Are you all in? Reflections from ACHE Congress


Dennis Basara

Senior Client Partner, Healthcare Services

Korn Ferry

April 5, 2018

We’d like to hear your thoughts and experiences. Is your organization becoming more agile? How are you adapting to the challenges of the digital economy? 
Join the conversation on LinkedIn

I love the energy surrounding ACHE Congress. One needs only to linger for a brief time in the boisterous hotel lobby during the first day of Congress to feel the positive vibe.  There are plenty of smiles and enthusiastic hugs and handshakes from former colleagues and classmates who haven’t seen each other since last year’s Congress, or perhaps in many years. There are men and women in crisp military uniforms moving about, as officers in the medical services corps are always well-represented. There are seasoned veterans – icons of the healthcare industry – often with a small entourage surrounding them, as well as the younger generation – the-up-and-comers – who are still finding their way.


They say ACHE Congress is a recruiter’s dream, and in many ways, they are correct.  Every year, thousands of healthcare executives descend upon Chicago to learn and share, and yes, to network. Now in my 20th year in executive search at Korn Ferry, I relish the opportunity that Congress brings each March to connect with clients, candidates, and colleagues. I must admit that I was looking forward to Congress even more than usual this year. Why?  Simple – change.  Given the tremendous amount of change and uncertainty going on in our industry, I was excited to “take the pulse” of executives in attendance.


The news of mega-mergers (think CHI-Dignity Health, Advocate-Aurora, Mercy-Bon Secours, just to name a few) and mass-consolidation in general, was certainly a hot topic.  As I write this (a few days after the conclusion of Congress), news of the potential acquisition of Humana by Wal-Mart is reverberating across the country. Wow! There is also Amazon, Warren Buffet, CVS…where will it all end? No one knows for sure, of course, but it is certain that healthcare will never be the same, and that strong leadership of our nation’s hospitals and health system has never been more important. 


Another hot topic at Congress this year was the continued emphasis on moving from “volume to value”. Organizations continue to navigate the choppy waters related to population health and accountable care.  While there certainly have been some impressive results and some innovative solutions achieved by progressive integrated delivery systems, there are also numerous examples of failed attempts and on-going struggles to make it all work. The anxiety is palpable.


As I spoke to many executives, I concluded that people typically fell into one of two categories. There are those who are clearly very uncomfortable with all the change going on and frankly, who would just like to “get out” and move on. One CEO shared with me, “I have lived through so many changes in our industry over the past 30+ years, but I have never seen a time like today. It is exhausting and a 24/7/365 job. I only have a couple years left in this business, and this value world is really something for the next generation to figure out.” This was certainly troubling to hear, even though I appreciated the brutal honesty. 


On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are filled with excitement and optimism – people who are truly enjoying being part of this transformational time. While one might assume that one’s attitude towards today’s current state of healthcare is a direct factor of one’s age (and how much longer to retirement!), this was not always the case.  As another seasoned CEO shared, “I have never been more excited to be in this industry than I am today. We can truly transform healthcare and make a difference. How often does one get to do this in a career? All of this change has really re-energized.” In the end, it appears this is less about one’s age and more about one’s attitude. 


As I reflect on this year’s Congress, the question I pose to healthcare leaders is simple: “Are you all in?” Like it or not, change is here, it is massive, and will only continue. Given this, our industry needs bold leaders who are embracing this change, not dreading it. Don’t spread the “doom and gloom”. Be a part of the solution and elevate those around you. 


As we do searches for CEOs and other senior executives across the country, I can assure you that Boards and Search Committees are looking for these kinds of leaders – positive change agents, innovators, problem-solvers, and motivators. I truly hope that you are “all in” and that you and your healthcare organization reap the rewards of this positive approach. Until next March…