Andrew Agwunobi, M.D.
37, chief executive officer
South Fulton Medical Center
East Point, Ga.>
The hospital, struggling through Chapter 11 bankruptcy after losing nearly $25 million in the previous two years, was saved from extinction when it was purchased in April 2001 by Tenet Healthcare Corp., the nation's second biggest investor-owned hospital company.
In fact, South Fulton was a physically "filthy" hospital, Agwunobi says, with a troubling array of problems-everything from agency nurses who lacked a strong bond to the facility to disgruntled doctors and an ever-dwindling corps of other professionals. With about one-third of the adjacent medical office building empty, Agwunobi diagnosed South Fulton as nearly "terminally ill."
"Let's put it this way," Agwunobi says, "I knew it was going to be an enormous task. But that's what motivates me. It's been fun."
Since his arrival, Agwunobi-at 37 the youngest chief executive in Atlanta's ultra-competitive hospital industry-has helped orchestrate a dramatic transformation at the facility. Although Tenet does not provide specific financials, the hospital is now operating in the black, with a new billing system and increased business from satisfied doctors. Under Agwunobi, a down-to-earth administrator known to almost all the hospital's employees as "Dr. Andy," South Fulton has hired about 120 new nurses and more than 75 additional physicians and allied healthcare professionals.
"It was a classic turnaround-in every sense of the word," says the Scottish-born Agwunobi.
Tenet, which purchased the hospital for about $17 million, has committed approximately $30 million in infrastructure and personnel to the 40-year-old facility. Each of the hospital's five floors already has undergone some degree of renovation, and the office building now faces another kind of problem-there's not enough room for all the doctors who want to lease space, Agwunobi says.
The son of a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother, Agwunobi, who spent considerable time in London and betrays the slightest hint of a Scottish-English accent, was lured to Tenet straight out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Palo Alto, Calif., where he received his master's of business administration in May 2001. He earned his medical degree in 1989 from the University of Jos, in Jos, Nigeria, and completed his pediatrics residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington. Before attending Stanford's prestigious graduate school, he was chief of the pediatric urgent-care department at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates,Boston.
Agwunobi was hired in June 2001 as South Fulton's chief operating officer. Three months later-on his 36th birthday, and one day after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington-he took over the top job at South Fulton when William Moore moved to Atlanta Medical Center, one of five Tenet facilities in the metropolitan area.
Agwunobi's wife, Elizabeth Nega, an internist in Atlanta, gave birth earlier this summer to their first child, Rebekah. Of course, the baby was born in a newly renovated department at South Fulton. Did mother and father receive any special attention? "I like to think all of our patients receive special attention," Agwunobi says with a laugh.
Reynold Jennings, executive vice president of operations for Tenet's Southeast division, says Agwunobi possessed the right combination of managerial, clinical and communication skills to help revive a dying hospital that was slated to be closed until its purchase by the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based hospital company. Jennings says that Agwunobi, as a physician administrator, was able to relate to the problems of a group of unhappy, unproductive physicians at South Fulton.
"What Andy has been able to do is come in and understand the game plan of building service back up, and providing communication and support to physicians," Jennings says. "He's a smart, high-energy individual. He immediately started winning back the support of the doctors."
Agwunobi agrees that the key to turning the hospital around was building a strong relationship with physicians. After that, he says, everything else fell into place.