Here's something Jeffrey Flaks cannot do: He cannot speak for five minutes without using the words "passion," "opportunity," or "make a difference."
Barely 30, Flaks has left in his wake a path of senior executives astounded by his "can do" attitude. At this moment in a short but already varied healthcare career, he serves as corporate vice president for support services and strategic initiatives at Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers of New York.
"He gets results. He does understand what needs to be done and has a lot of organizational skills to get things put together and implement a work plan," says David Campbell, president and chief executive officer of eight-hospital Saint Vincent. "His age has never been a barrier in terms of coming up with ideas, taking charge of projects and working with folks significantly more senior both in age and experience. He's just unflappable."
Campbell met Flaks in 1995 when Flaks was a graduate student in health services administration at George Washington University in Washington. Flaks served an administrative residency at Detroit Medical Center, where Campbell was president and CEO. When a retirement created an opening at the system's Hutzel Hospital in Detroit, Flaks was asked to end his residency six months early to become administrator for support services.
After two years, he moved to the corporate side as director of healthcare initiatives and network services. He stayed there for two years until he was recruited to New York by four-hospital Continuum Health Partners, where he helped develop a network of 135 doctors focused on orthopedics, rheumatology and physiatry. When Campbell came to Saint Vincent in early 2000 to implement an ambitious and problematic full-asset merger that was stumbling, Flaks was one of the first people he called.
"I decided we needed someone with Jeff's skills to help with the assessment and put together an approach," Campbell says. "I've never heard him say, 'I can't do something or I won't do something.' He's always the first with his hand up. He's never shied away from a tough assignment. He's just always there."
Flaks has built a reputation as a leader of immense people skills who supplies the necessary catalyst for change. Campbell says Flaks' distinguishing characteristic is an "undying curiosity to look deeper than what is on the surface."
Flaks says he first caught sight of his life's work 10 years ago in 1991 while he was a sophomore at Ithaca (N.Y.) College, studying business administration. During his summer vacation, he went home to volunteer as an intern in the emergency department at Yale-New Haven (Conn.) Hospital. He immediately knew what he wanted to do.
Flaks' uncanny ability to involve himself in major change surfaced two years later at graduate school when he climbed aboard the fledgling Clinton bandwagon of healthcare reform. Less than two weeks into the program, Hillary Clinton came to campus to present her ideas and Flaks introduced himself. The meeting led to a nine-month internship with the White House Health Care Reform Center.