Education: B.A., Baylor University, Waco, Texas, 1960; M.B.A., University of Chicago, 1962
VHA tenure: President and CEO, 1991-present
Other positions: Chairman of the AHA board of directors, 1991; president, Yale-New Haven Hospital, 1977-1991; vice president and executive director, Henry Ford Hospitals and Clinics, 1974-1977; associate executive director, Henry Ford Hospital, 1971-1974; associate director, University of Minnesota Health Sciences Center, 1967-1971
First healthcare job: Intern, Arkansas Baptist Hospital, Little Rock, 1958
Personal: Born April 10, 1938, Little Rock, Ark.
C. Thomas Smith fell in love with hospital administration as a college student-and he's still in love with it today.
Smith, who has been president and chief executive officer of VHA since 1991, says he loves healthcare management because of the opportunity it gives him to influence the state of healthcare in the U.S.
"It is almost like a higher calling with Tom," says Gordon Sprenger, a VHA founder and former chairman of VHA's board.
"I heard about the field from a fraternity brother," Smith recalls. "As it turns out, a person who went to my church (John Gilbreath) was the CEO of the local hospital, so I talked to him about it and he was kind enough to offer me a job."
Smith spent the summers of 1958 and 1960 at Arkansas Baptist Hospital in Little Rock, now Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock, as an intern. "I was able to get experience in almost every department. When I was in housekeeping, I mopped floors. When I was in the business office-and this was before computers-I posted accounts on a posting machine. And I got to watch lots of surgery."
During the summer of 1959, Smith worked as an intern for industry pioneer and Modern Healthcare Healthcare Hall of Fame member Frank Groner, who was CEO of Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Groner was one of Smith's early mentors.
Smith returned to Baptist with a new M.B.A. He worked as an administrative assistant from 1962 to 1963 and as an administrative associate from 1963 to 1967.
Smith then joined another mentor, Stanley Nelson, the first president of VHA, at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital, where Nelson was president. Smith had known Nelson since his days at Baptist in Memphis.
Smith was associate executive director of Henry Ford Hospital from 1971 to 1974 and vice president and executive director of Henry Ford's hospitals and clinics from 1974 to 1977.
Working under Nelson, Smith learned how to take charge. Says Nelson: "We were almost interchangeable in that organization."
At his next career stop, Smith had the chance to be president. He managed Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale-New Haven Health Services Corp. for nearly 15 years.
Yale-New Haven gave Smith the opportunity to be the top executive at an institution with plenty of influence on the science of medicine and the delivery of healthcare. But it's at VHA where Smith has had the opportunity to influence healthcare nationally. "As much as I enjoyed New Haven, I thought the opportunity to make a difference on a larger scale was very tempting. I believed then, and believe even more strongly now, that (VHA) has enormous potential to make a difference in healthcare in this country."