Occupation: Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer, Centra
Hometown: Lynchburg, Va.
What does your day-to-day look like?
No two days are alike, for sure! As the Chief Administrative Officer for Centra, I oversee functions that include the Human Resources Department, Legal Services, Risk Management, Safety, Security, Licensure & Accreditation, and Pastoral Care and Community Outreach. Needless to say, hourly developments throughout the organization can drive priorities of the day. That said, the majority of my time is spent listening closely to a team of highly skilled and dedicated staff with a goal of providing executive support as needed.
What led you to where you are now?
Wow, that is a long and winding road! I started my career in computer technology since at that time (think late 70s/early 80s) computer science was routinely cited as one of the most promising career choices. However, upon graduation and entering the job market, I quickly determined that I was much more interested in the people using the computers than I was the computers themselves. My first job after college was in the Financial Services industry, where I eventually moved from the IT division to the Human Resources Department, serving first as an IT technical recruiter and ultimately being promoted to Vice President of Leadership Development at the corporate level. My true passion was unleashed—working with leaders to develop teams of excellence.
What were the early days in your position like?
When I transitioned from Financial Services to Healthcare, I had no idea how much there would be for me to learn. Healthcare is a unique “business” to be in, in that the 24/7/365-organizational setting is one in which our services connect with people on what can be their first hours of life or their last. The work requires a commitment and compassion beyond anything I had experienced in a professional setting previously. I quickly learned that healthcare is the ultimate “team effort.”
What have you learned over the years?
I think I’ve learned to have more patience in understanding other points of view. We each carry our own experiences, and these experiences provide filters through which we see the world; understanding the story behind the person matters.
Is there anything you would change in retrospect?
As I look back now, I wish I had worked in healthcare sooner in my career. Nothing comes close to the incredible teamwork I now get to be a part of.
I sometimes wonder if I would have pursued a more clinical tract had I been exposed to a medical setting earlier in life. Of course, I still get queasy at the
sight of blood, so it’s probably best for everyone that I’m on the non-clinical
side of our patient experiences!
What are the most recent changes in the realm of HR?
In larger organizations, HR is finally being viewed as a strategic partner, evidenced by more HR leaders being invited to the executive table. With these new alignments comes the opportunity for HR leaders to help drive talent development and employee engagement, which ultimately leads to improved quality, safety, service and growth.
How have technological developments changed the workplace and workforce development?
Technology has brought both innovation and challenge to the workplace. On one hand, it has improved our ability to share information in a timelier manner, often across many miles that geographically separate us. We hold meetings and share PowerPoint [presentations] without leaving our offices; we train through webinars; we consult with patients and physicians via closed circuit secured technologies—all with a purpose of improving our efficiencies while maintaining high levels of service and quality. On the other hand, we stay so plugged into our 24/7 environment that we can easily lose sight of a healthy work-life balance.
What’s your best advice for business owners looking to improve employee relations?
Ask questions and then be prepared to LISTEN. Employees value the chance to express what’s on their minds, and they will often have great ideas for improving the workplace. And, don’t always assume that the key to their happiness is about the money. Sometimes it is something as simple as making sure they have the right tools to do their jobs or simply having a coffee pot that works! Here at Centra, we hold regular “townhall meetings” with our CEO (EW Tibbs).
In these sessions, staff get to hear updates of Centra’s strategies and current events, but these sessions also serve as a platform for staff to ask questions and express their views. It is a forum in which we frequently learn from each other.
What excites you the most about the work that you do?
That every day, in the healthcare field, I have the ability to influence and contribute to a work environment that impacts people’s lives in such a significant way. I have the privilege of working with an amazingly intelligent and talented team, and I don’t take that for granted.
What are some challenges you’ve faced over the years?
I come from the baby boomer generation, where many of us previously thought it was perfectly normal (perhaps even expected) that you would have a long and successful career with just one organization. So, when I started my own career with a local bank, and had several early successes through promotions, I felt I was well on my way to having that lifelong relationship. Of course, many us remember what happened in the banking industry during the 80s and 90s, and after a series of mergers, I was ultimately asked to move to Atlanta, Ga.—something I was not prepared to do at the time due to family needs (including aging parents).
So, after nearly 20 years with an organization I loved, I made the decision to
leave. The sense of displacement was profound. The story ends well, however, since it led me to Centra Health. And along the way it reminded me to face uncertainties with determination, proving that it is sometimes okay to start again with new faces who eventually become friends.
Do women in leadership face unique challenges?
While it may be true that there are still fewer women traditionally in senior leadership roles, significant progress has been made. As an example, here at Centra, nearly 40% of our executive team is composed of women. With those types of advancements, the challenges today are often more on the home front than in the office. Leadership roles are highly competitive, and there are sacrifices required if you choose to pursue the path of leadership. There are times when you have to choose between the family dinner and the board meeting. There are vacations where everyone else is on the beach while you’re in the house on a conference call. Leadership is not a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 job.
So the challenge for women is to balance out the demands of their roles. For me, that meant having an amazing husband who equally shared the responsibilities of raising our two daughters. My advice: Don’t try to be superwoman. Be prepared to make sacrifices, but ensure you have a support system.
What do you appreciate about Lynchburg’s business environment?
I appreciate the variety; we have small entrepreneurial businesses, large international corporations and everything in between. This variety of business provides opportunities in terms of consumerism, while also providing a diverse range of employment options supported by high quality educational institutions. This strength is not by chance, but rather the offspring of what I perceive to be an active network of professionals dedicated to lending their expertise to the development of our next generation of business leaders.
What do you envision for the Lynchburg business environment?
We need to continue to work as a community, pooling our resources where possible, in order to create and sustain a high quality of life, which is determined by multiple factors including strong educational systems, quality healthcare, safe neighborhoods, cultural diversity, and perhaps at the core of these things, accessible and sustainable employment. Towards that end, our businesses will continue to depend heavily on the region’s ability to attract, develop and retain a highly skilled workforce.
What does this region need to do in order to build a skilled workforce?
Our community is incredibly fortunate to have a wide variety of both public and private institutions of learning. So, our ability to develop a skilled workforce is limited only by our commitment to a regional collaboration, working together to access the needs of our industries and allocating resources accordingly.
An example of such effort is demonstrated through the Workforce Investment Board, whereby I had the opportunity in a previous role to coach employees who had been displaced by their employers. These individuals were often men and women who had been at the same job for years and were fearful of competing in a job market that felt foreign to them. By assisting them in identifying their strengths, skills and talents, I would frequently see their attitudes move from despair to hope. They learned to see their full potential and that was a very rewarding experience to share with them.
What type of leader are you?
I’d like to think that I’m an inspiring leader, one who brings out the best in those around me. I enjoy helping others grow professionally and personally.
I’ve never felt a strong need to “get credit” for any accomplishments I’ve been part of but instead enjoy giving that credit for success to the team.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best advice I received came early in life from my dad. He was a man who believed that hard work, combined with sincere intent to do the right thing, would vastly improve one’s likelihood of achieving amazing things. In essence, he believed whatever you do, give it your very best effort and that will typically be more than enough.
What one piece of advice would you share with others?
Building upon the advice from my dad, I would add that you should strive hard to do what you enjoy; discover your talents, find the right setting in which to apply them, and then give it your best!
Any final thoughts?
It goes without saying that a lot of hard work, long hours and sacrifice goes into obtaining the type of success I’ve enjoyed, but I would be remiss if I did not share my belief that any successful career is built with the support and encouragement of those with whom you share your life. My husband Jack—along with our two beautiful daughters Addison and Sydney—has played a vital role in my ability to pursue my goals, and I am forever grateful to them.