After nearly 35 years of specializing in executive healthcare search, Tyler & Company sought to find its CEO “stick rate,” the length of time CEOs stay in their role after they are placed by the firm. For example, between January 2000 and January 2009, Tyler & Company placed 56 healthcare CEOs, 29 of whom (more than 50 percent) are still in place! As you might guess, the average tenure for CEOs placed by the firm during this timeframe is more than five years.
Prompted to ask, “What makes a leader successful?” we interviewed two long-tenured Tyler & Company alumni about their careers:
Gary R. Colberg, FACHE
President and CEO
Southeast Georgia Health System
Placed in 2001.
Frederick L. Jackson, FACHE
President and CEO
King’s Daughters Medical Center Ashland, Ky.
Placed in 1996.
Tidbits: How did you get your start in healthcare? In management?
Colberg: I finished college in three and a half years. It was 1976, and I planned to go to law school, but couldn’t start until the following fall. In the interim, I found a job as a Unit Manager at Divine Providence Hospital in Williamsport, Pa. That experience changed my career course, and I decided to stay in healthcare. After a couple years as Unit Manager, I was given the opportunity to move into the Materials Manager position at Divine Providence. Then, I took a position as Administrative Director of the Family Practice Residency Program at Williamsport Hospital and Medical Center; later, I moved into the Director of Primary Care Services and then onto a VP of Ambulatory Care Services role there. I also completed my Master of Community Health Administration during this time.
In 1986, I was recruited to Methodist Evangelical Hospital, in Louisville, Ky., as VP of Professional Services. Later, I became Senior VP and COO. In 1989, I moved to Ohio Valley Health Services in Wheeling, W.Va., as VP and COO. From 1990 to 1999, I served as the VP for Jewish Hospital HealthCare Services in Louisville, Ky., and had numerous roles and responsibilities that included being the CEO, Outpatient Care Center; President and CEO, Jewish Hospital Shelbyville; President and CEO, Hardin Memorial Hospital; then, VP, Regional Network/System Integration. Following that, I became Senior VP, Birmingham Operations for Medical Center East, Eastern Health System, in Alabama. Then, in 2001, Tyler & Company placed me here.
Jackson: I got my start in healthcare in 1966, when at 16, I secured a job as an orderly at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. From there, I joined the Navy, where I served as a medic for four years. Then, I earned my bachelor’s degree, studying microbiology and chemistry. Hoping to get back in to healthcare, I called about a posting for Manager of Central Supply at Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, Pa. I wasn’t even sure what “central supply” was when I went to interview! But they must have thought my years of military service and undergraduate science studies prepared me for this entry-level management position, because they hired me. That was 1976. I worked my way up the management ladder. I then garnered a position in Chicago as Director of Materials Management, then, Assistant VP of Facilities and Support Services at what was then Methodist of Indiana. I moved on to be Assistant Director of Hospitals at Indiana University and then earned my first CEO position at an 88-bed osteopathic facility. I then secured the presidency of a larger hospital and was given the leadership position of a second facility a few years later. In 1996, Larry Tyler recruited me to King’s Daughters, where I’ve been ever since.
Tidbits: How do you explain your tenure?
Colberg: Personal passion. Since graduating from college, I’ve been dedicated to the healthcare industry. Having worked in every aspect of the provider organization, I know it from the bottom up. I was also fortunate to have a mentor along the way: Don Creamer, CEO at Williamsport Hospital and Medical Center, my second stop in healthcare.
Jackson: Starting my 17th year summer 2013, I’ll offer five reasons for my longevity — both at King’s Daughters and in the industry in general:
- It’s important to know for whom you work. You have to be clear you are working for the Board of Directors, and you work at its discretion.
- Keep the board informed (i.e., “manage up”). Make sure members are kept informed. There usually are occasional surprises, but do your best to avoid them; minimize the impact when they happen via communication.
- Manage by doing the right thing. Ensure there are no hidden agendas, no secrets. We tell leaders throughout our organization that this is our guiding principle. All decisions, activities and initiatives must be ethical, moral and legal, or we don’t do it.
- Leaders have to build a track record of getting the job done. Everyone makes mistakes, but over time, there have to be many more successes than failures. We are paid to get it right!
- We must be visionaries. As Jack Welch (the legendary CEO of General Electric) said, everyone can see a train coming right at you, but we have to be able see around the corner. In healthcare, we need to be able to move the organization where healthcare will be in a few years, not where it is now.
Tidbits: What is your advice to a board looking to keep a CEO for 10 to 15 years?
Colberg: Ensure the clear definition and understanding of what the board’s responsibility is vs. that of the CEO. The board is responsible for policy and procedure. The CEO (along with his/her management team) is responsible for daily operations.
When the board tries to tell the CEO how to handle daily operations, there will always be problems. The discord that ensues usually leads to a CEO losing his/her job. To avoid this, the proper expectations must be defined up front.
At Southeast Georgia Health System, we walk new board members through their roles during orientation.
Jackson: That’s a challenging goal as the average CEO tenure is just a few years. It helps to have a good board-CEO relationship. Earlier, I provided some tips for longevity. A board can reciprocate by:
- Delivering on its promises.
- Protecting the CEO so he/she can get the job done; insulating the CEO from “cheap shots” from physicians, the community and others.
- Ensuring the CEO’s needs (e.g., education, compensation, time off) are being met, as long as they don’t conflict with the organization’s needs.
- Intimately involving the CEO in all decision-making. The CEO should be a voting member of the board and present and involved in board discussions (except during his/her performance evaluation). This arrangement promotes ownership.
Tyler & Company has learned that after establishing a foothold in healthcare management, long-tenured CEOs have dedicated themselves to their organizations and industry. Says firm Chairman and CEO J. Larry Tyler, “According to ACHE [the American College of Healthcare Executives], the average tenure of a healthcare CEO is between three to four years. Since this is the average, some CEOs don’t make it that long. These two gentlemen had excellent track records before we found them. They continue to lead outstanding and successful organizations. Tyler & Company tries to make a good match for the present and short-term future. A long-term match requires that the CEO and organization’s needs continue to align. I congratulate Gary Colberg and Fred Jackson on their successes, tenure and leadership abilities.”
Reach J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FHFMA, FAAHC, CMPE, Chairman and CEO, at +1 770 396 3939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Tyler’s Guide for more information about developing your own long-tenured career. (Reach the publisher at ache.org/hap or +1 301 362 6905. ISBN 13: 978-1-56793-361-1, order code: www1-2163. $68).