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Gary Mecklenburg, president and CEO of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare gestures during a June 1 address at the James L. Allen Center where he was recognized for his distinguished leadership.

Kellogg honors Northwestern Memorial CEO for distinguished leadership

By Romi Herron

6/1/2006 - As the 2006 recipient of the Kellogg School of Management Award for Distinguished Leadership, Gary Mecklenburg, president and CEO of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, reflected on the challenges facing the healthcare industry and academic medical centers during an award ceremony held June 1 at the James L. Allen Center.

“One of my favorite authors is Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once said, ‘Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,'” noted Mecklenburg. In his acceptance speech, titled “Seven Passions of a Retiring CEO,” he highlighted the importance of acting on Emerson's idea to create a successful career and life.

Mecklenburg, who intends to retire later this year, is a member of the Kellogg School Dean's Advisory Board and a long-standing mentor of students in the school's Health Industry Management Program. In his introductory remarks, Dean Dipak C. Jain told the audience of Kellogg faculty and students that he has relied on Mecklenburg's unwavering support of the school.

Noting several national healthcare challenges, including 43 million uninsured people in America, an aging and diverse population, and work force shortages, Mecklenburg said academic medical centers (AMCs) also face additional obstacles.

For instance, contracted physicians may not consider themselves employed by and aligned with the hospital, and consequently, administrators may encounter retention difficulties with them. Also, AMCs are legally required to serve all patients regardless of ability to pay.

Despite those factors, NMH, the largest hospital in Illinois with more than 740 beds and 10,000 births per year, has achieved success under Mecklenburg's leadership.

During his 20-year tenure as CEO, the organization's productivity has improved 36 percent, with its pool of unrestricted cash growing to more than $900 million.

Contributing to this success, Mecklenburg said, have been the “seven passions.” Among them are loving your work and recognizing the power of an effective mission.

“Executing a mission statement for an organization goes beyond simply determining what its purpose should be. The whole organization needs to know the mission, believe in it and know how to make it happen,” Mecklenburg said.

Using a strategic plan to create NMH's mission when he came on board, the organization has been aligned with its goal to provide patient-centric healthcare as its priority. That mission is “lived out” in patient room design, meal planning and elevator access in the facility, which underwent a renovation in 1999.

“For example, our patients are the ones who get the views of the lake from their rooms, not our administrators from their offices,” Mecklenburg said.“

Patient-centered decisions like that one have led to improved patient satisfaction, which in turn resulted in better employee retention and ultimately, recruitment of some of the best physicians available. In all, said Mecklenburg, NMH has recruited more than 550 new physicians in the past two decades and has a total workforce of more than 6,500 physicians and employees.

Mecklenburg's other leadership roles include his service as chairman of the Health Forum and the Healthcare Research and Development Institute and founding chairman of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology. He is also past chairman of the board of trustees of the American Hospital Association and of the Illinois Hospital Association.