Joel Stinnett | Nashville Business Journal
On Dec. 31, Milton Johnson will step down as CEO of HCA Healthcare Inc. and President and Chief Operating Officer Sam Hazen will take over the top spot at the hospital giant, so the next three months are bound to include some awkward, and sometimes funny, moments of transition.
Take, for example, speaking to large crowds:
Hazen: “With the data we have in our database, we can start to impact patient care on scale. I’ll give you one example and then I’ll hand it over to Milton because I can see he wants to chat — and he’s still my boss.”
Johnson: “Sam and I speak a lot together … and I always got to speak first; I had my say and then Sam had to fill in. Now I’m having to fill in the gaps.”
The lighthearted exchange was part of a panel discussion celebrating HCA’s 50th anniversary Thursday at War Memorial Auditorium, hosted by the Nashville Health Care Council. Johnson and Hazen were joined on stage by former HCA Chairman and CEO Jack Bovender and LifePoint Health Chairman and CEO Bill Carpenter.
Johnson announced his retirement earlier this month, after 36 years at the country’s largest hospital operator. He will remain chairman until the 2019 annual shareholders’ meeting in April and will act as an executive adviser to the company through the end of 2019.
HCA (NYSE: HCA) is Nashville’s largest publicly traded company, with $43.6 billion of revenue in 2017, according to Nashville Business Journal research. Johnson was the region’s highest-paid public company CEO in 2017, with over $17 million in total compensation.
While the change in leadership was never directly addressed during the discussion, Hazen shared his thoughts on leadership and the future of health care as a whole.
Himself a 36-year veteran of HCA, Hazen said being a good leader starts with purpose and a strong value system, which at HCA means focusing on patients and employees.
“We’re much larger than a hospital company: We have roughly 2,000 facilities providing … 150,000 patient visits a day,” Hazen said. “That requires 250,000 employees, 40,000 physicians and numerous family and friends. The leadership structure has a huge responsibility to take care of those people.”
As CEO of HCA, Hazen will be in charge of guiding those people through a health care system that is increasingly vulnerable to disruption. Home care, ambulatory surgery centers and high-deductible health insurance plans have taken a bite out of hospital admissions across the industry, with HCA being one of the few exceptions.
Hazen, however, said he believes regulations and high startup costs are barriers to entry that will keep significant disruptors out of the hospital industry.
“The disruptors that everyone talks about in the industry in my estimation are going to be centered around the components that have low capital and high margins, not a component that has requires high capital, modest margins and a lot of regulations,” Hazen said. “So, I think we’re in a bit of safe zone. We have to pay attention to what’s going on and nuance our approach, but I think we have a unique opportunity.”
Hazen is taking over HCA in a time of growth, as the company has invested approximately $13 billion in capital expenditures during the past five years.
“I’m immensely proud of HCA. I’m proud of our past, proud of our current situation and I’m especially optimistic about the future,” Hazen said.