Jack Bovender graduated from Duke University with a master's degree in hospital administration in 1969, armed with advanced skills in finance, systems organization and strategic planning. But his mother, Eva, a nurse, reminded him that he would need more than business acumen to become an accomplished leader.
“My mother once told me, when I first went into hospital administration, that if you listen to the nurses and you do what they tell you to do, you'll be successful,” Bovender said. “If you don't listen, you'll make a lot of mistakes.”
He took her advice to heart. Bovender, now 69, said he always made it a habit to talk with the nurses in the critical-care unit, hang out in the doctors' dining room and spend as much time as possible in the halls of the hospitals he led, learning from his staff. It's an approach he used in his early administrative roles and continued through his eight years leading HCA, the nation's largest hospital chain at the time.
Bovender said he always valued and enjoyed getting down in the trenches as a hospital administrator, going back to when he was a Navy lieutenant stationed at the Naval Regional Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., in the early 1970s, and in his subsequent roles leading Medical Center Hospital in Largo, Fla., and West Florida Regional Medical Center in Pensacola, both HCA hospitals.
“There are people who will sit and listen and agree but never do anything with the information they receive,” Bovender said. “I always tried to react and take the information I had to make life easier for nurses and doctors and other people in the hospital, and tried to solve problems and bring resources to where they were needed.”
That strategy helped him flourish at healthcare giant HCA, where he held several senior-level positions before becoming chief operating officer and executive vice president in 1992 and later CEO, a role he held from 2001 to 2009, in addition to becoming chairman in 2002.
For his lifetime achievements, Bovender was chosen to be inducted into the Health Care Hall of Fame.