CES Partners, Ltd. Executive Search Consultants

Recruiting the Team for Leading the Organization Through Major Transition

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

Perhaps more than a few will remember those favorite  words of George Peppard as he played Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith in the 1980s action/adventure TV series, The A Team.  But, how does an old TV series apply to 21st century healthcare? The answer: Planning, planning, and more planning. Whether it is the logistics of an ex-special forces unit or the complexity of running a healthcare organization of today, success generally started from following a plan of action. For short term, long term, financial, strategic, and succession of leadership of an organization – all require looking to the future, laying the paths to get there, and, occasionally, re-routing paths and working in detours, to make sure the destination remains squarely in an organization’s sights.

The Challenge

Vibrant, successful and expanding, St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky found itself in such a predicament in early 2007.  The Catholic not-for-profit medical center’s senior management had been in place for many years.  Joseph W. Gross had served as President and CEO since 1986, helping guide the three-campus health system through substantial growth in size and stature, from a single medical center, to a three-campus health system, to flourishing integrated system employing over 6,000 people in six hospitals, two ambulatory surgery centers, five imaging centers, and more than 35 primary and specialty care ambulatory practice locations.

After more than 20 years of service to the St. Elizabeth community, Joe has been considering timing and making plans for retirement. But a development appeared on the horizon in 2006 that would soon affect the entire healthcare delivery market in the tri-state area of Northern Kentucky, southeastern Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Boards of Directors of The St. Luke Hospitals, Inc. and St. Elizabeth Medical Center had signed a letter of intent to combine the two long-time competitive health organizations, creating a larger integrated, world-class health system to serve the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati market. The anticipated merger underscored the importance of maintaining a strong leadership at the medical center.

The merger discussions forced Joe to examine and his life and to decide whether he was truly ready to move on to an “encore career.” Indeed, after all the years he had worked at St. Elizabeth, he realized that some of the most important events in the organization’s history were taking place, or about to take place. Some of the events were internal to St. Elizabeth, controllable to some extent by its own designs and actions. Other events were external, such as changes coming from Healthcare Reform initiatives. These, Joe understood, would have a major impact on the organization’s future. 

He and St. Elizabeth had, through an orchestrated and well-defined succession planning process, begun to develop and recruit some capable leaders on its senior executive team. But the job was only partly done when the merger plans were announced. And, Joe found it difficult to consider extracting himself from the eye of the storm. Joe postponed his plans for an encore career just a little longer, determined to stay as St. Elizabeth entered one of the most important stretches in its entire 140 year history, until more of the paths to St. Elizabeth’s future had been cleared.

St. Elizabeth’s and Joe Gross’ principle problem was how to maintain the leadership and momentum of the institution during this very critical period of growth as well as merger and assimilation.

The Solution

Without hesitation, Joe sought help from an executive search firm St. Elizabeth had worked with many times in the past. Joe turned to CES Partners, partly because of many previous successes in locating top qualified individuals for St. Elizabeth, but also because he knew the firm would be able to assist in recommending staff structure and hierarchical solutions and guidance about succession planning with an unbiased, detached perspective.

Among the leaders CES Partners recruited for St. Elizabeth in the early 2000s were: Martin Oscadal as Chief Human Resources Officer, Jane Swaim as Chief Nursing Officer, Joe Ruark as AVP of Finance, and Joseph Bozzelli as the Director of Pastoral Care. In fact, Barry Cesafsky and CES Partners have been instrumental in successful searches and organizational counseling at St. Elizabeth since the mid-1980s.

“Barry Cesafsky knew us better than any other recruiting firm. Barry Cesafsky, in particular, had the intimate knowledge of our system and our core values that would allow him to hit the ground running on this search,” Joe says. “We knew we would be able to count on him again to find a match, find a candidate who would fit well in our culture.”

Succession Plan, Stage One

Consultants from CES Partners met several times with Joe and representatives of the Board of Trustees to discuss how best to proceed assure the continuity of guidance for the medical center and ultimately the identification of Joe’s successor.

The panel soon developed a consensus best course of action. The plan was to begin a search immediately for an individual to step into the role of EVP/COO. Meantime, Joe would maintain his CEO role and devote the bulk of his attention to board development and governance issues as well as the pending merger of St. Luke and St. Elizabeth. The new EVP/COO would report directly to Joe and be cultivated for an eventual step into Joe’s CEO/President role.  

With the plan established, Barry and his associates at CES Partners began a national search to fill the position of EVP/COO for St. Elizabeth, knowing that the right placement would also soon be candidate to lead the organization. CES Partners developed a position specification that incorporated characteristics that Joe and the search committee identified as critical factors possessed by successful leaders at St. Elizabeth. They sought a leader who would be constant in pursuit of excellence in four areas: quality of service; human resources; financial performance, and growth. Beyond embodying these core values, St. Elizabeth sought a candidate who had merger experience, strong personal ethics and drive, and a background that would flourish in a faith-inspired organization.

While many healthcare leaders in the tri-state area around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky might be attracted to St. Elizabeth’s vacant EVP/COO post, CES Partners was able to relate the health system’s story outside the regional healthcare market and attract additional qualified candidates. Many top prospects were located, interviewed and screened. Ultimately, the number two executive in the flagship facility of the renowned SSM Health Care system in St. Louis sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary surfaced as the best candidate for St. Elizabeth. 

Identifying John S. Dubis as a prospective leader for St. Elizabeth was a positive step, but luring him turned out to be a tougher task. Including his most recent nine years as EVP/COO for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and previously as president of two other facilities, John’s tenure at SSM was highlighted by market share increases and substantial improvements in operating margin. Dubis was in a fulfilling role and content at SSM. So, CES Partners had to present the St. Elizabeth case well before John saw the potential, including an imminent role of leading a system created by the prospective merger of St. Elizabeth and St. Luke. John was invited to fill the St. Elizabeth post and he stepped in as EVP/COO at the close of 2007.

Leadership Development, Stage Two

Hiring John helped set the stage for being able to manage and control, at least to some degree, the manor changes that were about to occur in the healthcare delivery market in the Tri-State area of Greater Cincinnati. John quickly began providing the vital support Joe Gross needed to help continue shaping St. Elizabeth’s role as a regional and national healthcare leading organization. John worked side by side with Joe, supporting the transitional framework Joe had set out, and helping ensure each new delicate step on strategic issues was sure-footed.

Respectful and mindful of the accomplishments that Joe and St. Elizabeth had achieved in the past several years, John knew he needed to begin developing the infrastructure for a new paradigm of leadership that would maintain St. Elizabeth on its new course, and continue to see positive, dynamic advancements as the organization ventured into an uncertain future. John began identifying the leaders who would help him meet the challenges.

And, as St. Elizabeth has done before, John turned to CES Partners for help in shaping its panel of key executives. John appreciated the fact that, after serving St. Elizabeth for almost a quarter-century and placing more than a dozen executives in that time – most of whom serve long tenures and are still with St. Elizabeth – Barry Cesafsky and CES Partners had a very deep knowledge of St. Elizabeth, a strong sense of its history and understanding of its culture. He knew this background would be instrumental in helping identify personnel who would both fit in the culture, and bring experience base to help chart the treacherous waters ahead.

“I truly enjoyed the entire recruitment and exploration process when Barry worked to bring me to St. Elizabeth, and I want and expect for similar representation as we bring other leaders into our family,” John said.  “CES Partners was not only well organized, but presented the position, the environment, our challenges and opportunities honestly and forthrightly.”

CES Partners has taken that charge seriously, that directive from John, and has successfully moved to the next steps in the mission. In 2009, CES Partners recruited a new VP of Nursing, Susan McDonald, and helped facilitate bringing inside one of St. Elizabeth’s outside consultants, Sarah Giolando, as SVP Strategic Development.

Most recently, CES Partners completed the successful recruitment of a new CEO for the St. Elizabeth Physicians, a 160-physician multi-specialty group formed recently through the merger of Patient First and Summit Medical Group. A key challenge in this search was finding a physician executive who met a "holy trinity" of criteria: 1) a sufficient experience in a similar organization; 2) a dynamic leader who could complete and ease the blending of two large, formerly competitive multi-specialty groups, operating from an unbiased perspective; and 3) the right fit for the faith-based culture at St. Elizabeth.

After CES Partners identified and presented a number of qualified prospects, Dr. Glenn Loomis emerged as the best candidate for St. Elizabeth - on all three fronts. Coming from a position as CEO for a similar, but slightly smaller Catholic physician group in Indianapolis, where he led growth and nearly doubled its network of physicians, Glenn steps in to his new role at St. Elizabeth in September 2010. Convincing Glenn to embrace the opportunity was eased somewhat by the prospect of his relocation. While his career had brought him to leadership roles in Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, this move would bring him closer to home, in a way. Glenn earned both his BS and MD from the Ohio State University, and moving to the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area brings him closer to where his parents reside, in Troy, Ohio.

Looking to the Horizon

So, what’s next on John Dubis’ team-building agenda? As Joe Gross completes the passing of the CEO baton to John late in 2010, Garren Colvin, who has served as St. Elizabeth’s SVP/CFO for eight years, will step into the EVP/COO seat that John is vacating. Meantime, CES Partners is once again providing its able assistance and has initiated efforts to identify and recruit a new CFO for the system. Barry Cesafsky and CES Partners will rest content only when John Dubis reaffirms, at the end of the calendar year, “I love it when a plan comes together.”


Next: CIO Contributes to Health System’s Strategic Vision

CES Partners, Ltd. is a premier retained executive search firm that specializes in serving healthcare provider organizations with tailored, personalized, senior level consulting services. With a national reach throughout the United States, CES Partners serves health systems, hospitals, group medical practices, and senior living communities. CES Partners’ main office is located at 1314 Kensington Road, #5195, Oak Brook, IL 60522-5195.