'No-win jobs' in healthcare: From Rite Aid to a struggling health system

The healthcare landscape recently has seen a number of high-profile job openings posing enormous challenges. This begs the question: Who would take the helm of a sinking ship, and why?

Jeffrey Stein, the new CEO and chief restructuring officer of Philadelphia-based Rite Aid, is not the first person to take a highly visible executive role at a seemingly impossible moment. The Wall Street Journal called these "no-win jobs" and their appeal was encapsulated by the leader of an executive search firm's CEO practice: If everyone knows the situation was challenging when you took the lead, some blame is absolved if you cannot save the company. But if it does work out, you are a hero — maybe even a hero with a book deal. 

Some executives have an appetite for hopeless jobs, according to the Journal. Climbing the corporate ladder often requires an unshakeable confidence, a "no-can't-do" attitude. Rite Aid may be shuttering stores and filing for bankruptcy, but if anyone can pull it back from the brink, perhaps it's Mr. Stein, the co-founder of a firm specializing in "global event-driven distressed debt and special situations equity asset management." 

That's the thing about no-win jobs; someone has to do them. This is especially true in healthcare, where CEO turnover is at a record high

Rite Aid is not the only healthcare company to hire a new CEO at a turbulent moment in the company's and industry's history. Walgreens recently named a new CEO as it looks to manage a potential nationwide strike, close thousands of stores and cut $1 billion in costs. 

It happens at health systems, too. The chief executive at struggling Gardner, Mass.-based Heywood Healthcare resigned in June, leaving its financial chief and chief nursing/operations officer as co-leads. The health system filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection less than four months later. 

Although one executive might not be able to stabilize an organization, the fact some are willing to take on no-win jobs foments hope and possibility.

"I have tremendous confidence in this business and the turnaround strategy that has been developed in recent months," Mr. Stein said of Rite Aid. "I look forward to working closely with the board, management team and our lenders and bondholders as we better position Rite Aid to deliver on our purpose of bringing people whole health for life."

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