Corner Office: Froedtert Health CEO Catherine Jacobson on mourning mistakes, celebrating victories

Catherine Jacobson, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Froedtert Health, considers an executive's advice when celebrating a victory or mourning a mistake: Only allow 24 hours for either.

Ms. Jacobson joined Froedtert Health in 2010 as executive vice president of finance and strategy, CFO and chief strategy officer. In 2011, she was promoted to president, and she added CEO to her title in 2012. Before joining Froedtert Health, she spent more than two decades at Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center in various leadership roles.

Here, Ms. Jacobson answers Becker's Hospital Review's seven Corner Office questions.   

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

Catherine Jacobson: My heart became connected to healthcare when I was a child. My mom was a registered nurse in a hospital and because of that, I was able to get my first job working in the kitchen at the hospital. When I decided a clinical career was not for me, I went to work for a big accounting firm in Chicago. The firm asked what industries I wanted to work in, and I selected hospitals because I was familiar with them and then found out that no one selects hospitals because most people are uncomfortable in that environment. I quickly became a technical expert. Healthcare finance is fascinating. Eventually working around clinicians, I like to say, I learned to use my power for good, to create resources and bring people together to invest in a clinical mission.  

Q: What do you enjoy most about Wisconsin?

CJ: The liveability of Wisconsin is amazing. We have everything from a good-size urban city, with access to diversity and culture and world-class sports, and yet my commute is only 15 to 20 minutes. At the same time, we have remarkable access to the outdoors and don't have to go far to enjoy hiking or boating.

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

CJ: The byzantine finance structure of healthcare drives perverse incentives all over the place, such as reimbursing fee for service and underfinancing government benefit programs that forces cost shifting. This drives a lot of problems, and it's an area we need to fix.

Q: What is your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

CJ: Bringing my family together is the talent I exercise the most. My best times are with my family, when I'm being a wife, mother and daughter.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

CJ: Spending time with my family gives me joy. I also enjoy time alone, reading a book and working out. Those are special times.

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

CJ: An executive I worked with in Chicago once gave me advice that I actually passed along to my kids. You get 24 hours to mourn a mistake or something that went against you, and then you have to get back at it. And you get 24 hours to celebrate the victories. And then you have to get back at it.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievements at Froedtert Health so far? 

CJ: What I'm proud is of putting together uniform standards of quality in our health system. We have goals and metrics that drive where we're going and when we reach our goals — whether it's our hospitals or clinics or the work we do on disparities. I can unabashedly say we are one of the top performers in quality across the board on everything we do. Moreover, we have the numbers to prove it. I am exceptionally proud of this.

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