Episode #5 of the Charged podcast
About the Episode
Misty Hathaway, MIA, is Mass General’s chief marketing officer and senior director for international and specialized services and moved to Boston after 17 years at Mayo Clinic. Major transitions can be hard, but you'll hear her advice on bridging the gap between your past and your future.
About the Guest
Misty Hathaway, MIA, is the chief marketing officer and senior director for international and specialized healthcare services at Mass General. She oversees the strategy and operations for Mass General’s concierge, executive and international practices as well as the hospital’s overall marketing activity.
Misty has 20 years of experience in healthcare delivery strategy, operations and marketing. With a passion for data and analytics, her work has combined the development of sound strategies, creative and effective execution, a strong focus on experience and quantifiable results. She has led innovations in consumer-facing technology applications for healthcare and international business and marketing, leveraging deep understanding of healthcare market research and market dynamics, and substantial experience with global business practices, languages and cultures. She served previously at Mayo Clinic as chair of marketing and operations administrator for the international practice and has also worked in higher education at University of Kentucky and government with the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Misty holds a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University, a BA in Hispanic studies and Spanish from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and spent three years in overseas study. She is fluent in Spanish, French and English and has studied four other languages.
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Q: My guest today is Misty Hathaway. So can you tell us who you are and what you do at Mass General?
A: Sure. Hi, Amy. I’m Misty and I have a couple of roles here. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for the hospital and I also serve as the senior director for what we call International and Specialized Healthcare Services.
Q: What does it mean to be the Chief Marketing Officer?
A: It means to kind of drive forward the market presence of Mass General and to showcase all of the fantastic innovations and care and scientific discovery that’s occurring here.
Q: Full disclosure, I am part of the marketing team. And I know that you were brought in sort of with the goal of transforming a number of different programs. So can you talk about why you were brought in and what you’ve done since you’ve been here?
A: Yeah. My role evolved out of the strategic plan of Mass General of 2013. That was about generating new sources of revenue to fund some of the core initiatives and the core missions of Mass General. Ah, it’s a dual role. One of the is about caring for destination patients, either nationally or international, people who come from a distance, setting up the concierge medicine practice, enhancing our executive health practice—again, all about generating new sources of funding so that we can fund the core initiatives at Mass General’s heart.
Q: So you talked a little bit, alluded to being a healthcare marketer and something that I have found as a healthcare marketer especially, even within the institution—people are often surprised that there is marketing at a hospital. Um, Have you found that? Can you talk a little bit about that?
A: Yeah, very much so. So I think within healthcare and particularly within these venerable, academic medical centers, marketing might even be perceived as a bit distasteful. You know, why do we need to market? That’s kind of cheap and tawdry. People know that we’re outstanding. We publish all the time in the New England Journal. This is Mass General or this is Mayo Clinic, after all. People know who we are.
Q: You don’t need to tell them anything.
A: Right. Exactly. But as the healthcare landscape changes and there is so much consolidation, so much competition, I think it’s increasingly important to be able to tell that story as well as to understand what the marketplace is looking for. Things like you can’t necessarily rest on your laurels with a really outdated patient experience that requires you to make ten different phone calls to schedule a multidisciplinary consult at Mass General.
The market is changing and we as marketers have to be able to persuade our physician and scientific colleagues that they need to adapt. And part of that is about bringing in market insights, understanding what patients in the marketplace and physicians are looking for. But also to tell our story.
Q: So you came here from Mayo--
Q: --Which is a hospital of similar caliber but a very different kind of place. So I’m curious. Are there things that you learned at Mayo that you brought here? Are there new things that you’ve learned in coming here? what has that transition been like?
A: Yeah. That was a, it was a wonderful transition. And Mayo Clinic is a terrific organization. So I learned so much being there. I was there for about 17 years. So I learned healthcare, essentially, at Mayo Clinic. I learned healthcare marketing. I learned healthcare administration. But some of the key things that I brought from Mayo relate to systems engineering and processes. Mayo is a very, very strong and kind of underlying systems that support the organization keep the patient experience consistent, allow the physicians and administrators to do their work without having to think and reinvent the wheel every single time.
So very, very strong in process and systems management. And that’s something that I’ve tried to implement in areas that I’m overseeing here at Mass General. Because I think it does, it does lead to a much more seamless experience for patients when they’re coming here, much more consistency. And it also allows staff to kind of free up that part of their mental energy that’s about figuring out how to do something. It allows for more creativity when you have the basics systematized.
Q: So sort of like how President Obama wore the same outfit.
A: Yeah. My son taught me this term, activation energy, when you have to think about how am I going to do this, this morning. What am I going to put on? What am I going to have for breakfast? And if you can eliminate that activation energy when you know kind of what the process is going to be or what the day is going to look like, it frees you up to be more creative in the other spaces.
Q: Do you feel like that’s been successful here?
A: We’re getting there. We’re getting there. Mass General’s a very different organization. It’s a culture of tremendously innovative and brilliant individuals. The collective IQ here is absolutely off the charts. And we’re not used to doing things as a systematic whole, I don’t think. So it’s a work in progress I would say for the areas that I work with.
Q: And I’m curious if you’re thinking now, you know, coming to Mass General, if you think, going back to Mayo, what things might take back to Mayo that we’re doing really well?
A: I love at Mass General the spirit, the entrepreneurial spirit. People have a lot of rein if you believe you’re going to find the next cure for a particular type of cancer. You’re encouraged just to go off and find that. And you’re not—there aren’t a whole lot of constraints, in my experience anyway, put on you for that drive an innovation. And I think that’s absolutely tremendous. The depth of expertise here is just absolutely phenomenal. And it’s so stimulating every day to be part of that.
The other piece of Mass General that I really, really admire and that motivates me and inspires me is their commitment to their core mission of serving the local community. It was established as a hospital for the underserved, Massachusetts General Hospital. As the story goes, the physicians who were practicing in the Boston area recognized that people of privilege could summon their physician to come to their home to care for them or to care for their children. But folks who didn’t have those resources had nowhere to go. So they established this community hospital. And that community mission and drive to care for the local community is alive and well and thriving here. And that for me is really inspiring. It keeps me coming to work and excited every day.
Q: So you’ve been here three years. So as a professional, how have you grown in that time?
A: Oh, grown tremendously I hope. That’s what you want in life, right, to keep—that’s what I want anyway, to keep growing and keep inspiring myself to be better and bring other people to the, people that I interact with, both in the workplace and outside of the workplace. I think just taking on a different challenge, moving to a different organization, moving to a different city, setting up shop somewhere completely different from where you’ve been rooted for a while, just pushes you to grow. It pushes you to learn. Learning a new organization like Mass General and just figuring out how do you navigate, how do you get things done, bringing in new people, creating new roles, hiring new and innovative energy, those all have helped me grow quite a bit.
Q: So you mentioned you were in Minnesota for 17 years and you came here. You know, I think at any point in your life it’s daunting to start over. So, you know, what has that been like, kind of for the steps you’ve taken or advice you would give people who are thinking about making that leap?
Q: Seventeen years is a long time.
A: Yeah, it is a long time. This opportunity became available. For me it was a time in life, the right time in life to make a transition. And I would encourage people who have yet to jump at change to dive in, look for new opportunities. It’s where most of the growth is. It’s where most of the richness is. It doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. Most of my family is in Minnesota so—and I’ve lived outside of Minnesota many, many times at different parts of my life. But moving away from kind of that security net and your roots is challenging. But it’s also really, really stimulating. And I would—yeah, for people considering it, you see things from a very different perspective if you’re willing to kind of jump through that door and go somewhere else.
Q: Absolutely. I’m another person who’s lived a lot of different places. And I always tell people that, you know, I think being an outsider is really powerful. It brings a lot when you can shift the way you see things.
A: More than 17 years ago I lived, spent a number of years outside of the United States and have also had the opportunity to live at different places within the United States. And I think when I was younger I thought, oh, you get a cultural experience when you’re living in the southern Europe and when you’re living in Mexico. But the reality is we have so many different and diverse cultures within our own country. So to look at these experiences, opportunities, kind of cultural opportunities to learn, learn people and learn how all of us tick .
Q: Yeah. Do you think in the future, do you think you’ll go back to Minnesota? Do you think you will stay?
A: I don't know. People ask me that all the time. I don't know. I’m happy where I am for now. My mom, who is 94 years old, lives in Minnesota says, “Honey, when, are you moving back?” I think that is the great thing, though, when you have a strong sense of home that keeps you grounded and secure. I feel that sense of support and security wherever I am, even if I’m not living in Minnesota with my community.
Q: What does that mean to you, kind of, a sense of home?
A: I think it’s about feeling solid and settled in who I am, feeling secure enough to make big changes, to make leaps, I guess just feeling metaphorically cocooned and knowing that there are a group of people that are always there for you. I grew up in a big family. And having that tribe of people, whether they’re your family or your friends or whatever, it’s that sense of home, even if it is not a physical place is powerful.
Q: Yeah. Absolutely. You are a talented leader and you could have gone in a lot of different directions. Why was it healthcare? Why is that where you ended up?
A: I landed in healthcare by chance, maybe serendipity you would say. But my academic background and a lot of my passion relates to international administration, international diplomacy. And because of family reasons, made a couple of moves that landed me in places that did have a lot of international opportunities per se. But there were healthcare opportunities. I was able to kind of blend my passion for international into a healthcare environment and learn marketing on the job. So I think it was, it was pure circumstance, pure chance that allowed me to kind of take my innate curiosity and my desire to do some kind of international work and funnel that into an industry that is inherently pretty interesting and exciting.
Q: The international piece, I think a lot of people might not think of the hospital as a place where international work happens. Can you talk about that?
A: Yeah. I think in some of the larger hospitals increasingly have activity overseas, either about bringing patients—for Mayo Clinic it was a lot about bringing patients to Minnesota for care. Mayo Clinic is a destination provider. So people have been traveling there literally from around the world for almost 100 years. So it’s, just by definition, an international place. Mass General similarly, about bringing patients to Boston. But also there’s so much research and collaboration that occurs outside of Boston, outside of the United States. So there’s clinical collaboration. There’s advisory services. There’s global affiliation. There’s telemedicine. There’s a good deal of global activity that occurs in some of these larger academic institutions.
Q: And how does that feed back into this institution at home?
A: I think in a number of ways, one being there’s a good percentage of our staff here at Mass General who come from other parts of the world and feel connected still to their home country. Either they have family there or they trained there, so they are just natural connections.
Q: We talked a little bit about, you know, transformation. And Mass General is an old institution. It’s been around since the 1800’s. What has it been like coming into that environment and trying to shake things up a little bit?
A: Yeah, it is old and it is rooted, to a certain extent in tradition. But it’s this really cool paradox because it has these fabulously brilliant physicians and researchers and scientists who are driving for that next cure. It’s sitting here in Boston, kind of in this arena that’s chock full of life sciences superstars. So there are these old, venerable institutions that somehow have managed to continue to foment this spirit of discovery and entrepreneurialism. So I love that balance. And it’s an interesting paradox. It is an old and rooted organization but it also doesn’t kind of sit back on its laurels. It keeps driving, keeps kind of learning forward. And so coming into that organization and trying to implement new things, I’ve not discovered that people are resistant at all to new ideas. People here are so clever and are open to new ways of thinking. So it might take more time to meet with that many more people to persuade them as to why a new way of doing things is valuable.But once you can get in front of those people I haven’t really had much difficulty persuading them.
Q: Yeah, it’s interesting. It kind of goes back to that entrepreneurial spirit in a way, it seems like.
Q: Because people are thinking entrepreneurially. They’re a little more open.
A: Yeah. I think for those of us who work in healthcare administration, particularly in these blue chip healthcare organizations like the ones that I’ve been able to work in, we have to be at the top of our game, just like we expect our physician and scientific colleagues to be. So as a healthcare marketer I love to tell the stories of that brilliance on the medical side of things. But I need to show up to my meetings just at the top of my game in the same way that I hope that they will be. And as I’m recruiting and hiring, that’s the kind of thing that I tell people looking to get into this organization. That that’s what I’m looking for, that same kind of drive and people who want to be the best in their field just like we expect our physician colleagues to be.
Q: Are there other ways that you have seen sort of the market change over—you’ve been in healthcare now I guess, doing the back of the envelope math, 20-plus years. How do you see the environment changing?
A: In so many ways I think I’ve only worked for the academic medical center. So 20, let’s say 30 years ago if you wanted an organ transplant you had to travel to one of the large, academic medical centers. Or if you wanted some kind of complex, cardiac surgery your only option was to travel to an AMC. Increasingly, various procedures are available to people locally. So I think it puts more onus on the academic medical centers to keep pushing and to offer treatments to innovate around things that aren’t available locally. But also around patient experience. I think there’s been significant change around patients, providers, customers, family members, expectations about a service experience, whether it’s in healthcare, whether it’s in banking. The availability of digital tools to be able to schedule online, to manage many aspects of your life digitally, healthcare is behind in that sphere for good reasons, for regulatory and privacy reasons. I think sometimes we use that as an excuse to not innovate in that space. And people are used to be able to get things done quite easily in other dimensions of their life. We have to transform and adapt and accommodate to those growing expectations.
Q: Do you see that happening? Are you hopeful? Are we getting there? Is it going to take a while?
A: I think we’re getting there. And, yes, I think it is going to take a while.
Q: What’s the hold up? What are the biggest sort of roadblocks ahead of that?
A: It changes in patient experience at a place like Mass General where we operate in a lot of kind of individual departments, individual physicians who are superstars and at the head of their field nationally and globally. They’re working kind of heads down in finding the next cure, which is fantastic for us as patients. They’re not always working as much kind of heads up and looking, oh, what’s that patient’s experience when they call my colleague and when they go over to this department. They’re not looking laterally quite as much. And that’s our jobs to help them understand that yes, please keep innovating within your own area but also look up a little bit and look across the horizon and see what that patient is experiencing in other parts of the hospital. That takes a while. It takes a while I think to get people to change their focus a bit.
Q: Yeah. It’s interesting here. You know, we think we have a lot of external facing roles. But there’s almost then some internal work that we do as well.
Q: Which I think I wouldn’t have expected when I started this job.
Q: So I know another—we’re talking about change. We are in a time of great change, sort of socially and politically. And there are a lot of things happening outside of the walls of this organization with, you know, the president and new regulations and the me-too movement. So do you see that having an impact on what’s happening within healthcare, within this organization?
A: Definitely. It’s a—I have really mixed feelings about what’s kind of the somewhat turbulent environment right now. On the one hand it’s troubling, some of the things that are happening when you see these emotions kind of bubble up to the surface. On the other hand I think it’s in a bizarre way kind of positive or advancing because I think you have to be sound asleep to not see and to not kind of be conscious of all these emotions that have been under the surface, just below the surface--that have now boiled over, provoked by some things occurring kind of politically or economically.
We’re that much more aware of issues of discrimination, be it gender, be it race or ethnicity, be it sexual preference because people are saying awful, hateful things that they might not have said before but that they might have been thinking. So it just makes those emotions that much more raw. And on my optimistic days, which actually are most of them—it’s pushing the rest of us. It’s pushing us to confront our biases and realize that even though we aren’t speaking those same things, below the surface we all carry some of these issues. So that the turbulence I think, just like in personal life when you embrace change, this change and turbulent environment, hopefully is pushing us for greater things, that’s, that’s when I’m hopeful.
And I think within the hospital it’s the same thing. And our hospital leadership does not shy away from controversy, which makes me really, really proud to work here. Our hospital president has no qualms issuing a statement when he sees something discriminatory happening in the environment, in the community, in the country. He’ll talk about the need for equal treatment, equal healthcare, and I think that makes all of us proud. And it really gets us back to the route and the core of why we’re here.
Q: Yeah. It’s been exciting to see that. And I think that it brings this community together. And like you said, people feel really proud to work in a place where we have a leader who is standing up and saying, “No, this isn’t okay.”
A: Yeah. Right.
Q: So I think, again, a lot of people don’t get that in their day-to-day jobs.
Q: So, what most people don’t know, we went to the same college, full disclosure, a small school in Minnesota called St. Olaf College.
A: St. Olaf, yes.
Q: You know, we both spent some time in Minnesota. But in moving from the Midwest to the East Coast, you know, kind of, how has that transition been in terms of sort of feeling the differences of these places and particularly in this political environment?
A: The thing I notice the most, I must say, is the friendliness of the people.
Q: In which place?
A: In Minnesota. [Laughter] And as I mentioned, I go home pretty regularly. And inevitably when I come back from three or four days in Minnesota, I’m walking down the street in Boston and I’ll say, “Hey! How’s it going?” I’ll say, “Hello,” and it takes me always about six to eight hours to realize—and they all look at me like I’m kind of nutty. And it can’t—it takes about the sixth or seventh person to realize, oh, that’s right. We don’t do that here. We don’t, you know, look people in the eye, maybe a little bit. That I notice a lot. I notice kind of, I guess ignorance on both sides about what life is like in the other place. You know, I tell people I’m from Minnesota and many people have said, “Oh, I know somebody from Michigan once,” which is great but it’s not at all the same thing. And similarly I think I have ignorance on geography here in New England. It’s taken me forever to realize that Boston is north of New York not south of New York.
Q: [Laughter] I had that same problem.
A: Right. And I think also Mayo Clinic is located in a small city. I didn’t grow up in a small town. I grew up in a metropolitan area, so just big town to little town is a transition. And realizing the things that motivate people who live in a small, relatively rural community are very different from the things that get you going when you live in a large city and the way you view the world. And I think there is, again, ignorance on both sides about, you know, what are those liberal, East Coasters like and what are those Podunk people from the small towns in Minnesota and Iowa like. And they’re both wonderful people, both really tremendous, both loyal to their causes, their family, their country, just manifested I think in different ways. So--
Q: There’s been a lot of talk lately and I think you kind of touched on it. There are all these different parts of the country. And we don’t know what it’s like to be in a different part. I grew up in Montana, probably a very sort of similar to being in Rochester, Minnesota. How do we get more of an understanding, having been a person who’s been in both places?
A: Don’t you think it’s just talking and listening, spending time, just really watching and paying attention to what other people’s lives are like as opposed to being so embedded in our own? I mean we all get so busy and so obsessed with what’s happening in our own life, our personal life, our work life that I think this current era, and this move in particular has taught me a lot just to kind of sit back and watch and listen and appreciate those, both in a positive and a negative way, just the significant differences and the things that are motivating each one of us. I think this past election taught a lot of us that there’s too much stuff we weren’t paying attention to.
Q: Are there things you do now to kind of get yourself to pay attention, practices?
A: More and more trying to practice mindfulness, staying as present as I can and recognizing that that’s a mental challenge, mastering the mind, not let it wander all over the place and get distracted by so many things that are available to distract us—really staying rooted and centered, whether it’s formal meditative practices of just simple meditative practices when I’m walking to work. You know, there are certain parts of my daily routine. For example, I’ve stopped looking at my phone on elevators. Like come on. This is ridiculous. The elevator is a time—let’s just use the elevator as a time to center. And I work on the eighth floor and I have another office that’s on the tenth floor. So I spend a chunk of time on elevators. And even if it is just those few, you know, seconds, minutes to kind of reset a little bit, that helps me a lot.
Q: Yeah. That’s a great little nugget of time that we get.
A: You’ve got to find those tiny, little, those tiny little spaces. Just implement those little rituals to the extent that you can to recalibrate.
Q: Yeah. I know you’ve talked in other places about balance and you’re kind of getting into this. But how have—you are obviously a very busy professional. You’ve raised a family. How have you, beyond these little elevator moments are there other things you’ve done to find and maintain balance?
A: I find such joy in the balance. So I think in some ways that makes striving for balance easier because my personal life has been so rich and has really fomented and fueled my professional life and vice versa. And for me kind of the one wouldn’t work without the other. My wonderfully stimulating and challenging work environment brings energy to me to bring to my family and personal life. And vice versa. So they fuel each other. But I think you have to, you have to pay attention. My very first job out of graduate school, when I was working for the government in Washington, D.C.—this is no major revelation but it occurred to me in my mid-twenties, my gosh, the work is never done, isn’t it. I could stay every day until ten PM and I wouldn’t be finished. And at that time you kind of accrue extra time if you did stay extra, But I taught myself somehow or realized, well, this is silly. I’ve got to leave at 5:30 or 6 because there’s a lot of other cool stuff happening outside of there. I’m grateful for that experience. Because I realize really early on, you can always keep working. And if you do keep working over and over again, I don't know, I’m not as effective in my work if I’m that way. And I’m also not as nice to be around outside of my work.
Q: So we’re in the middle of some fairly turbulent times. Things can be frustrating, you know, depressing. How have you sort of maintained optimism and motivation in the face of, you know, what can be pretty daunting on the outside.
A: It’s a great question. It’s tricky, isn’t it? I think we all have to be aware of what’s in our toolkit to keep us being the person that we want to be. And I think everybody has got different things in that tool kit. And I’ve learned over the course of multiple decades and, you know, different challenges and joys in my life that there are certain things that keep me grounded. And I’ve, you know, made lists of them. What do you do when you are feeling kind of about to head over the edge. You know, what are some of those things? You go back to that tool box and you open it up. It’s like, okay, I reach out to somebody that I care about. Or I turn on the music or I go for a run or I go for a swim or I get outside. And even if I’m just walking around the block or running around the block, it’s just this constant resets. And I’m—I go to church. I go to Great Unitarian Church. That keeps me the same way, kind of exposed to different types of people who are all in this—We’re all alike in that I think that we’re all striving to be better people. We all want to be contributing in new ways and in better ways. And so you’ve got to hang around people I think that encourage that for yourself, you know, that support you in that.
Q: Are there people who have—I mean it amazes me when I hear you talk about your career. It sounds like from the beginning it was very thoughtful and you were very good at sort of seeing the world as it was. How did you learn that? Were there people who modeled it?
A: You know, it’s great when I like—so now in my fifties I can look back at my career and I can speak with wisdom. And it can sound as if I saw the runway and planned it all. It wasn’t that way at all. But I have a different vantage point now, looking back. But yes, of course, there were people that I learned from. There were people, mentors in the various jobs that I had, both—and teachers come in all forms, right? Bosses that you couldn’t stand that made you realize, that’s not the kind of leader I want to be. He’s teaching me what I don’t want to me to people that work for me. Or she’s teaching me workplace habits that I really don’t want to emulate. So be mindful of that. That even though there are individuals or circumstances that drive you crazy, sometimes you learn most in those circumstances.
Q: Absolutely. Um, and before we wrap up, I just have my fast five questions. So what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
A: Ask questions. My—our parents said that, too. I’m one of seven kids. And we heard that every single day when we went out the door to school or when we went on a trip. It was always, “Ask questions.” And I said the same thing to my kids, although I added, “Be kind. Ask questions and be kind.” But I think just inspiring that sense of curiosity, there is so much to learn. You learn about yourself. You learn about your environment. You become a better professional, a better student.
Q: The name of this podcast is “Charged.” So in the context of the work that you do, what does that mean to you?
A: Charged I think is staying engaged, staying stimulated, staying motivated. I get that mostly from the people I work with, from my team. And I, some of my direct reports, some of my collective teams, just spending time with the tremendous energy that is here and kind of tapping into it, keeps me going, keeps me charged.
Q: And when we’re thinking about keeping charged, how, what’s your best recommendation for how to recharge?
A: I think we talked a little bit about that before. I mean everybody’s got their own—it’s not the same formula for everybody. You got to figure out what is, what’s in that tool box? What’s, what are the things that you go to keep you driven, or keeping you grounded or keeping you excited? And everybody has to do that exercise for themselves. But if you pay attention you know that they are.
Q: When and where are you happiest?
A: I think I’m happiest when I am stimulated. And that could take many different forms. So I could be outside. It could be a cold day. It could be a warm day where I’m physically stimulated. I could be running or I could be swimming, exercising. That feels tremendous to be kind of grounded and strong. I could be sitting with a group of people. Maybe they’re my family and friends or maybe they’re work colleagues and we’re tossing some really cool concept and we’re bouncing ideas off of one another. Just engaging in that, you know, charged particles bouncing all around—for me that’s happiness. That’s fun. That’s exciting.
Q: I love that. And the last question, so we’re here very early in the morning and I’m curious. Do you have any particular rituals that help you get started to have a successful day?
A: I do, for sure. So one of them’s coffee, of course. I make my latte at home. On kind of depending on where I’ve been in life I drink that either with the Journal or I try to incorporate some meditation into that, some good wishes to the people I care most about. If I have enough time in the morning I go for quick run to the park with my dog. I have a new puppy who kind of gets me going. So both of those combined make for a nice start to the day.
Q: All right. Well, that concludes our discussion. Thank you, Misty. We’ve enjoyed talking with you.