette University this spring, but he has taken a break. In November 2019 he was diagnosed with stage four cancer, so he continues to receive treatment. “I’ve still got a long journey ahead of me, but the chemo, and the good Lord are doing their thing, and I’m doing pretty well. I’m still able to work. It gives me purpose, and something else to think about. So it’s been a real blessing.”

The value for supply chain

Hardin said bringing young professionals into healthcare positions benefits the individuals and the organizations willing to invest in them. Supply chain teams could benefit from hiring young professionals who perhaps don’t have experience in healthcare but have other skillsets. By and large, supply chain in particular has been plagued by some very “provincial” thinking over the years, he said. “We tend to promote people who have been in positions for long time, who may have only had a healthcare background, and may have only worked in that organization,” he said. “I think diversity is super important. I’m not saying that I’d want to hire everyone from the outside. That’s not it at all. But I think the mix of different skillsets, and experiences, as well as youth, is really good for an organization.”

Hardin said the three departments that he’s managed since he got back into the provider world benefited from transitioning from being very provincial and traditional to recognizing that there’s value in people who may have worked in other industries, and certainly people who are young, and very eager, and capable of working hard. There’s strength in that.


The education doesn’t stop at the end of a course. Hardin said he has traditionally taken on one to two mentees at any given time where he’s worked. Upon joining an organization as the new leader and periodically in his communications with staff, he offers to be a mentor. “Not surprisingly, few take me up on this offer, but that’s perfectly fine,” he said.

It can be hard work. Hardin meets once a month with his mentees. They do all the heavy lifting in terms of finding time on Hardin’s calendar. At the end of each one-hour session, Hardin provides them a bit of homework. A few months into the relationship, Hardin and his mentee mutually agree on a book to jointly read and discuss together. “During our sessions we discuss everything under the sun; much of it professional, but also personal.”

The split between those that work in Hardin’s shop and those in other departments that he mentors is about 50-50, he said. “With those that work within my shop, I get involved to a reasonable degree in identifying and supporting where I believe they can best advance in our organization.”

A boost to collaboration

When young professionals are brought on board, Hardin said organizations will see improvements in collaboration. “By my very nature, I try to play nice in the sandbox, but younger people, I think, are better at it. They see the value in being able to do that. I think they’re less competitive in an unhealthy sense. It’s not that they’re uncompetitive, but they frown upon some of the unhealthy aspects of competition.”

Hardin said he is probably known in the industry for advocating collaboration among stakeholders. He credits that to his work with young people. “A lot of that has been formulated, and developed as a result of just working with young people, and watching them work, and realizing that some of the paradigms that I might have carried going into this industry I put aside, and realized I can probably accomplish a lot more by intentionally, actively playing nicer in the sandbox, and inviting people into that sandbox, so to speak. And I’ve learned a lot of that just simply from working with young people. I think they’re very, very good at that.”

About Froedtert Health

The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin regional health network is a partnership between Froedtert Health and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Its health network includes five hospitals, more than 1,700 physicians and nearly 40 health centers and clinics. The health system operates eastern Wisconsin’s only academic medical center and adult Level I Trauma Center at Froedtert Hospital, Milwaukee. It is an internationally recognized training and research center engaged in thousands of clinical trials and studies.