From good to great: How to strengthen the CEO-CFO relationship

Even when the going gets tough, Dixon, Ill.-based Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital CEO David Schreiner, PhD, and CFO Austin B. Frazier Jr. have successfully collaborated to evolve and develop strategies, with a little bit of laughter, to strengthen their working relationship.

"I think that for these two people to be on the same team and aligned is highly important for organizations," Dr. Schreiner told Becker's

KSB Hospital recently shared plans to merge with Peoria, Ill.-based OSF HealthCare by the end of the fourth quarter, a move that would strengthen and grow the services that the hospital provides to the community. 

"I think that gives us a chance from a culture perspective to continue what we think is a pretty vibrant culture here at KSB with an affiliate partner," Dr. Schreiner said.

A culture that both Dr. Schreiner and Mr. Frazier continuously work hard to improve. 

While some CEOs employ a top-down approach to management, a shift in leadership to open communication and dedication to building trust with employees will mitigate challenges and diversions faced in the changing healthcare atmosphere. 

"Dave is my mentor but also is a friend," Mr. Frazier told Becker's. "When I personally have a challenge or issue, I can bring those things to him and we can talk about it in an open conversation as opposed to it being a dictatorship to a certain degree."

It's this type of empathy and communication that Dr. Schreiner would love to see expand across the entire CEO role. 

"We can always be better in executive communication," Dr. Schreiner said. "The way that we interact with the people that matter the most to us, how we listen, how we express gratitude, how we do things that make them know that we care about them."

The CFO role has also evolved, and is no longer thought of as behind the scenes, crunching numbers in an office all day, but instead a more visible and strategic position, working to educate colleagues on the financial and strategic happenings across the organization.

"CFO as a teacher is really important," Dr. Schreiner said on what he looks for in a CFO. "The CFO has that ability to see things happening outside of our organization and within the industry, and he or she can bring those best practices back to our place, and we need that desperately."

Moving forward, Mr. Frazier would like to see CFOs become more generalists instead of specialists.

"I think a lot of the CFOs come with that accounting background," Mr. Frazier said. "They're CPAs to a tee but they don't have those other additional duties as assigned skill sets. Becoming more generalist in all topics that include revenue as well as strategy are going to be front and center to help complement the CEO."

As both the world of healthcare and the CEO and CFO relationship continues to evolve, Mr. Frazier and Dr. Schreiner agree that even in the most difficult of times, laughter is the best medicine.

"We laugh either at each other, at my golf swing," Mr. Frazier said. "We laugh a lot. I think that that helps to resonate and disarm the conversations, when especially some challenging moments that go through budgeting, processing, forecasting. Those are not fun topics to do, so if you can add some humor and color into that. It goes a long way."

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