Mixed signals emerged from Kaiser Permanente's executive suite on the eve of the giant HMO's report of significant third-quarter losses.
Jim Williams, one of Kaiser's highest-ranking executives, resigned just nine days before the financial results were unveiled Oct. 30. He immediately began packing his belongings, according to Kaiser spokeswoman Beverly Hayon.
But, Williams, 41, rebutted any suggestion that his departure was hasty and connected to the company's mounting financial losses. He attributed his resignation solely to new career opportunities and to family responsibilities.
"My leaving has nothing to do with Kaiser's financial results," he said.
Williams, who had been senior vice president of group operations and strategic development for Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser and head of its 2-year-old Kaiser Permanente International unit, had been appointed president of the organization's 1.1-million-enrollee northwest division in September (See story, p. 30).
Williams was also responsible for human resources at the 100,000-employee behemoth.
Hayon insisted there was no link between Williams' abrupt departure and Kaiser's financial performance. But a senior official at Kaiser who asked not to be named indicated that Williams' resignation was related to the operational results.
"Take a look at the areas he was responsible for and see how well they're doing," the official said.
Seven months earlier, then-Chief Financial Officer Susan Porth resigned shortly after Kaiser announced a $270 million 1997 loss.
In contrast, Kaiser's board of directors reached an agreement with Chief Executive Officer David Lawrence, M.D., in September that would keep him at the organization's helm through 2002. The board felt it was important "to maintain the stability and strength of leadership that Dr. Lawrence represents," said Dean Morton, chairman of the board's executive committee, in an internal Kaiser newsletter.
Lawrence has served as Kaiser's CEO since 1990 and was named chairman a year later. But he presided over the not-for-profit's first-ever earnings loss last year, a $270 million deficit that led to some speculation about his future there.