Its tough to think strategically when your cash on hand can be measured in hours. That was the situation in 1998, when the newly formed Catholic Health System, Buffalo, N.Y., was a conglomerate of poorly performing hospitals and nursing homes, losing more than $20 million a year on average. As controller for two of the hospitals, James Dunlop was part of the turnaround team responsible for bringing it out of that dark night.
In the process, he learned about tough decisions. When youre faced with that type of adversity, theres no opportunity for failure because your existence depends on crafting a future, Dunlop says. We recognized that we couldnt continue to exist as fiefdoms, but had to become a system.
These days, Catholic Health System, with four hospitals, eight long-term-care facilities and 15 primary-care sites now headquartered in Cheektowaga, N.Y., has a net margin of almost $18 million. Its daring to make strategic plans that stretch five to 10 years out, and to adopt an ambitious information technology initiative that includes an electronic health record by 2012one of the projects under Dunlops supervision.
Dunlop, 38, has been senior vice president and chief financial officer since January, having risen through the ranks over the past 12 years. His interest in healthcare started young as he watched his father, a pediatrician, interact with patients, but he preferred math to pre-med. After earning an honors degree in economics and public policy from the University of Rochester in 1992 (where he was an all-American cross-country runner) and an MBA from the State University of New York at Buffalo, he went to the Buffalo office of Ernst & Young as an auditor specializing in healthcare. In 1996, Sisters Hospital in Buffalo (a future member of Catholic Health System), offered him a slot as director of reimbursement. He rose rapidly, to controller of two hospitals, then to director of finance for three hospitals, then to corporate controller in 2001, and finally to CFO.
Jim has critical-thinking skills that allow him not to be intimidated by complexity, says Catholic Health System President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph McDonald, who joined the organization in 2003. Jim looks at financial services from two broad perspectives, says Robert Stanek, president and CEO of Catholic Health East, Newtown Square, Pa., which operates Catholic Health System under a joint operating agreement with Ascension Health and the Diocese of Buffalo. Hes a servant/leader, looking at how he can provide services to others, and hes also a strategic partner within the organization, bringing the financial aspect to its overall strategy.
Dunlop says his success is not just his. You cant singularly make things happen, he says. You need a diverse group of people who dont see the world the way you do.