6 questions with new Intermountain Healthcare CEO Dr. A. Marc Harrison

A. Marc Harrison, MD, has officially begun his new role as president and CEO at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare. Dr. Harrison, who has a variety of clinical and executive experience in the U.S. and abroad, most recently served as chief of international business development for Cleveland Clinic and CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

Dr. Harrison, a pediatric critical care specialist, succeeds Charles W. Sorenson, MD, who retired as president and CEO on Oct. 15.

At Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Dr. Harrison assembled a 3,500 member multi-national workforce and oversaw all aspects of clinical and business operations for the new medical campus, which provided services to patients from 31 countries in its first 10 months of operation. Previously, he served as CMO for Cleveland Clinic and chairman of pediatric critical care.

Although he's spent much of his career in different organizations across the U.S. and out of the country, Dr. Harrison is no stranger to the Salt Lake City area. After earning an undergraduate degree at Haverford (Pa.) College and a medical degree at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., he completed a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in pediatric critical care through Salt Lake City-based University of Utah School of Medicine, working at Intermountain's Primary Children's Hospital.

Here, Dr. Harrison took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's six questions.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new role as CEO of Intermountain?

Dr. Harrison: There are a couple of things. First of all, Intermountain is already a great organization. It is already able to organize, execute and deliver great results — the pieces are in place to do extraordinary things from a population health and value-based care standpoint. But the secret sauce here is truly the people. I hadn't looked for a new job in 17 years and I wasn't looking for one when Intermountain reached out to me. What sold me was visiting here and seeing how switched on the people are.

The organization has already transformed itself to align with where the future of healthcare is going. Having human capital of this high of caliber — I'm unbelievably excited about that. There's an expression that says usually when you turn over rocks you find scorpions, but here I found gems. These are super smart, capable and collaborative people who know where we need to go.

Q: What are your top priorities or goals for your first few months in office? 

AMH: Given how good this group is, the first thing I plan on doing is listening. This is a big system. There are 22 hospitals and about 185 clinics spread over a large state. I'm going to try to meet as many people as I can, listen to what's going well and find out where the opportunities are. Come the beginning of next year I'll roll out a thoughtful plan based on what I've learned so we can go forward together. In the meantime, the organization's direction remains excellent. Dr. Sorenson set the stage for this. I don't anticipate the direction will veer off from population health and value-based care.

Q: What elements of Dr. Sorenson's legacy do you hope to continue?

AMH: The guy's amazing. He's really a role model. Dr. Sorenson has managed to keep the system's day-to-day activities completely tied to its mission, vision and values. Intermountain's mission is helping people live the healthiest lives possible; the vision is to be a model health system by providing extraordinary care and superior service at an affordable cost; and our values are integrity, trust, excellence, accountability and mutual respect. Throughout his tenure, he's tied every action back to the mission, vision, and values. I hope to continue doing that.

Another inspiring thing about him is he maintained his clinical activity while serving as CEO. I try to spend Thursday mornings up at Primary Children's Hospital to do rounds and visit the pediatric intensive care unit. I think that connection to the front lines is invaluable and it's also fun. It's really great to be around patients.

Q: Are there any particular experiences from your prior roles as a pediatrician or health system executive that you think will be especially helpful as Intermountain's new CEO? 

AMH: I learned this way back as an intensivist: As an individual I was useless. Without the nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, secretaries, environmental service workers, biomedical engineers, and everyone else who works together, I can't really accomplish much. But as part of a team I can be really effective and help a lot of people. I've always kept that lesson with me — it's always all about the team and it will continue to be that way.

Q: What elements — if any — do you plan to borrow from the Cleveland Clinic and implement at Intermountain?

AMH: Intermountain and Cleveland Clinic have had a longstanding mutual admiration. I know lots of the clinicians here watch Cleveland Clinic to see what they're doing in terms of tertiary and quaternary care, and the clinic has looked at how Intermountain has integrated mental health professionals with primary care. One thing I'm really interested in helping continue to evolve at Intermountain is its standing as a destination medical center. We have quite active groups of people who come here from Alaska and other states for bone marrow transplants and cardiovascular services. I think we can become an even more robust referral center.

Q: What is the most valuable piece of professional advice you've ever received?

AMH: One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received came from the chairman of the board of Cleveland Clinic before I headed to Abu Dhabi. He told me, "Build trust first." You can't get anything done if people don't trust you. You build trust by building personal relationships, and that's what I plan on doing here.

Another important piece of advice comes from Dr. Sorenson. He often says this and I find it rather striking. He says, "Doing the right thing almost always ends up being the best business decision. And even if it's not, doing the right thing is good in and of itself." Sticking to your core values is crucial.

My motto has always been not to ever do anything I couldn't explain to my kids. Now my kids are grown up, but I think keeping it simple is a good business and leadership principle to live by.                

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