In 1995, when Sue Brody was named an Up & Comer at age 38, her former boss described her as "quietly aggressive" with "fire in her eyes." Others who have worked with her say she has "heart" and is personable.
That dichotomy has come in handy for the president and chief executive officer of Bayfront Medical Center, a 400-bed hospital near the downtown waterfront of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Brody, now 50, directed the hospital through a costly legal skirmish with the city that ultimately led to Bayfront's disentanglement from a joint operating agreement. And when she was chairwoman of the Florida Hospital Association, she defended the association when the state's largest hospital chain—for-profit HCA—pulled out in February 2006 in protest over the group's president and board composition, taking with it $750,000 to $1 million in annual dues.
Through it all, Brody has helped fortify an institution that has been not only financially sound but also a good place to work.
"She has a caring heart for the patients and for the employees, and for the people associated with this institution," says Larry Davis, a pathologist and former chairman of Bayfront Health System's board of trustees.
Known as a family-friendly workplace that includes on-site child care and a hospital-based public school for employees' children, Bayfront was named one of the 100 best companies for working mothers nine times by Working Mother magazine. And employees apparently appreciate the efforts. In a recent capital campaign for the hospital, they gave about $1 million, Davis says. "It relates to the fact that she's got that kind of loyalty and support from employees," he says. Under Brody's leadership, a $32 million surgical expansion project was completed, and a new state-of-the-art cardiac center was added. The hospital has recently partnered with nearby 216-bed All Children's Hospital, St. Petersburg, in a construction and expansion deal that will allow Bayfront to lease space in the children's hospital so mothers can deliver their babies there and have immediate access to high-risk care if needed.
Brody's recent attempt to forge a relationship with All Children's followed a difficult period of going it alone, however.
A couple of years after Brody was named CEO in 1995, Bayfront joined with two other systems in Florida to form BayCare Health System. Three years into the alliance, the city of St. Petersburg sued Bayfront Medical Center in federal court, alleging that its participation in the alliance violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The city argued that Bayfront's agreement to follow Catholic ethical and religious directives violated its lease.
After filing a countersuit and offering to buy the cityowned land for $47 million—and after racking up more than $1 million in legal fees—the hospital opted to leave the alliance rather than continue the battle. "We went through some tough times," recalls Bill Heller, a state representative and chairman of Bayfront's board of trustees. "We went into that, we came out of it, and now we're doing very well on our own. … Sue has built an awful lot of bridges that will stay very strong for a long time to come."