Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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Alumni Profile: Robert Anderson '94 (EMP-28)

At the heart of the business
Bob Anderson '94 has spent his long medical career trying to cure the ailing U.S. healthcare system — and save lives

by Deborah Leigh Wood

There's a reason more physicians are earning their MBAs, says Bob Anderson, a retired cardiac surgeon who has worked in the clinical and administrative sectors of healthcare for 35 years.

"The American healthcare system is a mess, a disaster," says the Kellogg School Executive MBA graduate. "And if those in the medical field don't learn how to adapt to the changes, they won't know how to deliver cost-efficient quality care."

While working as a heart surgeon at Evanston and Northwestern Memorial Hospitals, Anderson enrolled at the Kellogg School, hoping to learn how to adjust to healthcare's rapidly evolving world. "I thought if I could see how professionals in other industries were adapting to increasing economic constraints, I could learn how to do so in medicine," he says. "I was also seeking the skills to make those adaptations."

Anderson, who grew up in Chicago and north suburban Kenilworth, and earned his medical degree at Northwestern University, says he got what he came for and more.

"Kellogg gave me a whole different way of analyzing problems. I had a terrific experience that exposed me to another part of the world I hadn't thought about," he says. "I had always believed in teamwork and shared responsibility, but the school steered me away from feeling that, as a surgeon, everything revolved around me. When I gave a speech as designated student speaker at our Kellogg graduation, it was all about what we all learned."

Upon receiving his MBA as part of EMP-28, Anderson accepted an appointment as chair of the department of surgery at Duke University. There, he quickly put his new skills into practice, establishing policy measures to ensure patient care and safety while developing a "transparent reimbursement plan" for Duke doctors who had expressed concern over vague policies preventing them from understanding how they were being paid for all their services.

"Because of what I learned at Kellogg, I was able to strategize and make change," recalls Anderson. "I was able to sound the alarm and say, 'Get ready. It's going to be a different world in healthcare.' It got people's attention."

Anderson, who is a member of the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board, says being "straightforward to a fault" has worked in his favor. "It's so much better than being formal because you cut out a lot of the baloney and get to the heart of the matter. It's important to think before you talk, but also to say what you think."

What he thinks about healthcare — and has thought all along — is that "what this country needs is a single-payer system. The government needs to be a force that cares about people. You can't continue to exclude 47 million people. We're getting to be like a Third World country."

Anderson credits his success as chairman at Duke, a position he held until 2003, to "being kinder and gentler than most heart surgeons because I spent my entire career in an academic atmosphere, where I constantly was confronted with smart young people."

He says he also learned "to respond well to change" from his father, who was a commercial developer and architect in the Chicago area. "I observed and learned," he says.

Now semiretired, Anderson teaches and performs surgery at Duke Medical Center during the winter and spring. He spends much of the summer at his second home in the mountains of North Carolina where he and his wife, Taimi, golf, fish, play with their dogs and visit with their three sons, one of whom is in healthcare administration.

Anderson spends the fall quarter teaching a course titled "Leading Medical Device Innovation to Market" at the Health Sector Management Program at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. He also conducts research that involves working with engineering students at Duke's Pratt Engineering School, where he received his undergraduate degree.

Working with others is something Anderson says he truly enjoys. "Being in study groups at Kellogg showed me how synergy works," he says, "and the good things that come out of it."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University