Living Like a Leader: A day with Providence St. Joseph CEO Dr. Rod Hochman

Rod Hochman, MD"My philosophy is that CEOs do three main things: Communicate, set strategies and hire great people."

Between driving growth, meeting clinical objectives and navigating complex payer dynamics, there don't seem to be enough hours in the day for healthcare executives.

Leaders succeed despite these challenges, each with their own habits, hacks, styles and methods — and Rod Hochman, MD, president and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health in Renton, Wash., is no exception.

Under his leadership, Providence has grown from an $8 billion organization into the nation's third-largest health system with revenues of $24 billion, nearly 120,000 caregivers and 51 hospitals in seven states. 

Dr. Hochman joined Providence Health and Services as group president in 2012, and became its CEO in 2013 after it merged with Seattle-based Swedish Health Services. 

In 2016, Providence expanded its presence further, joining forces with Irvine, Calif.-based St. Joseph Health to form Providence St. Joseph. Recently, the system announced plans to rebrand in 2020. The system will drop St. Joseph from its name, but retain the St. Joseph's logo.

Before joining Providence, Dr. Hochman was president and CEO of Swedish Health Services and held several leadership roles at Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare.

For this installment of Becker's Hospital Review's "Living Like a Leader" series, Dr. Hochman offers a glimpse into how he manages his energy, teams and time.

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

Question: What is the first thing that you do when you wake up?

Dr. Rod Hochman: I usually wake up pretty early, before 5 a.m. Typically, I go for a run. That early morning run gives me a chance to really think through and plan my day. It helps me sort out my schedule and how we are going to deal with the items on the agenda. But even before going on that run, I say a silent prayer to myself about our hospitals and 120,000 caregivers that are taking care of or about to take care of patients. I pray that we are going to do everything right that day for the patients who entrusted us to take care of them.

Q: What's the first thing you do when you arrive at work?

RH: Mike Butler, Providence's president of operations and strategy, and I are usually the first two that arrive at work every morning. The first thing we do is crank up our espresso machines.  After we get our espresso, we have about a half an hour or so of quiet time. We spend that time thinking through the rest of the day and comparing notes and schedules. What's interesting about this routine is that whether we're in the office together or we're both off-site, we still do this first thing in the morning. 

Q: Is there anything that makes your office setup unique?

RH: If you were to walk to the front door of our office building, you'd be greeted by a bronze sculpture of our foundress, Emilie Gamelin.  If you came into our lobby, we have a statue of Mother Joseph, who was one of the founders of Providence in the Northwest. Then, if you walk into our conference center, there's a stained glass window that stretches across a lobby that gives the history of our health system. When you come up to our office suite, you would see pictures of the mission work that we do in Guatemala and the kids that we take care of there. When folks come in, there's some sense of who we are as an organization when they walk through the doors. 

Q: Can you describe your daily routine?

RH: My philosophy is that CEOs do three main things: Communicate, set strategies and hire great people. To explain further, communication is key. You communicate what you're doing, you communicate your vision and you communicate the strategy.  When you're done communicating, communicate some more. Throughout the day I'm probably spending at least 60 percent to 70 percent of my time communicating externally and internally. 

No. 2 is the CEO sets the strategies of your organization to point the compass in the right direction for the organization. Ultimately you have to take accountability for setting the strategy and moving the needle.

The third thing a CEO does is pick great people to do the work in a large organization like this. Once you have those great people, then you get out of their way and let them do their jobs. If you talk to most CEOs, that's probably 95 percent of what they do every day, are those three things. That's what I worry about.

Q: Do you travel often?

RH: Providence spans seven states. Typically, each week, I'll be away from home base somewhere. This could mean visiting our hospitals up in Anchorage, Alaska, or going down to Oregon to meet with our health plan team or heading to Southern California to talk to executives there. I really feel that in order to be an effective CEO, you have to meet people where they work.  There are weeks that go by that I haven't been in my office. Others on the executive leadership team do the same, traveling a lot to meet people where they work, instead of forcing them all to come to us.  

Q: How do you think your routine differs from that of other healthcare executives? 

RH: For me, I constantly try to keep front and center. I always work to meet people where they work, not where I do. I also think it's critically important that you spend a lot of time listening to your caregivers to understand what they're doing. In addition, I always keep an eye on my schedule for the upcoming two or three months to keep tabs on what we're doing and when. I constantly ask myself, am I doing what the organization needs the most? CEOs spend a lot of time externally, so I want to make sure I am contributing to what we're doing. So I reflect often about what we have on the calendar and what else we should be doing. 

Q: How much time do you spend with direct reports?

RH: Generally, we have an executive council meeting every Tuesday morning for about three hours. This meeting is with my top direct reports. Then each month, we expand that executive council meeting to include my direct reports' reports. This meeting typically will last a full day. It allows us to ensure we stay organized in an organization that's 120,000 people. A lot of people ask me: How do you keep up with a sprawling organization? My answer is: I have a cascade of great people. My expectation is that if you're here, you know what your job is, and you're going to do it well, and you don't need me to tell you everything that you have to do.

Q: What is the last thing you do before you leave for the day?

RH: At the end of the day, my chief of strategy and I will talk. If we are not in the office, we will call each other from the car and assess how we did that day. It's a really good way for us both to kind of analyze how we're doing and to keep things on track. The absolute last thing I will do before leaving the office is to take a deep breath, reflect on the day from beginning to end. 

Q: How do you unwind at the end of the day?

RH: When I get home, I try to completely flip it off.  I go home to my CEO at home, my wife. We have been married for 41 years and have two daughters, who are employed and married. Typically what I'll do when I am home,  is throw on my jeans, and me and my wife will go for a long walk and usually end up at one of our restaurants somewhere in Capitol Hill in Seattle.

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