Alumni in Action: Adam Nemer ’92

Adam Nemer.

Photo courtesy of Adam Nemer

Alumni in Action

Adam Nemer ’92 is changing the way businesses think about mental health. Three years ago, he launched Simple Mental Health, which is destigmatizing mental health challenges in the workplace. The leadership consulting business helps executives create high-performing, psychologically safe cultures by putting mental health literacy in their leadership toolboxes alongside marketing, recruiting, sales, accounting, and all the other tools they acquire over the years.

Nemer shared his personal story of mental health growth and how it led him to found Simple Mental Health.

Why did you decide to transition from working at Kaiser Permanente to building Simple Mental Health?

I had a Forrest Gump-like lucky executive career at Kaiser. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a ski racer, and all of a sudden, I was the CFO of a $4.5 billion healthcare system in the Northwest. It was quite the ride and I have nothing but fondness and admiration for the organization and the good it does. And, frankly, 20 years at Kaiser opened my eyes and ears to the opportunity to start Simple Mental Health and gave me so many of the tools that I’ve needed to get it off the ground.

Why is mental health support in the workplace important to you?

My story is that for the first 17 of my 20-year leadership career at Kaiser, I experienced severe, yet undiagnosed depression and anxiety. When I was 29, I found my dad, Mort, after he died of suicide, and I didn’t get enough of the help that I needed. My illness festered and got worse over time, and I had no idea. Then one day, a mental health-literate colleague recognized the signs that I was struggling and encouraged me to seek some help.

Adam Nemer.

May 1992 CMC graduation with Adam's father, Mort Nemer ‘62, sister Tiffany Rosenfeld ’91 (in red), and sister Robin McCoy.

Over the course of my recovery journey, as I started sharing my story with colleagues, I began to think about leadership and management differently. I started to think about what it meant to me as a leader to learn that mental health is impacting so many of us and that it hurts so damn much.

So, we trained all our staff on mental health literacy. What I wasn’t expecting was that, as I shared my journey, and everyone then started talking about theirs, our business performance improved. Across the board. Employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity indicators, employee retention and recruiting measures, team effectiveness — almost every key performance indicator improved. Over a 20-year career as an executive at a $80 billion-plus company, going through mental health literacy training together was the single best team development activity I ever participated in.

I left this company that I couldn’t have been prouder to be a part of to start Simple Mental Health. Our simple, albeit ambitious, goal: We want to solve the mental health crisis in America through the business community.

Why is it important that companies create cultures that support mental health?

It's the classic “culture eats strategy for breakfast” story, and there are two halves of the leadership case for change here. There’s the human case, and then there's the business case, and they’re both pretty simple.

The human case? There are a lot of people in a lot of pain. More than 25% of the American workforce every year experiences a clinically diagnosable mental illness that hurts as much as any physical illness, but less than half seek help. And for those who do, it takes on average 11 years before they first reach out for help. And for those who don't, 80% report that it's stigma alone that prevents them from getting help. They're just afraid of what people at work, and what their family and friends are going to think.

The business case is just as straightforward. Mental well-being is a leading driver for employee retention, recruiting, productivity, engagement, and physical health costs. Studies show that depression alone drops productivity on average 27%, and that every dollar invested in mental health services returns four dollars in improved productivity and physical health costs.

Adam Nemer.

Adam and his father Mort Nemer ’62.

How did your time at Claremont McKenna College prepare you for your career?

With hindsight, remarkably well. Studying history, government, and the liberal arts at CMC trained me for a career in leadership far more than later getting an MBA. I learned skills through an MBA program, but I learned leadership at CMC.

Executive’s offices are littered with one leadership book after another; each diving deep into someone’s theory of how to be an effective leader, or an analysis of a successful leader’s approach.

When you envelop yourself with Pericles, Shakespeare, the Federalist Papers, and all the other good stuff we got at CMC, you leave college hardwired with all the natural lessons of leadership to lean on later in your life and career.

What were some of your favorite experiences while at CMC?

I don’t even know where to begin. It was four years of one great experience after another. But, the common denominator, and what I reflect on the most, aren’t so much individual experiences. It’s the lifelong friends I met who helped shape me into the person I am today as much as any class did. On that front, CMC has never stopped giving back to me.

Do you have any mentors from your time at CMC?

Professor Gaines Post. He’s the very model of the ideal liberal arts professor. He was demanding, yet caring. He taught me to think and was authentic. He was the person you didn’t want to disappoint. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and have shared many a chat over a beer or two when I’ve visited California for work. And after almost 31 years, every conversation has started the same way…”How’s it going, Professor?”…. “Adam, after all these years, it’s Gaines”…. “You got it Professor.” (I’m a little nervous for him to read all this and see my lack of “activated verbs.”)


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