Top 25 Emerging Leaders
Mike Robertson, 39
CEO, Piedmont Mountainside Hospital
Six years ago, Mike Robertson was running Piedmont Mountainside Hospital's respiratory therapy department, volunteering for new committees and special projects the hospital's new owners were announcing, and raising two young children at home with his wife.
So maybe it didn't sound as if it were the perfect time to start evening classes to get his masters in business administration.
Yet that's what he did, just weeks after a conversation with his new CEO, Ed Lovern, who mentioned that Robertson might have a shot at a new VP of operations job if he could bring his business acumen up to par with his interpersonal skills and clinical experience.
“It was extremely demanding,” Robertson, 39, says. But not unprecedented in the Robertson household. His wife, a special education teacher, had gone back to get her master's while their first child was an infant, and so he says the couple always had an understanding that he might one day do the same.
As it happened, the quick action especially impressed Lovern, who was installed as CEO of the 48-bed hospital in northern Georgia after Atlanta's Piedmont Healthcare acquired it in 2004. Two years later, Lovern made Robertson the hospital's new vice president of operations, and in 2008, he succeeded Lovern as top executive at the hospital. “I'm envious of the numbers that he's been able to achieve up there,” Lovern says. “He's done everything that I envisioned we could do.” Today, the small hospital turns a profit, posts employee-satisfaction scores in the 94th percentile, and records patient mortality rates in the 91st percentile, according to Press Ganey scores. Robertson says his clinical background helps him establish rapport with physicians and hospital staff, who don't see him as a “bean counter” whose concerns for financial needs outweigh the job of serving patients. Lovern says the staff also respects Robertson's roots, growing up in the local community—though Robertson is quick to point out that he grew up in Cherokee County, just south of Pickens County, where Piedmont Mountainside is located. While growing up, Robertson and his family always traveled to the Atlanta area for hospitalizations, he says, because of the popular notion that small hospitals were “OK for lumps and bumps, but you don't want to have surgery there.” Robertson is working to change that notion. The hospital gets high marks from patients for ambulatory surgery care today, and he knows why from personal experience, as he and both of his kids have had surgery there. “There's truly a sense of pride, especially as a CEO, to know that we are delivering that kind of care,” he says. “As cliche as it sounds, if it's not good enough for them, it's not good enough for our patients.”