Autocrats don't last long in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Getting along with people is a key to survival in the region with just 350,000 citizens.
And in the local hospital community, few are as well liked and trusted as Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer David B. Jahn, who at age 38 is the Upper Peninsula's longest-serving hospital administrator.
Jahn prides himself on being accessible to residents in his boyhood home of Manistique on Lake Michigan's northern shore, even welcoming questions about the 38-bed county-owned hospital while he's coaching girls' high school basketball.
Over the years, his conciliatory style has soothed rivalries among the Upper Peninsula's 15 hospitals and bridged a historic rift between the them and hospitals in the more populous Lower Peninsula.
With Jahn's help, the hospitals began cooperating to keep more patients in the region for care, eventually leading to the formation of its first effective hospital network, the Upper Peninsula Health Care Network, in 1995.
Colleagues at other area rural hospitals regularly seek his advice and rely on him to press their concerns in the state capital. From 1987 to 1990, Jahn was their elected representative to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association and president of the Upper Peninsula Hospital Council.
Jahn says he learned how to treat people by watching his father and grandfather tend bar at the family's popular saloon in Manistique, where patrons could conveniently get their paychecks cashed every Friday.
"You have to deal with people in a way that they feel you're working for them," he says.
His well-known family was an asset when it came to getting the job of hospital CEO at the tender age of 24, Jahn says. With just two years of accounting experience at Marquette (Mich.) General Hospital and less than one year as Schoolcraft's chief financial officer, Jahn was picked over two management companies that tried to convince the hospital board he was too young for the job.
Jahn admits it was a challenge to earn the respect of older employees. Yet he proved his mettle early on by threatening to pull the privileges of a surgeon who failed to do his paperwork, recalls hospital board Chairman Glen Bignall, who was Jahn's high school biology teacher.
Jahn's forthrightness is credited with maintaining good relations with the hospital's two unions, avoiding strikes even in lean times.
To the amazement of colleagues, Jahn carries off the roles of both CEO and CFO. He insists it isn't a major burden. "There's $600,000 that we didn't have to spend over 15 years (on a CFO salary)," Jahn explains. "We can put that back into the community."
Jahn, who has school-age children, doesn't intend to change jobs anytime soon, but he is becoming more of a statewide player. In 1995 the MHA picked Jahn to be an at-large member of its executive committee, and he is in line to become the committee's chairman in a few years. Lately, he has advocated for hospitals in Michigan by serving as a valuable conduit to Rep. Patrick Gagliardi, the state House Democratic floor leader and a fellow Upper Peninsula resident.
"He among all of his peers up there has been able to pass muster with the whole field," MHA Executive Vice President David Seaman says of Jahn.
Yet Jahn remains a staunch advocate for rural hospitals. "We all need to survive because we're all in our own little niche," he says.