Barry Arbuckle has held a doctorate for a decade, but one thing he hasn't held, in more than 20 years in fact, is a novel.
Named executive vice president of Long Beach, Calif.-based Memorial Health Services last May, the 35-year-old Arbuckle finds there's simply too much work to do for him to catch up on popular reading.
"I sit down at night and read computer manuals to keep abreast with technology. I find it makes my job easier," Arbuckle says.
That job includes oversight of mergers, acquisitions and business development for Memorial, which operates five hospitals in the Long Beach area and in neighboring Orange County, Calif. The system's revenues total more than $1 billion.
Aside from those duties, Arbuckle is also chief executive officer of 230-bed Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, a former FHP International property Memorial acquired in 1995. Arbuckle played a key role in that acquisition, as well as in the signing of recent long-term provider contracts with FHP and PacifiCare Health Systems.
Based on his resume, healthcare wheeling-and-dealing would not be the first career you'd expect of Arbuckle. His doctoral, master's and bachelor's degrees are in health administration/child development, developmental psychology and child psychology, respectively. In fact, he served as an assistant professor of child development and family relations at the University of North Carolina between 1986 and 1989. But Arbuckle thought he could make more of his career.
"I always knew I'd have the chance to fall on the academic path and hold a faculty position at a university, but I really had the aspiration to hold an executive position at a children's hospital," he says.
Arbuckle also wanted to return to the West Coast, which entranced him while he was earning his master's at Arizona State University. So he sent out blind letters to the various children's hospitals in California. He had interviewed at Stanford University Medical Center and was waiting for a response when he was offered a job as director of patient and family services at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Miller's Children's Hospital adjoins Long Beach Memorial, and one of his responsibilities would be developing programs for Miller's and securing grants to fund them. He accepted immediately.
"It was a position that didn't have any departments reporting to it, with no line responsibility, and I had come out of a very grant-savvy university (UNC), so I knew the game," he says.
And Arbuckle was hard-nosed enough to climb the ranks. A native of Missouri, he admits to being a nearly religious adherent to the state's "show-me" motto. He describes himself as a pragmatic, someone who feels uncomfortable if he isn't at his desk by 6: 30 a.m. He doesn't hesitate to leave voice mail messages an hour earlier than that.
"E-mail and voice mail are absolute godsends," Arbuckle says. "I don't want to get into social conversations; I prefer to be quick and succinct.
"I have very high expectations of the people who work for me," he adds. "They need to understand their tasks, and they are or should be the authority for the areas they work in. If you can't delegate to them, they should be replaced. It sounds hard, but I shouldn't have to educate."
Indeed, that attitude has brought rewards. Arbuckle eventually was named administrator of Miller's, then senior vice president of Long Beach Memorial, before he was promoted again to his current position.
Still, despite his attitude about work, Arbuckle says he realizes the importance of balancing his career with his home life.
"My family is my hobby," says Arbuckle, who has three children between the ages of 1 and 8. "I try to get home by 6: 30 p.m. for dinner and usually avoid dinner meetings. I don't want to see the family suffer."
But Arbuckle also admits that isn't easy.
"It was a very hard transition, particularly coming out of graduate school, when I was working 18 hours a day, and it was difficult to pull out of that," he says. "But you realize after a while that this is no longer a preparation for a career. This is life."