Early in his career, Kevin Lofton's mentor saw more ahead for his young hospital executive protégé than Lofton imagined for himself.
Percy Allen II, now an executive-in-residence with Cornell University after a prominent career as the head of hospital systems, encouraged Lofton to pursue top roles at top organizations. “He was the first person who clearly helped me to see that my potential (was) greater than the bar I was setting for myself,” Lofton said.
Allen, a member of the Health Care Hall of Fame, was among the professionals whom Lofton credits as an influence throughout a career that led him from managing one of the busiest U.S. emergency departments to serving as CEO of one of the nation's largest health systems. Guidance from mentors and his experiences inside and outside of healthcare helped shape his career.
Lofton, 60, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives, this year receives the highest honor from the American College of Healthcare Executives. The association, which named Lofton its young healthcare executive of the year in 1993, next month will award him its Gold Medal, which is given to those whose activity and influence extend beyond their day job to help improve the nation's health.
Englewood, Colo.-based CHI is a system with 105 hospitals in 18 states, a new health insurance arm and a home-care subsidiary. The scope of the organization's growth comes at a time of tremendous industry upheaval.
“We've been through a time here where we've been redesigning our airplane while it's in midflight,” said Chris Lowney, chairman of CHI's board of trustees.
But throughout the turmoil, Lofton hasn't lost sight of the organization's mission to improve health. “I don't get a feeling ever that we're forgetting why we're doing this,” Lowney said, noting that it would be easy for the industry's rapid transformation and competitive pressure to distract Lofton from the system's mission. “I never worry about that with him.”
Even before Lofton entered healthcare, a career he said he “lucked into,” Lofton said his experience as a taxi driver in New York City provided a valuable training ground for strong communication skills. “You learned how to talk to people, when to talk to people and how to leave them alone if they don't want to talk.”
The cab-driver job is one he cites, along with his time working for UPS, when he mentors Denver high school students. That's “so they see me as someone who wasn't wearing a suit and tie my whole life,” he said.