All part of his strategic plan: Q&A with Michael Boblitz, Gwinnett Health's VP of Planning and Business Development

Michael Boblitz always knew he wanted to work in healthcare.

At 38, Mr. Boblitz has been an adjunct professor and held roles at more than five healthcare organizations. He currently serves as vice president of planning and business development at Gwinnett Health System in Lawrenceville, Ga., a suburb 30 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta.

Gwinnett Health System is a 553-bed nonprofit network with hospitals and facilities in five cities, including Lawrenceville and Duluth. The $750 million system, which has over 4,800 employees and 800 affiliated physicians, was recognized by Georgia Trend in 2014 as the top-ranked large hospital in the state.

Here Mr. Boblitz discusses his healthcare background, his professorship at James Madison University and advice for young leaders.

Question: You have held a myriad of leadership roles throughout your career. How did you got involved in these leadership roles, especially at a young age?

Michael Boblitz: Early in my life, I knew healthcare was for me. My great-great-uncle was George Washington Crile, one of the founders of the Cleveland Clinic. I was named after him — my middle name — and have always admired his success.

My father is the COO for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. When I was a kid, I got to know Frank McCue, MD, the man many refer to as the pioneer of sports medicine and the physician who trained many great orthopedic surgeons, such as James Andrews, MD. My dad and Dr. McCue allowed me to hang around the University of Virginia sports facilities and helped me learn about athletic training practices and modalities. I fell in love with sports medicine as a little kid, and it's the road I thought I'd pursue. 

I went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., intending to study sports medicine. But during the summer after my first year of college, I shadowed Dr. McCue during a surgery. The next thing I knew I was out in the hallway with the head nurse asking me if I was okay. I began to realize the clinical side of healthcare wasn't for me.

I switched my major to healthcare administration. My second position was a senior planning analyst at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville. I was in a meeting with the CEO and some of the other executive leaders, and they were developing a strategy to build a $200 million replacement hospital. At that moment at 24 years old, I fell in love with strategy and planning and knew it was the career I wanted to pursue.

Some people would be afraid to move around as much as I have, but it's all been in pursuit of my career path to become a successful chief strategy officer.

Q: You served as an adjunct faculty professor at James Madison University for nine years. Can you talk about that experience?img 0001

MB: After I graduated from James Madison with a BS in health administration, I realized the use of real-world healthcare data and analysis was missing from the health services administration program.

I introduced the idea of integrating real-world data and analysis with the traditional course lecture in the JMU program. The director agreed. Although getting the data was a challenge, I pitched my idea to Solucient, now called Truven Health Analytics, and they donated access to their healthcare planning program to the course I designed at no cost.

The class was a capstone course on managing hospital organizations. Students completed three projects over the course of the semester. Their final project was pitching a business plan for an ambulatory program. They had to determine a trade area, conduct a competitor analysis and create a marketing plan. In the end, they'd develop a full five-year business plan and proforma to demonstrate the project was financially feasible. I served as their mentor throughout the process. At the end of the semester, they each had to wear business attire and present their capstone project in front of the "board."

The reward was my students [telling] me that while the course was the most challenging of their college career, it was also the most valuable because it gave them "real world" experience. My JMU experience has created a personal passion to teach and to develop others — both students in the classroom and those that work around me every day.  

Q: Your role carries much responsibility, including strategy, business development, marketing, public relations, real estate and construction services. How did you get involved in each of these areas and how do you make sure to stay on top of all?

MB: My career is founded on healthcare planning and business development, and it has evolved over time. There are tremendous synergies in these areas with marketing, public relations, real estate and construction services. All of these areas of responsibility are now a natural fit for my job.

To stay on top, I realized the importance of establishing priorities and empowering your teams to lead. It's better to do a few things very well than to do a thousand things at once. From that point, I designed a formal business planning process and an annual planning calendar to help my teams focus and accomplish goals that the organization's leaders agree are most important.

Teaching and professional development are also important. I always leverage my passion for teaching to continually grow and empower my team. The stronger they become, the less time I need to spend managing them on a day-to-day basis. Although I've heard some leaders say that teams exist to empower the leader, I feel leaders exist to empower their teams.

Q: How do you build a great team?

MB: Building a great team is something I strongly believe in.

I have been fortunate to have worked with many wonderful healthcare systems of different types and sizes. Community systems tend to have a higher mix of staff who have been with the organization for over five years. At these locations, it's important to seek a balance between the tenured team members with local experience who have served the organization well, and team members from other markets to introduce new perspectives.

Formal planning and establishing standardized work processes have helped. I also believe in a servant leadership mentality, which values the team over the individual.

I have always found it so important to routinely ask my teams for feedback and ways to get better. Early in my career, I recall asking for such feedback with my team. A woman who worked for me said, "We love what we do, but sometimes we feel like we never get to sit back and enjoy the moment." Ever since, I have always taken time to enjoy successes and find time for fun by scheduling regular offsite retreats and gatherings with my staff.

Q: What is one piece of advice you have for young CEOs or new CEOs?

MB: When you start at a new institution, take time to involve your management team to craft a carefully thought-out strategic plan. Don't make the mistake of rushing too quickly to make radical changes. Then install a culture of accountability and empower your leaders to execute the strategy.

I have seen some leaders put so much emphasis on zero tolerance for failure that it leads their organizations into the status quo. I am always happy to trade one failure for five successful initiatives. It's okay to take risks and make mistakes, but by having discipline, your successes will far outweigh any mistakes. 

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