Thomas Royer, M.D., has two simple leadership goals--to be loved by the people with whom he works, yet be firm, fair and equitable when the need comes to bite the bullet.
Colleagues say, and his record demonstrates, that Royer has a leadership style that allows him to do both.
Now he is also the unanimous choice for the fourth annual Physician Executive Award of Excellence, co-sponsored by Modern Physician and the American College of Physician Executives.
"Dr. Royer's creativity and his ability to move among a variety of clinical and administrative leadership roles in a number of organizations that faced very different challenges--that, to us, exemplified physician leadership," says Frank Byrne, M.D., speaking for the judges.
"He has an impressive and continued record of success. If there were a hall of fame for physician executives, Tom would be an early entrant," adds Byrne, who is executive vice president of Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, Ind.
A board-certified surgeon with clinical skills in emergency medicine, hyperbaric medicine, toxicology and primary care, Royer is president and CEO of Irving, Texas-based Christus Health, one of the country's largest Catholic systems.
He came to the position with 30 years of administrative experience. Previously, he was board chairman of Henry Ford Medical Group and senior vice president of medical affairs for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
He also served two years at Johns Hopkins Medical Services and Wyman Park Medical Associates, both in Baltimore, in positions that included president and CEO.
Royer started his career in medical leadership at Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Medical Center and Clinic.
Christus is a not-for-profit, integrated system with more than 40 hospitals and 100 clinics and other facilities in Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, as well as Mexico. It has $3.4 billion in assets and 25,000 employees.
Royer says he was drawn to Christus in 1999 to implement a new organizational structure and build a common culture. But first he had to stem a system loss of about $160 million. By divesting such services as insurance products and PHOs, he achieved rapid financial turnaround while building confidence in Christus' new operation.
"Often, systems are centrally managed by an autocratic methodology," Royer says.
"Others are a loose conglomeration of facilities that do what each one wants.
"I brought the vision to Christus that we would be neither of those models. I was going to represent a set of franchise rules, consistently visible throughout all 15 regions."
Royer is a relentless personal communicator. He says he keeps staffers motivated by connecting every dot, constantly asking, "How does what we're doing advance our journey?"
He also looks for ways to give positive feedback and celebrate accomplishments.
For example, he tries to write 10 letters each day to associates he has observed "doing something good based on real performance."
"Dr. Royer can accomplish 500 things in a day. He is interested in everybody and is a real advocate of process," says O. Fred Miller III, M.D., director of Geisinger's department of dermatology. "He makes you want to come to work because he energizes you. You're around him a few minutes, you listen to him talk, and he makes you think, 'I can accomplish a lot more.'"
Royer also demands business literacy and accountability at all levels of the organization, colleagues say.
"When Dr. Royer starts talking about business literacy, what he means is not only the ability to express ourselves in terms of financial targets," says Peter Maddox, senior vice president of strategy, business and corporate development at Christus.
"Business literacy is business discipline--thinking in terms of strategic financial implications--and it's everybody's job," Maddox says.
Royer says, "The important thing is the culture that you have to create and sustain in order to carry out strategy. It is a culture willing to admit mistakes, committed to rapid-cycle improvement and that has a public commitment to people, saying, 'This is what we want to do for you.'"