What defines a CEO's legacy?

CEO exits at hospitals are up year over year, and CEOs' tenures are shrinking at S&P 500 companies. However, some of healthcare's longest-tenured CEOs told Becker's they remain at their organizations and focused on how their teams are helping to ensure long-term success.

Here, Peter Fine, CEO of Phoenix-based Banner Health since November 2000; Doug McMillan, CEO of Cody (Wyo.) Regional Health since June 1997; and Steven Packer, MD, CEO of Community Hospital of the Monterey (Calif.) Peninsula since January 1999, discuss what defines a healthcare leader's legacy.

Question: How do you reflect on your impact and contributions during your tenure as the leader of your organization?

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Peter Fine: I came in following the merger of Samaritan Health System and Lutheran Health System, which created Banner Health. I was charged with taking the goals and objectives that the board had for that merger and guiding the organization into a future state, to serve and grow the number of people we serve, and do it in a way that we could be proud of what we've done. And the people we serve can be appreciative of the things that we have done for them. Fast forward, now, 23 years later, and the organization is quite large, with more than 50,000 employees, and much more complicated than it was then.

For me, guiding the organization through its developmental stages, to go from an organization that nobody knew anything about back in 2000 to one that has gained in reputation but also visibility around the country because of the things that we've been able to accomplish, has been something that allows me to look back and ask the question, "Has value been brought to the organization as a result of my coming to the organization?" And I feel strongly that this is a much stronger organization. 

Ultimately, when you leave an organization, you want to feel good that you have left it better than you got it. And if you have, you can feel a sense of pride that you've accomplished a lot and that the organization can be viewed as an organization that has not only accomplished a lot but is stronger than it was when you first came to the organization. I feel really good about that at this stage of my career, which isn't going to be a lot longer.

Doug McMillan: When I think of my legacy, it's what I've left behind through my leadership characteristics and leadership style. And when I think of character, it's leading with high integrity. It's never about me because no one's going to remember me. They're going to remember the things I've done to assist the teams, physicians, trustees, staff that I've worked with. And so I hope the legacy I leave behind is how I've assisted others to become better leaders, better individuals. My goal over 40 years in healthcare has always been to leave organizations in better shape than when I started. And that can only happen by being a servant leader, which is my leadership style, being there for those I work with to ensure they have the tools and resources to carry out their job and to be there when they need support and assistance. I believe in what Good to Great author Jim Collins wrote about getting the "right people on the bus." I really focus on that, and I've been very blessed and successful to have great leaders who have supported me.

Dr. Steven Packer: I'm leading the organization in my hometown. I wasn't born here, but it's the community that I consider my home and the community that I raised my family in. And so it continues to be a real privilege to lead our organization. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my legacy because, frankly, I'm still enjoying what I'm doing and still looking forward in terms of ongoing opportunities and challenges and needs that we can meet in our community. But when I do pause and think about it, I think about the opportunities I've had to impact the lives and the professional careers of many leaders in our organization. To mentor leaders and provide them with a path to advance their careers and do great things. 

For me, an important period of leadership has been supporting our staff at a time of crisis and at a time of great uncertainty. I used the pandemic as an opportunity to express my gratitude for the work our staff was doing every single day. And when I think about legacy, I think about the number of services and ways that we've been able to grow and improve the care we provide to our community. We've been able to move outside the four walls of our hospital and think a lot more about population health. We've been able to develop a provider-owned health plan. We've been able to do a number of community outreach initiatives for diabetes prevention and to address the opioid crisis through our Prescribe Safe program. I always think of how we have been able to improve the collective health and well-being of the community we live in. And probably the thing that I'm proudest of is an initiative that my team and I are still very much working on. About five years ago, we secured a $105 million gift by Roberta "Bertie" Bialek Elliott, the sister of Warren Buffett, to launch a child and adolescent behavioral health program named "Ohana." So for the last five years, we've been on a journey of hiring an executive director and then continuing to build the clinical staff. And next month, we're opening up a 56,000-square-foot campus that's been purpose built and designed to create a healing environment and to be the epicenter of "Ohana."

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