Corner Office: BIDCO President and CEO Jeffrey Hulburt on how a heated meeting taught him a great lesson

Jeffrey Hulburt serves as president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization, a value-based physician and hospital network and ACO based in Westwood, Mass.

Mr. Hulburt began his career at BIDCO five years ago as CFO. After about a year and a half, he was appointed to the chief executive role.

As president and CEO, Mr. Hulburt oversees BIDCO's mission, which includes advancing the adoption of value-based payment models and creating a high-value, lower cost network in Massachusetts.

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

Editor's Note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

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

Jeffrey Hulburt: For me, my interest began when I was 11 or 12. I remember going to my general practitioner, as they were called back then, in the suburb where I lived. His office was in a home. He saw patients on the first floor and lived on the second. I realized, with that office set-up, that he spent his entire day trying to help people, and I decided that was something I really wanted to do too. People would come to him with health-related problems, and he would solve them.

From that office visit, I knew that if I wanted to pursue a medical career, I needed to take science and math classes. Luckily for me, I found a lot of those classes interesting. Chemistry and physics were my specialty because they required a lot of problem-solving. I guess you could say problem-solving became one of the major components of healthcare that I was drawn to at an early age.

Q: Given that BIDCO is headquartered in Westwood, what do you enjoy most about that city and Massachusetts as a whole?

JH: I've lived in Massachusetts my entire life. It's my home, and while I've traveled to different places, I still really enjoy being in this area. I love that we have four seasons that are very distinct from each other. Now, as I get older, the winter season is quickly becoming my least favorite, but I really do enjoy that sense of change four times a year. Westwood is a bit of a commute from where I live, but that lets me discuss the other beautiful thing about this area. Within an hour, I can be in the mountains or stepping onto a beach near the ocean. In fact, within a couple of hours, I could even be in six different states. So, there's the diversity of change that we can always get without having to travel too far. To me, overall, Massachusetts just feels like home.

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

JH: There are so many challenges in healthcare. However, because of my past and present experiences, I have to say I would like to erase the debate over whether healthcare is a right or not. I firmly believe that every citizen should have access to the care that they need.

When you look at other industries, they don't have a similar, deep-seated debate. Take the transportation industry, for example. We have found ways as a country to give everybody an opportunity to have transportation, whether that is owning a car, taking a bus or a subway. But, in healthcare, we still haven't come to that agreement that everybody deserves to be able to get the care that they need to keep themselves and their family well. I think that should be challenged.

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

JH: I think my greatest skill is my ability to listen. I actually tend to be an introvert by nature. I'm much better in one-on-one situations than in bigger settings. I always aim to spend time listening in meetings and forums, rather than being the loudest voice in the room. It's important for me to really hear what each person says, and it is even more important to understand why they're saying it. Hearing all perspectives helps me problem solve and figure out solutions. As my career has progressed, I've had to move outside of that comfort zone and tap into any extroverted potential. But even at this level, I still resist being the most dominant voice in the room, so I can make sure all perspectives are heard and brought forward.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

JH: I really use the weekends to revitalize. I tend to stay focused during the week. My work requires me to be in different locations. So, I'm not just in Westwood. Our network is broad, so I spend a lot of time commuting and getting other places. However, I make time each evening for my family, but sometimes it's not until later in the evening, so I really use the weekends to catch up. My daughters are getting a bit older now and it's more difficult, but we really do still try to find time for all four of us to do something together, whether it's a meal, a movie or shopping. One way I revitalize is finding time where we can do something together after being pulled in our four different directions on a daily basis. 

Another activity is golf, although I am not great at it. Some of the most peaceful times have been out on a golf course with two, three or four other people. I think it's because you are out in nature and it's quiet. But I also just enjoy the game. I try not to make it too difficult or competitive.

In addition, I love to read. I grew up reading a lot of fiction and still love it. For me, reading is often about an escape, rather than learning something. Although, I still must do my share of reading to learn. Other times, revitalizing means zoning out with Netflix and watching a movie or just really being able to get engrossed in something without all the other thoughts that invade my mind late at night or driving home as it relates to my career. I just try to find that balance and detach for a while.

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

JH: The advice I carry with me today came from a heated discussion at an organization I used to work at. The discussion was between the CEO, COO and general counsel. I was the vice president of budget, and we were discussing the budget at a time when the financial situation was challenging. I was not a regular member in meetings with this group, so I was there for a purpose. They met often, as is the course in a leadership group, and the conversation was respectful, but there were strong varying opinions in the room.

After the meeting, the CEO sent me an email acknowledging that he knew it may have been a bit uncomfortable for me to be in the meeting, but he followed that with great advice and something that taught me a great lesson. He said, "I know that meeting was intense and not what you were used to. I sometimes have to let others say what they need to say, in the way they need to say it, and not take it personally. They need to be heard and I need to hear them. When it's over, I don't hold any grudges. We take action and we move on."

This really taught me about what it takes to be a good leader. It means making sure your team is fully comfortable expressing themselves, even if they're in disagreement with you or you're in disagreement with them. Then being able, after all of that, to come to a decision and have everybody move on and keep going is a great thing to know how to do. I think this advice is what really stuck with me and helped me realize two things: First, that listening is important. Second, that it is sometimes okay to be in an uncomfortable situation because it can turn into progress for an organization if handled appropriately.

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

JH: Unlike other companies I have worked for, when I first started at BIDCO we did not have mission and value statements. My proudest moment was developing these core values, which ended up being a nine-month process with my leadership team. At times, as a team, we were in the trenches working to develop, define and coalesce around this set of core values. Essentially, the decision to develop these values really brought the team together and defined who we are as a leadership team. I expressed to them, during this process, that I firmly believe these values need to be an innate part of who we are and how we function daily with everyone we're interacting with. They couldn't just be words on a page or a poster. They had to be things that as a team we were expressing day in and day out, holding each other accountable for to change the organization. It was a proud moment for me after we landed on six core values that we agreed upon. 

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