In an era of vertical integration of and external disruption to the industry, it’s not surprising to see an executive leading a department or organization with little to no experience in healthcare. But that wasn’t always the case. Former Henry Ford Health System CEO Nancy Schlichting recalls how her bold move to find colleagues from outside of industry was first received a decade ago.
WHAT WAS YOUR RISKIEST DECISION? Hiring a hotel industry executive with no healthcare experience to be the CEO of our brand new hospital in West Bloomfield, Mich., which opened in 2009, during the financial crisis.
WHY WAS THAT MOVE RISKY? We were building a hospital that cost $350 million in a very competitive market. We had about a $60 million drag on our earnings and we were hiring 1,200 people with no revenue. In healthcare we tend to often think alike, so I wanted someone with a very different vision, who viewed a hospital as a center for health and well-being for the community. So in 2008 I hired Gerard Van Grinsven who had opened 22 hotels around the world. And he did in fact change the game for us.
WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE FROM THOSE INVOLVED? Some people were immediately supportive. Others were quite skeptical. In fact, our competitors ran ads around the time saying, “We’re not a Ritz-Carlton.” But we were immensely successful and other hospitals, including the one that ran the ad, eventually hired someone from Ritz-Carlton to help improve their customer service.