Corner Office: How City of Hope's Robert Stone aims to capitalize on the 'golden era of innovation'

Nearly three decades have passed since Robert Stone toured City of Hope's campus in Duarte, Calif. Today, the same culture that attracted him to the organization remains a priority, along with continued growth and innovation, he told Becker's.

Mr. Stone joined City of Hope in 1996 and has served in various leadership roles at the cancer research and treatment organization. He was named president in 2012, CEO in 2014 and the Helen and Morgan Chu Chief Executive Officer Distinguished Chair in 2021.

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

Note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

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

Robert Stone: I was called to City of Hope's mission. It was and still is an invitation to be part of something larger, more important than oneself. Actually, it started 27 years ago. I was touring the campus when considering whether to accept a job offer at City of Hope. And I saw a nurse towing a cancer-stricken child in a red wagon with the child's mother walking behind, pushing the IV stand. And I saw that she was crying, and to this day, I can't tell you whether she was crying from joy because her child was enjoying the sunshine or from sadness because of the battle her child was facing. But I decided at that moment that City of Hope was a place where I could make a difference. And that introduced me to the world of healthcare.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Southern California?

RS: The diversity of Southern California's people, its geography and the experiences you can enjoy. Eighteen million people live in the four counties that surround City of Hope. And it's a racially and ethnically diverse population, and that leads to innovative and a vibrant culture where we all benefit from a diversity of thought and experiences. And it's in a geography where I can have breakfast at the beach, lunch in the mountains and dinner in the desert. It's a wonderful place.

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

RS: Access. This is a golden era of innovation, but many cancer patients are unable to access the specialized treatment they need to survive. There's a gap between the innovation taking place and the people who can actually access these breakthroughs. We know that cancer patients' outcomes vary dramatically including by their ZIP code and by the distance they live from National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers. And recognizing the connection between access and survival is the first step on a path toward more equitable, more effective cancer care. We're committed at City of Hope to serving the needs of the community and ensuring that every person living with cancer, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or geography, has access to optimal cancer care.

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

RS: I once viewed myself as an athlete. I played basketball and baseball in college. But as I get older, the hard truth is that skills erode with time. And I've spent the last decade focusing more on my kids' athletic ability than my own.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

RS: It's an important question for all leaders. You can't serve your organization if you aren't taking care of yourself. And I find my energy from spending time with my wife, Charlotte, and our kids, Ellie and Thomas. It doesn't matter if we're traveling together, doing an activity or just spending time in each other's company. I find myself when I'm with them, and that's where the revitalization comes from. And then those brief moments when I'm not working or with my family, I enjoy exercising and reading. But family comes first.

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

RS: I remember advice I received a decade ago. I had been named City of Hope's next CEO, but I had not yet assumed the role. One of our donors told me that the key to my success will be maintaining the special culture forged over the past 100 years. His advice was to actively meet with employees on the front lines to listen to their insights and concerns; remember that each of them own a part of our sacred mission. I have taken this advice to heart throughout my tenure as CEO by having regular roundtable discussions of 10-12 people. The two rules for these roundtables are that no questions are off limits, and I will protect the individuals' anonymity while asking them to share with their colleagues anything I say. The insights I have gleaned from the dialogue are invaluable and the discussion topics alone help me understand what is top of mind for the City of Hope stakeholders.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievements at City of Hope so far? 

RS: It's not my achievement, it's our achievement. I think the most important one is being able to grow into a one-of-a-kind national cancer research and treatment system while maintaining the special culture that attracted me to City of Hope 27 years ago. You can see the growth. We treated 135,000 cancer patients last year with the acquisition of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. We now have hospitals in four states with a fifth hospital being built in Irvine, Calif. Our research has grown and remains the bedrock of our efforts. Our philanthropy, which is our network of dedicated donors, increasingly supports innovation, and AccessHope, which we founded four years ago, changed the paradigm for how large employers across the country ensure their employees battling cancer have access to cutting-edge innovation and subspecialty care. 

Most important is that we've created one City of Hope system. We've maintained the culture that has its roots in our founding 110 years ago. I'm very proud that serving those in need is in our organizational DNA. Optimism abounds and hope thrives here. City of Hope has continued to be a relationship based place where individuals make themselves smaller than the greater good. And at the end of the day, we've shown you can combine scientific and medical excellence with compassion and a non-negotiable focus of providing patients with dignity and respect. And so we've expanded the access but maintained being true to our roots. That's quite the achievement in this day and age.

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


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars