Top 25 Emerging Leaders
Brian Smith, 39
Executive Vice President and COO, St. Rita's Medical Center
For Brian Smith, a dramatic U-turn early in his career couldn't have been more propitious.
Indeed, the abrupt job switch turned out to be a very good move for both Smith and St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, Ohio, where officials persuaded him to give up his job as a midlevel executive for a local cabinet manufacturer and turn his attention to healthcare.
Since making that move in 1990, when he was just three years out of college, the 39-year-old Smith has quickly ascended the administrative ladder at the 375-bed hospital, building a strong foundation for the future through leadership and management skills, his colleagues say.
"I've had the good fortune and opportunity to be part of a great team and a great ministry," Smith says. "I actually like to come to work at St. Rita's because you can bring your values with you. We strive to be the best place for patients, the best place for employees and the best place for physicians to practice. It's a great job."
Smith, who graduated in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in business administration from Ohio Northern University in Ada and received a master's degree in business administration nine years later from Ashland (Ohio) University, was working for a cabinet company when he received a phone call from one of his former mentors. He's been at St. Rita's ever since.
He kicked off his career as wage and benefits manager in 1990, then moved to human resources director two years later. In 1995 he was promoted to vice president of human resources before becoming senior vice president in 1998. Last year he was promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer, putting him in charge of supervising about 2,500 of the hospital's 2,800 employees.
One of his accomplishments, Smith says, was transforming the human resources department into one of the organization's most integral "strategic partners." He says he was able to impart to his bosses that areas such as retention, compensation and benefits strategy must be seamlessly integrated into the entire operation.
That focus had led to a significant improvement in the hospital's nurse-retention rate: It now stands at about 94% compared with 88% several years ago. Smith says St. Rita's was the top performer in that category among the 32 hospitals operated by its parent company, Catholic Healthcare Partners. Patient-satisfaction levels also have jumped, Smith says.
As a member of the newest class of Modern Healthcare's Up & Comers, Smith is following in the footsteps of his boss, James Reber, St. Rita's president and chief executive officer, who was honored as a Modern Healthcare Up & Comer in the mid-1980s while he was COO at Kent General Hospital, Dover, Del.
"I've been working in hospital administration since 1972, so I've been blessed to work with a lot of good people and see a broad sampling of leaders," Reber says. "But Brian, especially at his age, I think, has demonstrated particular savvy-and a passion for our industry."