Lawrence P. Kraska's professional life reached a turning point in January 1990, when he had to choose between accepting a job as administrator of a hospital in Asheville, N.C., or staying in Atlanta to manage the Center for Psychiatry.
"I decided to leave hospital administration to enter physician practice management because I had a strong interest in working more closely with doctors," said Kraska, 31. "It was a pivotal decision for me."
He appears to have made the right choice. In less than three years, he helped the Center for Psychiatry grow to 40 doctors from 25.
In 1994 he became administrator of Atlanta Ear, Nose and Throat Associates, a 17-physician group with annual revenues of more than $10 million. Under his leadership, the group has more than doubled its physician count and has captured three capitated contracts under which it provides ear, nose and throat services to about 350,000 people.
Focus, dedication and commitment fuel Kraska's management philosophy. He credits martial arts training and his mentoring father, who is a retired AT&T communication systems and marketing executive, for shaping his style.
"He's really an innovative and young guy who will outwork anyone," said Rick Siegel, executive administrator of Cardiac Disease Specialists in Atlanta. Siegel was administrator at AENTA before Kraska.
"He's a very exceptional individual with excellent personal skills and will give you back 150% of what he asks of you," Siegel said.
It is through martial arts that this sports fanatic mastered concentration and goal-setting. Kraska was a member of Kennesaw (Ga.) State College cross-country and track teams from 1982 to 1886 and holds a first degree black belt in Choi Kwang-Do. He is also a certified martial arts instructor with the Atlanta Defense Associates.
"Martial arts makes you very competitive, and it gives you a strong desire to win and be successful," Kraska said. "Becoming a black belt is a tangible reward. It teaches you to work very hard toward realizing your goal."
Kraska began setting and realizing goals in healthcare management in 1987. That's when Brent Bryson, administrator of Atlanta's Brawner Psychiatric Institute, offered him the opportunity to work at Brawner as quality assessment and utilization review coordinator while he pursued an MBA from Kennesaw State College. He held several other positions at Brawner until 1990.
"As a student, I learned what it takes to run a hospital and the importance of working with doctors," he said.
Kraska believes physicians are incorrectly stereotyped as inflexible and egotistical. In most cases, he finds them willing and able to respond to managed-care-induced changes.
"I disagree that doctors are hard to work with," he said. "They are perfectionists and have a very strong desire to be successful, and these strengths mark the kinds of leaders that larger medical groups need."
Before taking over at AENTA, Kraska worked for Charter Medical Corp. as assistant administrator at its Peachford hospital in Atlanta and National Medical Enterprises (now Tenet Healthcare Corp.), where he headed the professional relations department in the Atlanta region.
At AENTA, he is responsible for the strategic planning behind the growth of the practice. He coordinates all administrative aspects including finance, marketing, management, operations, managed-care contracting and physician recruitment.
Despite his busy schedule, he's generous with his time.
"Even though he has a lot on his plate, he's agreed to be a recruiter for the American Heart Walk on Nov. 3," Siegel said. "Larry's even offered to train members of our administrator's group in karate."
In addition to his martial arts interest, Kraska runs about 40 miles a week and enjoys an occasional sky-diving session. He and his wife, Bonnie, have two children, Jennifer, age 2 1/2, and Matthew, 6 months.