Corner Office: USC's Rod Hanners on the importance of listening, connecting and letting top talent shine

It has been 25 years since Rod Hanners was a naval officer on a nuclear submarine, but U.S. Navy experience helps him today as interim CEO of Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles.

Mr. Hanners took on his current role in June, after serving as COO of Keck Medicine of USC, as well as CEO of Keck Medical Center of USC. 

His healthcare career also includes positions at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, such as COO of Kaiser's Los Angeles Medical Center.

Before launching his healthcare career, Mr. Hanners was an officer in the U.S. submarine force from 1989 to 1995. 

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

Editor's Note: Responses were lightly edited.

Question: What piqued your interest in healthcare? 

Rod Hanners: Before moving into healthcare, I was a naval officer on a nuclear submarine in San Diego. I had punched the right tickets to become an aide to the admiral of submarine group 5 and to keep moving up the ranks. But with that would come many relocations. My wife and I had our first of two daughters, and we wanted to stay near family and friends in California. My engineering officer's spouse offered me the opportunity to join Kaiser Permanente and develop a national environmental, health and safety program to service all of Kaiser's regions. Even though I didn't start out with a passion for healthcare, I quickly learned I could make a difference and was eager to get in a position to do so. I have come to love the service side of healthcare. Making someone's day better puts wind in my sail. We're caring for people in their darkest hour. We can always make that experience better.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Los Angeles

RH: I'm a Southern California guy. I live in the same neighborhood I grew up in and still have friends from grade school and high school living in the area. I enjoy being outdoors, coaching and watching my daughters, nieces and nephews play sports and fish. But narrowing it down, I enjoy the beach life. Whether riding on the strand, body surfing or just reading a book, the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing give me peace of mind.

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

RH: The delivery and payer sides of healthcare are very out of sync. Instead of doing what's right for patients, we're dealing with prior authorizations and other red tape. Patients get caught in the middle. We exist to care for patients, and nothing should get in the way of that. I also wish we could solve the challenges around charges, price and reimbursement. It's an archaic model. There are so many layers of complexity and different perspectives depending on whether you're a patient, provider or payer. More transparency and getting rid of the administrative waste that the current system requires would move us in the right direction. 

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

RH: Both in and out of the C-suite, I am wired to be a listener and pay attention to details. It's how I was while attending college, and it's a major part of how we were trained in the submarine force. Being a strong listener is useful with my leadership roles and at home, although some may argue I could do better at home. It takes time and energy, but knowing as much as I can about how things really work helps me connect with people doing the work and enables me to make good decisions.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself? 

RH: I start off every day with exercise. It clears my head and gets me set for the day. I set a goal for myself to cut off any work at 8 p.m. so I can rest for the next day. I get adrenaline from being busy and effective, but I need down time to regenerate. There are always exceptions, but I have a good ability to shut things off when I need to rest up.

Q: What is one piece of advice that you remember most clearly? 

RH: When I was in college, I was making something much more complicated than it needed to be in physics class. My professor drew a picture of a hurdle on a whiteboard. He said, you just have to clear that hurdle by 1 centimeter, not 3 feet, because you are wasting energy that needs to be devoted to the next hurdle. I had a similar experience in the submarine force. When I was going through my qualifications, there was a saying of "3.0 and go." Perfection really is the enemy of good, especially in healthcare administration, so that guidance has stuck with me. A physician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles also shared some words of wisdom with me. He said, vision without execution is a hallucination. Many great ideas never get operationalized. You have to keep asking yourself how practical something is and whether you have the organizational energy and talent to pull it off.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Keck Medicine? 

RH: Keck Medicine has had a huge growth surge in the last decade. I'm most proud that we've been able to attract and retain some of the very best talent in the industry as we've grown. Our faculty is very aligned with the rest of our organization. We have embraced an "us" environment, horizontally and vertically, which allowed us to achieve Magnet recognition and make the U.S News & World Report top 20 list for the second consecutive year. I was mentored to hire people who are smarter than I am, and to create an environment where they can be at their best. That approach has never failed me. Executives succeed or fail based on the quality of people they have beneath them. It's a privilege for me to work with the leadership team at Keck, which is top-notch.


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