A product of three generations of Methodist ministers, Michael McMillan wasn't looking for just any job out of college. He wanted to serve.
He found his opportunity in not-for-profit hospitals. Mr. McMillan is both a brilliant administrator and an internal advocate for community service, colleagues say.
In July the 38-year-old Mr. McMillan became executive director and chief executive officer of the managed-care arm of the Meridia Health System in Mayfield, Ohio, an eastern Cleveland suburb, where he's developing the Super Blue HMO, the first product of an innovative joint venture with Blue Cross of Ohio.
As corporate director of marketing and later senior vice president for marketing and planning, Mr. McMillan helped develop programs that balanced business and community needs, such as a project to identify people at risk for heart disease and an Ask-a-Nurse phone line.
As the only African American on Meridia's executive committee, Mr. McMillan advocates stronger minority and female representation in hospital governance.
His parents, who live in Cleveland, are pleased he's in a position to help the community. "I think it's a similar mission to what my father would do, or my grandfather or great-grandfather," he said.
David Kantor, who as senior executive in charge of corporate development hired Mr. McMillan at Meridia in 1988, said it's not always easy for a black executive to be true to both roots and employer, but Mr. McMillan "handles this in exemplary fashion."
Last year Mr. McMillan recruited Cleveland-area political leaders to fight a certificate-of-need application by the Cleveland Clinic for a heart program. Meridia argued the program would siphon business from Meridia Huron Hospital in East Cleveland, which uses proceeds from its heart program to fund indigent care. Eventually, the proposal was denied.
Mr. McMillan has special ties to East Cleveland, a municipality adjacent to Cleveland that is 91% black and has the highest poverty rate in the state. "He fought long and hard to make sure East Cleveland and Meridia Huron got a hearing," said Karen Metropulos, now Meridia's director of planning and marketing.
Mr. McMillan said he's proud Meridia stays in East Cleveland, where it is the largest employer. Meridia also owns three suburban hospitals. "It would be easier and it would make more financial sense to abandon (Meridia Huron) and focus on our suburban hospitals, but that really has never been a question here," he said.
Mr. McMillan earned his bachelor's degree in economics from Columbia University. He briefly served as an aide in the administration of former New York Mayor Edward I. Koch.
It was an administrator at Lutheran Medical Center in Omaha, Neb.-where his parents were living in 1981-who convinced him that not-for-profit hospitals offered the business challenge and the community service he sought. Mr. McMillan took a job as director of planning at Lutheran.
In his early years Mr. McMillan saw Medicare's diagnosis-related groups transform the hospital industry, offering incentives to lower costs and increase volume. "It was obvious at that point the marketing function would become critical as hospitals were struggling to hold on to their piece of a shrinking pie, and there would be winners and losers," he said.
Mr. McMillan was promoted to director of planning at the Lutheran Health System, the parent body of Lutheran Medical Center, and in 1987 moved to Allied Services in Scranton, Pa., as director of marketing and sales. He worked at hospitals, channeling patients into rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing centers, home health and other Allied services. The next year he moved to Meridia as corporate director of marketing.
Mr. McMillan is known for following market data, not internal politics or popular trends. "It's very easy to do things that are nice, that have PR value," Mr. McMillan said. "In the end you should be able to say, `This is the result on the bottom line.'*"
Despite his responsibilities at Meridia, Mr. McMillan doesn't take himself too seriously. At an office Christmas party he dressed as Marvin Gaye and lip-synched Motown hits.
Subordinates say he nurtures their careers. Sandra Davis, corporate director of primary-care network development, said Mr. McMillan had her do a presentation on the National Heart Attack Risk Study, so she could win recognition from senior management. "Michael is a leader in trying to develop people," she said. "You can't help but like him."