Real problems are the ones that can't be solved with money, Intermountain CFO says

Bert Zimmerli joined Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare as its CFO in 2003 and has kept the 23-hospital system financially strong during his tenure. As executive vice president and finance chief, he oversees financial and information systems operations and the insurance unit of the health system. 

He also has led the planning efforts for Intermountain's new business development and innovation strategies.

Before coming to Intermountain, Mr. Zimmerli was executive vice president and CFO of the Methodist Hospital System in Houston. He also worked as an accountant for Ernst & Young.

Here, Mr. Zimmerly answers Becker's seven "Corner Office" questions.

Editor's Note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is one thing that piqued your interest in healthcare finance?

Bert Zimmerli:
When I was a relatively new accountant at Ernst &Young, I was asked to specialize in the healthcare area. I somewhat reluctantly agreed to this, but it has turned out to be a great move. So I suppose you could say it while I was persuaded to begin this career path. As I learned about the industry, it soon became a passion.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Salt Lake City?

BZ: Salt Lake City is a great place to live with a high quality of life. If you love the outdoors, everything is at your fingertips. It's a terrific place to raise a family. It is also a wonderful place for business, always ranked among the top states.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be? 

BZ: I would eliminate misaligned incentives. We need to move as a nation to more of a focus on value-based care which rewards outcomes.

Q: What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

BZ: I believe you should take your family seriously, your job seriously, and if you are a person of faith, take your faith seriously. But to balance all this, you need to not take yourself too seriously, and that's my approach. I believe this is a skill I possess.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself? 

BZ: I carve out a small amount of time in the morning and a bit more in the evening for meditation in a quiet place. I use this time to analyze what things are important versus urgent.

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly? 

BZ: When I was early in my career, I was complaining to an executive of one of my clients about several problems I was experiencing. He listened patiently and then told me that everything I had listed as a problem wasn't really a problem since it could be "fixed" with money.  Actual problems are those that can’t be solved with money.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Intermountain Healthcare so far?

BZ: During my time at Intermountain I've worked with three different CEOs and four board chairs. Having the ability to work with different people and different personalities has allowed me to help the organization drive improvements for patients, our caregivers and the communities we serve, all while consistently maintaining strong financial performance that positions Intermountain as a "forever organization."

More articles on healthcare finance:
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Los Angeles hospital closes after purchase deal falls through
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