Corner Office: Stanford Children's CEO Paul King on why he always remembers to take a jacket

Alia Paavola - Print  | 

Changing and improving the lives of children motivates veteran healthcare leader Paul King each day, making him the perfect fit for his role as president and CEO of Stanford Children's Health and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

Mr. King, who joined Stanford Children's in January 2019, brings more than 30 years of healthcare leadership experience to his role.

He previously served as executive director of two Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan hospitals, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital. 

His strong leadership career also includes working as president of Pediatric Management Group, a 550-physician specialty group affiliated with Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, as well as working at Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic in a management role.

Here, Mr. King took the time to answer 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? 

Paul King: As a kid, I initially wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. After taking a few science courses, I realized that becoming a physician was not what really excited me. After interviewing a hospital administrator as part of a class assignment during my sophomore year in college, it dawned on me that I wanted to pursue a career that was a good balance between business and medicine. I also wanted a career in healthcare because I was attracted to the industry because it has individuals who all have an inspiring, common characteristic — an unrelenting pursuit of excellence. 

In healthcare, good is not good enough. Even the best in the industry continue to try to find ways to do it better, safer and more efficiently. I spent several years working in adult medicine at Mayo Clinic and at a sports medicine clinic in Los Angeles. When I was subsequently recruited to join the leadership team at Children's Hospital Los Angeles more than 20 years ago, the calling was complete. How do you not get excited and motivated to change and improve the life of children? 

 Q: What do you enjoy most about Palo Alto, Calif.?

PK: One of the first things that I struggled with when I first came to Stanford Children's was how to refer to the area since it is part of so many adjacent communities. Is it Palo Alto, the Peninsula, the Bay Area, Silicon Valley? No matter what you call it, it is truly a unique place. I live about 5 miles from the medical center, in the hills above Redwood City, Calif. What I enjoy most about the area is its vibrancy. There is an energy level here that I haven't experienced anywhere else. I attribute that to the high-tech industry and the innovation that is driven and fostered by the venture capital community. Moreover, after moving here from Michigan, of course I enjoy the weather.

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

PK: If I had only one to choose, it would be eliminating the barriers that exist that prevent access to not only care, but to information about living a healthier life. Much of what impacts health is beyond what most of us think about when we think about healthcare. The social determinants of health play such a big role. I think if we can begin to address those environmental, behavioral and societal issues that ultimately present themselves as health problems, we will go a long way to addressing the problems of access, affordability and resilience.

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

PK: An area where I have focused a lot of my attention during my career is honing my communication skills and developing interpersonal relationships. I find that these skills tend to be helpful in the C-suite, and I feel that I exhibit them away from work as well. This question also made me think of a skill that I lack, which I frankly find easier to talk about. In my mind, it's my inability to do anything remotely resembling home improvement. It's likely why I enjoy watching shows on HGTV and marveling at the abilities of the hosts to transform spaces.

 Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

PK: I enjoy traveling and skiing. I particularly like to ski because you really need to be one with the mountain. You need to block everything else out of your mind as you ski. Plus, I find the beauty and quiet that you experience at the top of a mountain to be calming and amazing.

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

PK: When I was a kid, and we lived in Nebraska, my mom used to always tell my brothers and me to take a jacket with us when we were walking to school. That advice has taken on broader meaning as I grew older, as I understood the wisdom she was trying to impart to us, of always being prepared for unforeseen circumstances. We would usually respond by telling mom that we would be fine, and that it was too warm for a jacket. Her response was then "you can't put it on if you don’t have it with you." It serves as a reminder to always be prepared.

Q:  What do you consider your greatest achievement at Stanford Children’s Health/Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford so far?

PK: It's far too soon to declare victory after being here for just about eight months. However, I think one of the things that I am encouraged by in my tenure, to date, is the degree to which my team and I have begun to work more closely with our colleagues at Stanford (Calif.) Health Care, which is our adult hospital, and at the Stanford School of Medicine. I have begun meeting frequently with Stanford Health Care CEO David Entwistle and Stanford University School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, to address issues of mutual concern.

For Stanford Children’s Health, looking at all components of our balanced scorecard, we closed a very successful year at the end of August. Our quality and safety results have been outstanding, our patient and family satisfaction scores beat expectations, and our financial results were strong.

In September, we achieved Magnet status in recognition of our excellent nursing staff and the culture we have where nursing is embraced and celebrated as a crucial component of the care that we deliver. In a few weeks, we will also open two new centers within our hospital where we will treat patients with heart disease, cancer and genetic diseases.

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