Beekeeper and C-Suiter: Berger Health System CEO Tim Colburn

Beekeeping seemed like a natural fit for Tim Colburn. After reading about the intricacies of bee colonies for several years, he took up the hobby within the agricultural-centric Pickaway County in Ohio, where he lives. He tries to adopt one new hobby every winter, and three years ago, he finally took the dive into the beehive.

"So much of my life is structured by things I have to do, and with beekeeping, through Mother Nature, it's outside of your control," Mr. Colburn says. "You put in some hard work, and maybe you get some honey at the end of the year."

Mr. Colburn is more than just a part-time apiarist, though, and the hard work and honey are more than just metaphors: He's also the president and CEO of Berger Health System in Circleville, Ohio.

Tim Colburn, president and CEO of Berger Health SystemBefore he became engrossed in beekeeping and a part of the public-owned Berger Health, Mr. Colburn started out his professional career in finance and accounting in manufacturing on the West Coast and several other locales. Mr. Colburn eventually made his way to the Midwest in 2000 to settle down and spend more time with his wife, Amy, and his two children, Jessie and Garrett. Amy, a guidance counselor, was from Circleville and wanted their family to be closer to their parents. "I think it was a trick," says Mr. Colburn, laughing. "'Let's find a job near our parents,' but my parents in Northern Ohio weren't factored in. But it's really worthwhile — it takes all families to raise a family."

Previously, he had never worked in healthcare, and after years of prior financial experience, Mr. Colburn started at Berger Health in one of the more glorious positions within the accounting department: temp.

After a four-month stint as a temp, Mr. Colburn became the controller. He was controller for two years before he was finally promoted to CFO of Berger Health. He helped the system instill new accounting practices and fix old billing processes, which is currently on pace to set a record of only 36 days outstanding in accounts receivable. Mr. Colburn says he learned that being CFO of a hospital system is more than crunching numbers and marrying spreadsheets — it involves flexibility and the ability to work well in groups with other skilled people in the finance arena. "A CFO is not always someone who sits at their desk but is out getting and sharing information," Mr. Colburn says. "It's communicating in parallel relationships with physicians and community leaders."

After becoming CEO of Berger Health's flagship hospital, Berger Hospital, in 2008, Mr. Colburn was presented with an even bigger opportunity. In 2009, Larry Thornhill, then-president of Berger Health, was retiring, and the board of directors promoted Mr. Colburn to lead the health system.

Since then, he says he has had the unique opportunity of raising his family and living in a community while sharing in the responsibility of bettering the local healthcare system.

This responsibility became most visible at a Pizza Hut.

Mr. Colburn, coach of his son's soccer team, took the squad out for pizza after the season ended. As he talked with other parents, a conversation began about a hospital bill and how a parent can comprehend the bill better — something he wasn't expecting would come up at a Pizza Hut. "I thought we were supposed to just have pizza, but we talked about the hospital," Mr. Colburn says. "But you can treat that as a hazard or as a blessing and a responsibility, and it's better if you see it as a blessing and responsibility."

Since he took the reins of Berger Health, he has helped the system reach a 9 percent operating EBITDA, an operating margin of more than 4 percent and 175 days of cash on hand. Mr. Colburn says his financial background has certainly helped him out along the way, but he gives most of the credit to his predecessors, current management team, staff, board of directors — and the community at-large. "We were focused on a successful business that would provide and deliver mission-based services that this community needs but also is profitable," Mr. Colburn says.

Teamwork within a beehive is vital, and Mr. Colburn says it's that team concept — the idea of a well-oiled machine throughout — that is essential for the success of any management team, hospital staff and overall healthcare system. "It takes great people to run an organization, and you have to give them opportunities," Mr. Colburn says. "The power of the team is much bigger and more expansive than the power of the individual, and it continues to play out in the administrative role."

Related Articles on Hospital Leadership:

Healthcare CEOs of the Round Table: Organizational Strategies for 2012

5 Challenges Hospital Administrators Must Overcome to Succeed in Today’s Rapidly Changing Industry

The Future of Healthcare: 9 Capabilities for Post-Reform Success

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