New CEOs balance fresh, established approaches

Women in leadership
CEOs who are new to organizations must tread carefully as they look to make changes at those organization, say CEOs.

Chief executive officers who are new to well-established businesses must tread carefully as they look to make changes at the organization, balancing on the line of inspiration and comfort levels, a panel of leaders said last week.

Speaking at the Detroit Economic Club, Wright Lassiter III, CEO of the city’s Henry Ford Health System since Jan. 1, said he spent time getting to know the $5.5 billion company, its employees, doctors, board members, donors and patients. “I have been in healthcare a long time, but I was new to Detroit,” Lassiter said in a Crain’s Detroit Business report. “I looked for places where we didn't have relationships and worked on them.”

Being an outsider to an organization is in some ways easier because you have no history there, he added, but some parts of the organization were closed off to newcomers. That’s where his work on relationships was most important, he added.

Lassiter also paired a longtime commitment to sports medicine with a fresh focus on cancer care, balancing the old and new. Henry Ford partnered with the Detroit Pistons basketball team, an illustration of the system’s long-established commitment to sports medicine. At the same time, it is building a new $155 million cancer center to address a top clinical service line for the organization. “We want to be a top five program in the United States,” he said.

At Priority Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., CEO Joan Budden is adopting a family approach to care and support because “if someone has a problem or disease, it is helpful for [family members] to know,” Budden said. Priority Health and its parent company, Spectrum Health, have an online program that lets patients store information on medications, appointments and test results, for example.

The company is launching a new application called Aunt Bertha, added Budden, who’s held the job since Jan. 1, 2016. The app provides in one place information on where to go in the community to address a specific problem or healthcare need.

Patti Poppe, CEO of the Consumers Energy Co. since July 2016, is also embracing technology. The utility got its Federal Aviation Administration license in 2015 to fly drone aircraft for powerline checks, wind turbine inspections and other tasks that could endanger workers.

Like Lassiter, Poppe has learned the importance of relationships with customers. A neighbor knocked at her door to ask why her power was on when his was off after a winter storm knocked service out for more than one million customers of Consumers and DTE Energy Co. The suggestion, she said, was that she was receiving preferential treatment because of her position at the utility.

She responded with a straightforward, reassuring approach. “I told him that we have crews out now and your power will be on soon,” she said. It worked. He thanked her and left.