David Hunter, the hard-nosed hospital turnaround expert who has won admirers and aroused antipathy in the healthcare industry, has resigned from Chicago-based Navigant Consulting, which purchased his multimillion-dollar firm in the fall of 2002.
Hunter, who turns 59 on June 11, said he plans to take a three- to four-month hiatus before making plans to return to healthcare in some capacity-perhaps in a full- or part-time executive role at a large hospital system or academic medical center.
"I really don't have a plan I can tell you about because I just haven't thought about it yet," Hunter says.
Navigant paid about $25.4 million in September 2002 to acquire the Hunter Group, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based consulting group that Hunter founded in 1988. Hunter's consulting firm, best known as turnaround experts for hospitals facing almost insurmountable financial hurdles, posted revenue of about $27 million in the year before it was acquired by Navigant.
As part of the deal, Hunter joined Navigant as chairman of the firm's national healthcare-management practice, a job he says he agreed to take on for about two years to help the transition. The decision to step down at the end of March, he says, reflected a belief that he had done all he could to help oversee the "integration" of the two consulting firms.
"I was supposed to stay with them until September, but it went so well, I felt it would be OK to resign a little bit earlier and take some time off," he says.
Over the years, Hunter made some enemies, especially among union members and rank-and-file hospital employees because of so-called "slash-and-burn" turnaround tactics that often involved massive layoffs as a first step toward cost-cutting. He says that stigma was unwarranted for the Hunter Group, which served 250 to 300 clients.
"About 25% to 30% of the Hunter Group work was what you would consider `turnaround,' which required that kind of (job-cutting) approach," he says. "We had many more clients who wanted to improve performance but weren't train wrecks."
The controversy that so often swirled around the well-known turnaround firm was a "double-edged sword that never hurt our business. It translated into a reputation, generally, that we got things done."