When Marsha Powers and her older brother were teen-age lifeguards in Alexandria, Va., they launched their own pool management business.
They soon found out that supervising such operations "looked a lot easier than it really was," Ms. Powers said. However, the experience taught her to persevere, and during summer vacations from college she and her four siblings eventually managed 30 pools, which is how they financed their college educations.
Since then, Ms. Powers, 40, has moved from managing swimming pools to hospitals with the ease of a well-practiced diver with a good coach. She's honed her ability to persevere through management challenges at three investor-owned hospital chains.
"Marsha is an excellent strategic thinker," said Ms. Powers' current boss, Frank Williams, vice president of owned hospital operations at Quorum Health Group. "She works well with physicians and understands their challenges. In addition, she has a great sense of humor."
Her coach and mentor has been Marliese Mooney, who provided her with a role model in an industry that continues to be dominated by men. Ms. Mooney was a top executive at three hospital chains-Humana, American Medical International and Epic Healthcare Group-before she retired in 1991. "She is very strategically focused," Ms. Powers said of Ms. Mooney. "She's the type of person you would want to work 100 hours a week for to make sure things are going well."
She met Ms. Mooney in 1979 when she was hired as an administrative specialist at what was then Humana Medical City Dallas Hospital. Ms. Powers had just completed her administrative residency at Sarasota (Fla.) Memorial Hospital and received her master's of business administration degree at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Medical City, a 555-bed facility, became one of Humana's largest hospitals while Ms. Powers and Ms. Mooney, the hospital's executive director, guided a $45 million construction and renovation project that added 196 beds.
In 1984, Ms. Powers left as Medical City's associate executive director to be chief operating officer at Doctors' Hospital in Lanham, Md. The move got her closer to her family and gave her a good introduction to Maryland's all-payer system and diagnosis-related groups, which would become the Medicare standard of payment.
In 1987, Ms. Powers joined the corporate staff of AMI, which was Doctors' parent company, and became one of two team leaders developing strategic plans for the hospital chain, then based in Beverly Hills, Calif. Ms. Mooney also had moved to AMI and was in charge of strategy refinement.
In 1988, when AMI spun off 37 hospitals into Epic Healthcare, Ms. Mooney and Ms. Powers moved over to Epic, Ms. Mooney as vice president of hospital operations and Ms. Powers as manager of two hospitals. Ms. Powers' longest assignment was as executive director of 80-bed Fort Bend Hospital in Missouri City, Texas, which is in the competitive Houston market.
There, she created a management services organization for physicians, developed sports medicine, pediatric, urology and oncology programs, and received several management awards from Dallas-based Epic.
Her mentor, Ms. Mooney, calls Ms. Powers a "brilliant trouble-shooter" who "literally stabilized" Fort Bend. Ms. Powers' participatory management style was highly regarded by her staff. Fort Bend had the highest satisfaction results from its employees of any Epic hospital four of the five years in which Ms. Powers was its executive director.
A widow who lost her husband to cancer eight years ago, Ms. Powers said she prides herself on dealing with people openly and "managing in a way that involves the employee. I take their opinions seriously."
Her people skills and managerial skills caught the eyes of Quorum executives, who in January hired her as assistant vice president heading physician integration efforts for the company's growing portfolio of owned hospitals. "It's going to be a really key piece of our strategy," said Quorum's Mr. Williams. "(Ms. Powers) gets good results."