CEO turnover is breaking John Couris' heart

John Couris loves a lot of things about Tampa General Hospital: a beautiful community, a historic institution, a board of directors made up of "absolutely world-class people," as he calls them. 

He was chatting with one of those world-class people, Chair Phil Dingle, about the health system's future when the idea first arose. Things were going well for Tampa General, and it seemed natural — "organic" — that Mr. Couris would extend his tenure as CEO through the next decade. 

He loves his job. He has more than $550 million of capital projects to see through. He isn't done at Tampa General, and he doesn't expect to be anytime soon. 

In the age of frequent CEO turnover, Mr. Couris hopes other executives will follow his lead, he told Becker's

"It does buck the trend. It is very different. You see very few of these [extended contracts]," Mr. Couris said. "But why not think differently? Why not buck the trend? Quite frankly, our industry needs a different way of thinking." 

Mr. Couris is not suggesting that Tampa General is a perfect institution, or that he is a perfect leader, he said. But he believes executives need a runway to bring their plans to fruition, and others in the organization can benefit from that longevity. 

"When you have a lot of movement in the C-suite, it is incredibly disruptive to the organization," Mr. Couris said. "I think that boards should look at CEOs and other key positions and use long-term thinking with them." 

"I'd submit to you that you need consistency and longevity to manage through the [industry's] turbulence," he continued. "It creates a calmness and a sense of security in the organization that allows people to innovate and drive toward the organizational imperatives." 

Healthcare is prone to highs and lows, and on the downswing, it can be tempting to blame leadership. But replacing executives can be "short-sighted" in some cases, according to Mr. Couris. He believes organizations frequently confuse climate with culture. Climate can change within weeks or months of a new leader's arrival, but culture embeds itself in an organization — it can withstand any one exec. It could take upward of 10 years to build a strong culture, and short CEO tenures can impair that development, per Mr. Couris. 

"It breaks my heart to see the turnover in the CEO ranks," Mr Couris said. "It really does, because for the first time in my career, I have seen and I'm hearing CEOs say, 'It's not worth it. I'm out. There's a better way to earn a living. I'll go to venture capital. I'll go to private equity.'" 

He gets it. Other fields are challenging, but healthcare is a sport of its own: COVID-19 has stressed the industry in "unimaginable" ways, and Mr. Couris thinks it could be three to five years before CEOs find stability again. 

For now, he's planting his own roots in Tampa, even if 10-year contracts aren't trendy. 

"CEOs in our industry, we have to challenge ourselves to think differently, behave differently and shift paradigms," Mr. Couris said. "We cannot use the same paradigm to make the same decisions as we're confronted with new problems."

Will he know when his time is up? Mr. Couris thinks yes — but he isn't looking at his job like a ticking clock. 

"The day I wake up dreading coming to the medical center is probably when I have to start thinking about when it's time to leave," Mr. Couris said. "I think if you're a leader who loves what they do, but loves the old paradigm and is unwilling to move into the new paradigm, and the organization you're leading is becoming a casualty of that — I think you need to leave."


Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars