Michael Stanford Part 1 - Former Group Chief Executive Officer - St John of God Health Care
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Many aspire to reach the upper echelon of the healthcare industry, but few are able to successfully navigate the corporate ladder. As Asia becomes the world epicenter of the healthcare industry, C-Suite Partners sits down with international healthcare executives asking the tough questions and unpacking the personalities of the top industry leaders.
Welcome to the boardroom.
Michael Murray 0:51
Michael, thank you very much for joining C-Suite Partners in the boardroom.
Michael Stanford 0:54
Pleasure to be here.
Michael Murray 0:56
I’d really like to understand your career. So can you take us back to when you first started in healthcare to where you are today?
Michael Stanford 1:02
Yeah, happy to do that. where I am today is I’m a non-exec director, which is an unusual path. Someone who started as a doctor trained as a doctor in Sydney, worked for a few years and got to a point where I wasn’t sure what to do next and had the opportunity to fall into medical administration role in public health medicine and did an MBA and kept going and spent 23 years of my life as a group CEO of different healthcare organisations and make sure public hospital networks in Victoria are listed company. And then 16 years running St John of God Health Care and building it up from 7 to 18 hospitals.
Michael Murray 1:36
What do you think about the challenge of doctors that go into Executive roles? Because there’s always a bit of stigma attached that they’re they go down the clinical path, and they’re not always looking at the P&L or procurement or whatever it might be? What are your thoughts on that because you’ve been successful?
Michael Stanford 1:51
Yeah, well, doctors are data-driven and inherently skeptical. That’s part of the diagnostic process. They’re usually pretty bright, pretty hard-working, most are not suited to business would be a fair comment. Most think that the way you get more revenue is working harder or charging more, they don’t have the breadth, specialisation but there are many who end up running colleges, who end up running the medical association or like me move into executive ranks and are capable with the right additional training. In my case, I did an MBA, some people do Masters of Health Admin, FRACMA, whatever. But with the right extra training with the right opportunities, the right experience, they can really progress and have a great time running large healthcare organisations. For me, it’s been very fulfilling, and I’ve been able to affect positively many more people’s lives as an executive than I ever could, as an individual practitioner, looking after clients.
Michael Murray 2:44
And it’s got to be an advantage for you having the rapport with doctors on the floor, you know, at the top of the organisation, but also understanding either languages, nuances of the job.
Michael Stanford 2:55
It’s a really important point, to eat, to be successful in a hospital itself, or a hospital group, you have to enjoy working with doctors. And to do that you have done this, it helps if you understand and appreciate everything they’ve done to try and to get to the point they’re at, and what drives them in their business which is usually a small business. I’m fortunate in that I respect and enjoy doctors. I’ve worked with many thousands of doctors over my time. It’s not always the case that hospital CEO’s see doctors as a plus, sometimes they see them as an irritant. Okay, my advice to people, when they start to see doctors in that way, is to quickly reshape their thinking. Otherwise, you’re in the wrong job. Inevitably, you have to be able to get on with the doctors who are the keys to decisions about treatment in hospitals.
Michael Murray 3:39
And what about the relationship with healthcare insurers in hospitals over the past couple of years and moving into the future? It would be interesting to get your thoughts on where you see that in the next couple of years.
Michael Stanford 3:51
Yeah, I think the one of the things you need to be good at if you get into the group CEO role says you’ve got to be good at strategy. You’ve got to understand stakeholders and you’ve got to understand that run good relationships with key stakeholders matter. So if you’re running a private hospital group 90% of your funding, more or less comes from health funds, that says get on with it, understand what drives them, and try and help them understand what drives you. And I think particularly important, then people can get lost in the trees not seeing the forest is that you might have a negotiation about an annual price increase or a three-year agreement. But that’s not the main game, because, in another three years, you’ll be meeting with another three years, they’ll still be they have health funds in Australia have a very long term view. None of them are like looking to go out of business. They’ve been around for a long time, they’re going to continue to be around and most executives stay in health as well. So I think where it comes across, is people not understanding actually both sides need each other. Both sides have got relevant views. Both sides can share data, try and work out what’s best for the system, and both sides are going to meet again at another time. It’s not a one-off transaction. It’s a long term relationship. And I think If you get those things, right, you can have really fruitful discussions with funds who have their own pressures and issues and their own capabilities, including, for example, data analytics way of the hospitals and understanding a lot about their data. And their hospitals can learn from that in terms of quality measures in terms of pricing, in terms of a whole set of things.
Michael Murray 5:19
Was there a moment where you thought you’re potentially overpromoted and then you had to learn very, very quickly? Because a lot of the executives that we speak with always have this one or two positions that they’ve got into and they thought, it’s opportunistic, they’re gonna take it, and they had to learn on the run. Is there one that comes to mind for you?
Michael Stanford 5:36
The hairiest one I had, which was my first CEO role was merging two teaching hospitals together, I was 35. It wasn’t an easy task. One was a Commonwealth hospital, the Heidelberg repaired hospital. One was the Austin Hospital in policy, the different cultural issues, financial issues when it comes to the Commonwealth system, one from the state system. In some ways, I could have drowned in other ways I was fortunate to have a chair who was a good mentor and was able to teach me a little bit about being a CEO, as well as just give good wise judgment in the available just to talk to you as I sort of worked my way through it. Till your turn was over-promoted, I wouldn’t say an opportunity that was thrown in the deep end kind of opportunity to test can this person do this thing or not and I learnt just a truck-load of stuff, I’ll give a simple example. I’d worked in organisations that had talked about values and behaviours but I hadn’t really thought about that until about six months into my role, one of my executives, excuse me, we don’t have a clear view yet, on the values or behaviours of this organisation. At that point in my career at age 35. It didn’t seem such an important thing we had budget to save. Okay, later, I realize Actually, it’s almost foundational, because if you don’t know what you stand for, if you haven’t got clarity around purpose, you don’t know how you want people to behave, and then enforce that through ways, then you actually can’t get everybody on the same path, because you haven’t clarified what the path is. So just a simple example, but one of my early learnings was realizing, oops, I made an error, not realizing that was a very important thing that someone had raised and I needed to work on.
Michael Murray 7:08
What is your strategy for your career? Did you sit there and say, “This is where I want to be? and I’m going to do five years, seven years”
Michael Stanford 7:16
I think mostly for people have a general sense of where you’re trying to get to. I do also know from early conversations with recruiters, people saying to me, well, we can’t help you until you know what you want to do.