R. Clayton McWhorter, chairman of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., last week announced he will step down at the company's May 9 shareholders' meeting, saying he plans to spend time pursuing other business and community projects in Nashville, Tenn.
McWhorter, 62, wasn't available for comment, but sources said he is exploring opportunities in the home healthcare and HMO businesses. He will remain a member of Columbia's board of directors.
McWhorter was the third chairman of Columbia in as many years, as the company has ballooned in size. With McWhorter's resignation, the title of chairman will pass to Richard Scott, the company's president and chief executive officer.
One of the best-known names in the hospital industry, McWhorter could pursue a number of options, and his 25-year tenure in the investor-owned industry has made him a wealthy man.
According to the company's most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing, McWhorter has about 1.5 million shares of Columbia stock, worth an estimated $80 million. A little over half those shares are in stock options.
He has been Columbia's chairman since April 1995, when Healthtrust, the hospital chain he had led, merged with the Nashville-based healthcare giant.
"It was my intent to remain with Columbia through the transition period following the Health-trust merger last April," McWhorter said in a written statement.
McWhorter was instrumental in persuading Columbia to move its headquarters to Nashville from Louisville, Ky., as part of the merger, working with state and local governments to secure tax incentives.
A pharmacist by education, Mc-Whorter joined Hospital Corporation of America in 1970 and steadily moved up through the ranks of what grew to be the nation's largest hospital company in the 1980s. In 1987, he was tapped to take over Healthtrust, HCA's spinoff of rural hospitals.
While chairman and CEO of Health-trust, McWhorter briefly entertained a run for Tennessee governor in 1993. He discarded that ambition, however, to lead Healthtrust through a $1 billion merger with Epic Healthcare Group, a similar rural hospital chain based in Dallas.
In 1994, that merger was completed, as was the merger of HCA with Columbia. Then, Healthtrust became a hot property itself, as both Columbia and the forerunners of Tenet Healthcare Corp. bid to purchase it. McWhorter and his board chose Columbia in a $5.6 billion deal that was completed last April.