Jonathan Bush's goodbye memo to Athenahealth showed insight Silicon Valley founders could learn from

Key Points
  • Jonathan Bush wrote an inspiring memo to employees as he left AthenaHealth, the health records company he cofounded in 1997.
  • Here's the full memo.
Jonathan Bush, co-founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President of AthenaHealth.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

AthenaHealth co-founder and CEO Jonathan Bush announced this week that he'd step down amidst a takeover battle.

In his goodbye memo to employees, he acknowledged his own obsolescence -- a refreshingly rare point of view in tech circles, where company founders are often viewed as indispensable. As he put it, "the very things that made me useful to our company and cause in these past twenty-one years, are now exactly the things that are in our way."

He also wrote that working for something larger than yourself "is the greatest thing a human can do."

Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush steps down

Bush, the nephew of the former president George H.W. Bush, founded the health technology company in the late 1990s. He made the decision to leave the company after allegations that he assaulted his ex-wife more than a decade ago.

Massachusetts-based AthenaHealth, which sells its cloud-based medical record software to hospitals and clinics, is fighting a takeover offer for $160 a share from the activist firm Elliott Management. The company's stock is trading around $157, and has shot up about 25 percent since the bid was announced in May.

Here's a copy of the full letter he sent to employees and friends after announcing his resignation from both the leadership team and board.

Dear Friends,

Today is the last day that I will have the privilege of using that phrase, and it has been the greatest joy of my professional life – a greater joy, in fact, than I could have ever imagined. Today I am stepping down from both the board and the leadership team of athenahealth. I believe that working for something larger than yourself is the greatest thing a human can do. A family, a cause, a company, a country – these things give shape and purpose to an otherwise mechanical and brief human existence. They fill us with soul and spirit. They give us a glimpse of grace. The downside about things that are larger than ourselves, of course, is that we who have the privilege of serving them ourselves are fungible. It is the fundamental definition. You can't have the grace of the one without the other.

With that lens on, it's easy for me to see that the very things that made me useful to our company and cause in these past twenty-one years, are now exactly the things that are in our way. That's sad for me to see since I associate so much personal pleasure with working alongside my athenahealth colleagues. But it's also a joyful realization for me. Joyful, because it signifies that after all, our dear Goddess really was larger than me all this time. athenahealth really will launch beyond me, healing itself whatever wounds my own weaknesses have inflicted. Such a beautiful notion. So gratifying. Thanks to my unfailing athenahealth team, my last day at work has been fruitful. We have already gotten to work on my new life. I bought a Mac, got a Gmail account (cc'd) and finagled the cell number conversion law such that [his personal cell phone number] is still mine. I even have some flying lessons booked for my Instrument Rating!! Mostly though, I hope to dig into all thoughts and friendships and skills, happily put on hold these last couple decades. I look forward to seeing all of you on the sea or the street.

With all my heart, Jonathan