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Revisiting the Top 25: Leon Clark helps guide the transformation of Mayo Clinic

By | September 28 th,  2016 | Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, chief administrative officer, integrated medical group, Mayo Clinic, Modern Healthcare, transformation, Blog, leadership, mentor, Leon Clark | Add A Comment

 

Classic content: One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

For many years, Mayo Clinic has been arguably the leading brand in patient care. But as it has evolved over the past two decades, Leon Clark has had a hand in the transformation process.

 

He’s now chairman of the research administration department, where he’s in charge of a $675 million operating budget. When he joined in 1997 after stints at Ameritech and American Express, he was a unit manager in accounting. Clark has had a steady rise at Mayo, and he remembers the smart evolution of a respected American institution.

 

“At that time, Mayo started to realize that, if it were sustain its full tripartite mission – practice, education and research – that it would need to diversify its activities and generate income from sources other than just practice,” he says.

 

Among Mayo’s purchases back then were a continuing care retirement community that included retirement homes and skilled nursing facilities, and a medical transport company. Clark joined Mayo to help the controller align and assess the diverse businesses.

 

That led to opportunities to become the operations director of Mayo’s health plan and third-party administration operation and the chance to run the OB-GYN clinical department at Mayo. Over the last decade, working in research at Mayo, he is helping to engineer another round of reinvention.

 

“We’ve started to reposition research at Mayo to be more aligned with a traditional R & D operation,” Clark says. “One of the challenges for academic medical centers is, how do we reposition research assets to drive transformational change in patient care? So what we have are scientists who, in many cases, work in university environments where the incentives are misaligned with the goals of the clinical practice.

 


“They’re rewarded based on grants and publications, and not necessarily on improvements in patient care or creating products and services that advance patient care and differentiate the operation.”

 

So what Clark and his team are doing is looking at Mayo Clinic through a completely different lens.

 

“My physician partner and I approach it from the perspective that Mayo Clinic is an integrated medical group practice first,” he says. “Our research and educational activities essentially underpin the practice and we are creating new capabilities that will contribute to the advancement of patient care and ultimately differentiate Mayo in the marketplace.”

 

That’s an important distinction in the post-Affordable Care Act era.

 

“As healthcare payment reform takes shape, there’s a greater likelihood that many patients who would benefit from care at Mayo would be locked out due to a narrowing of their network or for other reasons,” Clark says. “So what we have to do is create compelling and differentiating capabilities that will inspire people to come out of their network and seek care here because, in my view, they’re going to be better off in the long run.”

 

Clark is glad he himself came to Mayo himself almost 20 years ago. He credits former chief administrative officers Jeffrey Korsmo, now the CEO at Via Christi Health in Wichita, Kan., and recently retired Shirley Weis for being invaluable mentors in his leadership journey.

 

“Early on in my career, Jeff took an interest in me personally and wanted to make sure I had a successful career at Mayo,” he says. “But the other thing he did for me was to run interference for me when I needed it and to point out landmines when he knew I was on a path that would probably lead to me stepping on one. I found out after the fact that he had conversations with other leaders about me as well.”

 

That was crucial, he says, because diverse executives don’t always get second chances after they’ve made a mistake.

 

“All of us make mistakes in our careers,” he says. “In fact, I worry about people who don’t make mistakes because that means they’re not stretching enough to make a difference. Our industry needs folks who are innovative and who think transformationally. That might lead to making mistakes and the question is, how do we recover? If you’re a member of a minority group, historically, it’s been more difficult.”

 

Mayo is a big company ($8 billion) but a small community. It’s governed primarily by committee, and some of that work allows executives to expand their exposure to the entire organization and to get involved in things that aren’t necessarily part of their day-to-day purview. In that setting, relationship management is important, and Clark says that is one reason he has flourished there.

 

“People know me, and they know I’m well-intentioned,” he says. “So even if I step on a landmine, I tend to get a little bit of grace.”
He’s committed to passing that on.

 

“I think it’s an obligation of every leader to identify, coach and mentor the next generation of leaders, so I’ve been very intentional and active around that,” Clark says. “The demographics are changing – Mayo wants to serve every patient who benefits from our care, and those people are increasingly diverse. We want to give them the full Mayo experience. So how can we do that? We need to diversify our employees so we can better understand our patients and serve them better.”

 

 

Leon Clark helps guide the transformation of Mayo Clinic

By | April 15 th,  2016 | Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, chief administrative officer, integrated medical group, Mayo Clinic, Modern Healthcare, transformation, Blog, leadership, mentor, Leon Clark | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

For many years, Mayo Clinic has been arguably the leading brand in patient care. But as it has evolved over the past two decades, Leon Clark has had a hand in the transformation process.

 

He’s now chairman of the research administration department, where he’s in charge of a $675 million operating budget. When he joined in 1997 after stints at Ameritech and American Express, he was a unit manager in accounting. Clark has had a steady rise at Mayo, and he remembers the smart evolution of a respected American institution.

 

“At that time, Mayo started to realize that, if it were sustain its full tripartite mission – practice, education and research – that it would need to diversify its activities and generate income from sources other than just practice,” he says.

 

Among Mayo’s purchases back then were a continuing care retirement community that included retirement homes and skilled nursing facilities, and a medical transport company. Clark joined Mayo to help the controller align and assess the diverse businesses.

 

That led to opportunities to become the operations director of Mayo’s health plan and third-party administration operation and the chance to run the OB-GYN clinical department at Mayo. Over the last decade, working in research at Mayo, he is helping to engineer another round of reinvention.

 

“We’ve started to reposition research at Mayo to be more aligned with a traditional R & D operation,” Clark says. “One of the challenges for academic medical centers is, how do we reposition research assets to drive transformational change in patient care? So what we have are scientists who, in many cases, work in university environments where the incentives are misaligned with the goals of the clinical practice.

 


“They’re rewarded based on grants and publications, and not necessarily on improvements in patient care or creating products and services that advance patient care and differentiate the operation.”

 

So what Clark and his team are doing is looking at Mayo Clinic through a completely different lens.

 

“My physician partner and I approach it from the perspective that Mayo Clinic is an integrated medical group practice first,” he says. “Our research and educational activities essentially underpin the practice and we are creating new capabilities that will contribute to the advancement of patient care and ultimately differentiate Mayo in the marketplace.”

 

That’s an important distinction in the post-Affordable Care Act era.

 

“As healthcare payment reform takes shape, there’s a greater likelihood that many patients who would benefit from care at Mayo would be locked out due to a narrowing of their network or for other reasons,” Clark says. “So what we have to do is create compelling and differentiating capabilities that will inspire people to come out of their network and seek care here because, in my view, they’re going to be better off in the long run.”

 

Clark is glad he himself came to Mayo himself almost 20 years ago. He credits former chief administrative officers Jeffrey Korsmo, now the CEO at Via Christi Health in Wichita, Kan., and recently retired Shirley Weis for being invaluable mentors in his leadership journey.

 

“Early on in my career, Jeff took an interest in me personally and wanted to make sure I had a successful career at Mayo,” he says. “But the other thing he did for me was to run interference for me when I needed it and to point out landmines when he knew I was on a path that would probably lead to me stepping on one. I found out after the fact that he had conversations with other leaders about me as well.”

 

That was crucial, he says, because diverse executives don’t always get second chances after they’ve made a mistake.

 

“All of us make mistakes in our careers,” he says. “In fact, I worry about people who don’t make mistakes because that means they’re not stretching enough to make a difference. Our industry needs folks who are innovative and who think transformationally. That might lead to making mistakes and the question is, how do we recover? If you’re a member of a minority group, historically, it’s been more difficult.”

 

Mayo is a big company ($8 billion) but a small community. It’s governed primarily by committee, and some of that work allows executives to expand their exposure to the entire organization and to get involved in things that aren’t necessarily part of their day-to-day purview. In that setting, relationship management is important, and Clark says that is one reason he has flourished there.

 

“People know me, and they know I’m well-intentioned,” he says. “So even if I step on a landmine, I tend to get a little bit of grace.”
He’s committed to passing that on.

 

“I think it’s an obligation of every leader to identify, coach and mentor the next generation of leaders, so I’ve been very intentional and active around that,” Clark says. “The demographics are changing – Mayo wants to serve every patient who benefits from our care, and those people are increasingly diverse. We want to give them the full Mayo experience. So how can we do that? We need to diversify our employees so we can better understand our patients and serve them better.”

 

 

As Chief Administrative Officer Shirley Weis prepares to retire, her fingerprints are all over Mayo Clinic's success

By | May 30 th,  2013 | women in leadership, C-suite, CAO, governance, John Noseworthy, Lean In, Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Health System, Minnesota, Shirley Weis, Blog, CEO, Denis Cortese, Destination Medical Center, leadership, Mayo Clinic Care Network, provider, payer, Rochester, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

It’s a busy time at Mayo Clinic. Plans for the new Destination Medical Center are in full swing. New affiliates are being added to the Mayo Clinic Care Network. A new partnership with Optum Labs is taking the venerable institution into the realm of big data. So why would Chief Administrative Officer Shirley Weis decide to retire now?

 

Because, she says simply, that’s been the plan all along.

 

“One of the hallmarks of Mayo is excellent succession planning,” she says. “We’ve put even more attention into it in recent years, making sure that we have a good stable of folks ready from all different backgrounds of diversity and talents.”

 

And, for those keeping score at home, she says, you’ll notice a pattern to their planning. Weis was named to the No. 2 role at Mayo about halfway through the tenure of then-CEO Denis Cortese, MD. Weis is leaving four years after John Noseworthy, MD, succeeded Cortese. Mayo’s initiative of staggering C-suite entrances and exits keeps disruption to a minimum.

 

“People don’t understand that Mayo has a term-limit process for these top jobs,” Weis says. “Usually, you’re in these roles for about six to eight years as CEO, CAO or department chair. It’s one of the ways we keep ideas fresh. In some settings, you’ll see people who are named to a role and they’re in it for 30 years. That may work for some organizations but I think that after six or seven years, you’ve done what you came to do.”

 

Among the tasks that Weis says she is gratified to have accomplished since she stepped into the CAO role seven years ago is changing the structure of the company.

 

“I have really felt proud of the fact that we were able to get our governance in good shape,” she says. “We went from being a holding company to an integrated operating company. Most of the things I wanted to get underway are now, in fact, underway and are in good hands.”

 

One of those key ventures is the Mayo Clinic Care Network, in which health systems and physician groups affiliate with Mayo, extending the clinic’s reach beyond its bases of the upper Midwest, Arizona and Florida to the rest of the country. The idea had been created during Dr. Cortese’s tenure but truly came into being about two and a half years ago under Dr. Noseworthy’s leadership, Weis says.

 


“We have built a very successful Mayo Clinic Health System in the upper Midwest but we understood that merger and acquisition was probably not the best course for us,” she says. “We came up with the idea to start building a network, but we also found more and more hospitals and physician practices approaching us – they wanted to be affiliated.”
Mayo is up to 18 affiliate agreements but Weis sees a limit to the system’s capacity.

 

“We do guard our brand jealously. It’s one of the most trusted names in healthcare and part of the promise we have to our patients,” she says. What helps, she adds, is that “the patients are very savvy and sophisticated. They understand that these groups are not Mayo Clinic – they simply have a connection to Mayo Clinic.”

 

Mayo staff are consulting via phone and doing some cases together electronically. “We think it’s going to be a real model for the patients’ network of care,” Weis says. “Eventually, there may be some insurance products that go on top of the network.”

 

The blurring of lines between providers and payers is accelerating in the healthcare industry, and Weis has been a key person to lead that charge at Mayo. She was the chief operating officer at Blue Care Network of Michigan, a large HMO, before coming to Minnesota.

 

”I feel blessed that I had 10 years of actual care delivery with my emergency-room background, and that I followed that with 10 years in the payer industry,” Weis says. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I think it’s helped the organization and, frankly, it is probably why I was selected for this job seven years ago.”

 

Weis says both providers and payers need to focus on what’s best for the patient – and both need to collaborate more.

 

“The payer world has the claims information but they don’t have a lot of rich clinical data. The provider world has the rich clinical data but they don’t know what happens after the patient leaves the hospital or the outpatient center, or after they pick up their prescription.”

 

No matter what happens with healthcare reform, Weis adds, “there’s no more money, so it makes it more incumbent on all of us to figure out how we’re going to meet those patients’ needs and how we can engage the patients better.”

 

Working with fewer dollars is something Weis experienced a few years ago during the recession when she put in place an administrative shared services program and an enterprise project management office, while also implementing cutting-edge tools for financing and reimbursement. All those things, and a few more, helped Mayo weather the recession without layoffs, though some employees shifted jobs and some changes were made to benefit packages and retirement plans.

 

Weis had originally come to Mayo in 1995 to lead the Clinic’s managed care division. She resisted the overtures from a recruiter for a time, but finally agreed to a visit.

 

“I already had a career path, thank you very much,” she says. “But I came to Rochester and started to meet folks, and I was struck by how patient-centered the organization was.”

 

As she got to know Al Schilmoeller, who was her first boss, she noted that one of his daughters was a pilot and another worked for the Department of Natural Resources. That convinced her that here was a man who knew how to support women in their varied career aspirations. She remembers that, she says, as she mentors early- and mid-career women and men.

 

“For women or men, for anyone to make it to the next level in your career, you have to be willing to take some risks,” she says.

 

But she notes that young executives who only know the sound-bite version of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” best-seller do need to consider work-life balance.

 

“I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have a supportive husband. Period. I see many people who want to have that balance, and the one thing I know for a fact is that you can’t always have it all. You can have it all in stages. But I do think that as long as women are in a traditional caregiver, chief household operating officer role, it’s tough to balance that.

 

“So, particularly with families with young children, I always encourage them to put those kids first because they’re only there for a few years. And then your career is still there.”

 

Weis came of age at a time when she often was the only woman on the leadership team, and she says progress has been made in gender equity – progress, but not equality.

 

“I’m a tennis player, and I think of the days of Billie Jean King when Virginia Slims was a sponsor with their slogan, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’

 

“We have come a long way. But I don’t think we’re there yet.”

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