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AESC Interview with Chuck Wardell, CEO of Executive Search Firm Witt/Kieffer

Clarke Murphy, Chief of Executive Officer of Russell Reynolds AssociatesTranscribed from a Skype conversation with Chuck Wardell and AESC President Peter Felix, March 2013

Peter Felix: Hi Chuck, thanks for your participation in the AESC’s recent white paper on the Healthcare sector in the United States. As President and CEO of Witt/Kieffer, could you describe to us the services Witt/Kieffer offers to clients?

Chuck Wardell: I’d be delighted, Peter. We’re principally a North American firm. We’re in the top seven or eight. We’re dedicated to improving the quality of life, which we take very seriously. Although we don’t have all of the practices of the big firms, we’re dedicated to Healthcare, Higher Education, Life Sciences, Board Services and Not-for-Profit industries. We do things that have a direct impact on how people live and we hope it improves their quality of life. We’ve been in business for about 40 years, we’re quite well known and we’re proud of what we do.

Peter Felix: Thank you. Chuck, how do you feel about 2013 as you’re looking forward, both for the search profession as a whole, and obviously in particular, your firm.

"Go to professional organizations that touch on Healthcare, get involved in local community Healthcare environments to help you get known, volunteer, sit on a board, and reach out to recruiters and search consultants in the Healthcare industry"
 
Chuck Wardell: Well, we’re very fortunate in the sense that what we’re in is doing well. Higher Education and Healthcare are some of the fastest growing businesses in the U.S., so we’re not burdened with the problems of being abroad, and we’re not burdened with the vicissitudes of what is going on in Asia and Europe, although we do work there, so we’re very optimistic. We’ve had good growth over the last two years. Aging baby boomers require more care, Healthcare reform has pumped a lot of money into the industry, Education is wringing its hands over how to provide quality without having costs go through the roof which requires new types of management, so we’re very optimistic. We think the next three to four years in our world will be quite positive, although we certainly understand in the industry overall there are going to be some storm clouds.

Peter Felix: Right, that’s a very fair comment. What are the major challenges affecting the Healthcare industry right now? In particular, what are the implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Obamacare? How will it impact the Healthcare industry and how might it affect the executive job market?

Chuck Wardell: First off, as the auto industry was in the seventies and eighties, the Healthcare industry is under pressure to lower costs, improve quality of care, be more responsible to the patients that they service, and as much as they can, try to help a broader constituency—in other words, most everybody in the United States. This was going on before the President’s initiatives, but he certainly had a lot to do with speeding it up. To do that, there is consolidation in our industry—standalone hospitals and medical practices are now being integrated into larger, more complex systems that, on one hand have staff reductions on a local level, and on another hand, require better management—different types of management on a consolidated level. The cost and quality issues are real, and they’re not going to go away. I think as President Clinton said, we can’t devote the whole GNP of America to Healthcare, so we have to find efficiencies, and we have to do it with different types of facilities and different types of management.

Peter Felix: In the white paper, you mention that executive jobs in the Healthcare industry are moving away from hospitals and more towards clinics and outpatient facilities. What new roles are you seeing as a result and what new skill sets are being required for these roles?

Chuck Wardell: It’s certainly changing. More and more, we now see IT, quality legal executives—because of risk, and the burdens of risk have changed. There are a whole new set of titles coming into our industry: Chief Physician Executive; Chief Experience Officer; Medical Director of Accountable Care. All of these are being created to bring consolidated Healthcare to the patient in a lower-cost, higher-quality way. We see that the technology-finance-patient world is now equal to the medical practice world. Now, the need to have accurate finances, the need to understand the risk you’re taking, and to have IT that can lower costs and coordinate care - all of this requires different types of management and different people.

Peter Felix: One of the titles you mentioned in the paper is Chief Medical Informatics Officer and related IT-focused positions. Are people able to come into the Healthcare industry from outside if they’ve got IT skills that are relevant, and can they adjust to the needs of the Healthcare industry?

Chuck Wardell: They have to. A paper-based medical industry can simply not exist. We have to get medical records on disks, we have to get IT to drive costs down, we have to have integration of services so you can pull up a chart and see what has happened to a patient across an integrated plane. There’s no question that as we integrate our facilities and as we begin to find ways to drive costs down, IT is critical. That leads to a Chief Medical Officer that has an IT background, leads to executives that understand and will invest in IT. It’s something that simply has to get done.

Peter Felix: That’s quite exciting. What other opportunities within Healthcare do you envision for the future? For example, for executives who may be currently outside of the industry, do you see a role for general management coming from outside of the industry, do you see a role for HR executives, and so on? What’s your view on that?

Chuck Wardell: Absolutely, more and more doctors are getting MBAs. More and more MBAs are being recruited to Healthcare. The ability to deliver service at an efficient, cost-effective margin, and the ability to maintain a revenue margin, a profit margin, is critical. The fact is that outside executives are being brought into Healthcare, and they are being asked to run Healthcare more like the business they came from. It is in fact through IT, through finance, through legal, through marketing, people who understand integrated service—more and more people are coming from the outside.

Peter Felix: Well, that’s good news for those who may be looking for career changes. Geographically, what trends, if any, are you seeing in terms of executive searches—where are they coming from? Are there any high-growth parts of the country where you’re seeing more searches being conducted, and in particular, how about outside of the United States?

Chuck Wardell: In the U.S., we see a balance. The integration and the pressures that we talked about are equally dispersed through the U.S. and its population centers. Internationally, it’s different. India and China are two countries in the world that are heavily invested in Healthcare. They’re trying to attract people trained here, to go there. More and more, we see Healthcare sprouting up in the Middle East—hospitals that are associated with U.S. universities, hospitals, and medical schools. So, the Middle East, India and China are attracting a great deal of attention in the Healthcare industry.

Peter Felix: That’s very interesting. Where are you seeing the greatest shortages of talent in the Healthcare industry, and what would you say are some of the more difficult executive roles to fill today?

Chuck Wardell: Some of the roles we talked about. The legal ramifications of Healthcare have changed dramatically. Qualified people who understand it, and the risks that they understand in other parts of the process, are now new to Healthcare. Finding that qualification is difficult. First-class IT technology expertise - is hard to find. Not only do you have to be skilled in technology, but you are now being asked to be part, of the strategic planning of Healthcare. So, a senior technologist is now a senior strategist in how to do things we’ve discussed: lower costs; improve quality. CIOs—we’ve chatted about CFOs. Healthcare is huge. Most people really don’t appreciate the size, both the provider side and the Blue Cross Blue Shields and the States’ health systems are gigantic entities. With all the new legislation, with CFO skill sets—it’s hard to find people with that kind of a background—so the skills are expanding, and we’re looking to find them, but they’re not readymade.

Peter Felix: What you said about the size, you’re absolutely right, people don’t appreciate the magnitude of the U.S. Healthcare system. I’d heard a statistic that the money moving around in the Healthcare system in any one year is about 2.7 trillion dollars. Is that correct?

Chuck Wardell: Probably a bit more.

Peter Felix: Probably a bit more (laughs).

Chuck Wardell: Yes.

Peter Felix: That must make it larger than many of the GDPs of many countries.

Chuck Wardell: Oh, it does, and it makes it a gigantic piece of art.

Peter Felix: Yes, exactly. So, when we’re looking at the Healthcare industry, we’re seeing an industry going through massive restructuring, requiring a whole new range of skills—management skills—so, if an executive candidate not in the business, in the Healthcare industry, is interested in opportunities there, how can they best present themselves? How can they best get themselves noticed, specifically within Healthcare, but perhaps even generally within the marketplace?

Chuck Wardell: Well, to begin with, do your homework and make sure you have the skill you’re trying to sell. I’m always amazed with people who feel that if they can get the job, they can do it. Those days are gone. So, be honest with yourself and ask, do I have the skills to fit into the emerging job needs in Healthcare. If you do, then it’s quite traditional. Fortunately, with LinkedIn and online services, Facebook and Twitter and things that we do in our firm with social media—I’m not as familiar with them as I might be due to my background (laughs), but certainly very good professional networks. Go to professional organizations that touch on Healthcare, get involved in local community Healthcare environments to help you get known, volunteer, sit on a board, and reach out to recruiters and search consultants in the Healthcare industry. Let them know you’re available, and let them know that you have the skills for the marketplace.

Peter Felix: Is there any major thing you think executives—they often perhaps make mistakes when they’re in the recruiting process  or overlook when they’re being considered for senior positions.

Chuck Wardell: Yes, I think there are a couple of things. One of the biggest mistakes people make is, if you open yourself up to being recruited then you have to be willing to go where the job is. And, I always say to people, that working in Fairbanks, Alaska has been their lifelong dream. In the end, you may not do it, but you have to be open-minded to move, and you have to have checked with your family ahead of time to ensure that your children and spouse want to move, too and can move. Secondly, I don’t think people should get hung up on the titles, and I don’t think they should get hung up on what they make as long as they make enough to live. Find a way to get started, find a way to take on a new industry, and if they’re good, they’ll do just fine.

Peter Felix: Finally, Chuck, if there is one thing you would offer as a word of advice to today’s senior executives—what would that be?

Chuck Wardell: Senior executives in Healthcare?

Peter Felix: Yes.

Chuck Wardell: Well, my heart goes out to them. I think they’re in a bubble in the sense of a changing environment, they’re in a world of increased costs which are very hard to control against decreasing revenue—it takes patience, skill and maturity. They have to reach out across the whole workforce of America to find qualified people to come help them. I urge them to communicate with their staff, with their patients, to wrestle real problems to the ground, and don’t get discouraged.

Peter Felix: Well, Chuck, thank you so much. We really appreciate your time. Thanks for giving us your insights into the world of Healthcare, and we wish you and your firm all the best for 2013.

Chuck Wardell: Thank you, sir, it’s my pleasure and I look forward to seeing you soon.

***

About Charles Wardell
Witt/Kieffer President and Chief Executive Officer Charles W.B. Wardell III is internationally regarded as a leader in the executive search industry. Charles joined Witt/Kieffer in June 2011. During his first year, the firm experienced record growth and added five new practices.

Prior to joining Witt/Kieffer, his search career included 10 years at a major global search firm serving as chairman of emerging markets and senior advisor to the chief executive officer. BusinessWeek named Charles one of the world’s most influential search executives in 2008. He also received the prestigious Gardner W. Heidrick Award for contributions to the search industry.

Charles is a decorated combat veteran, having served with distinction in Vietnam. He began his civilian life in the White House — as deputy special assistant to Presidents Nixon and Ford and as deputy assistant Secretary of State appointed by President Ford.

Charles is currently on the board of BritishAmerican Business and also Turning Point, L.L.C. He is a former board member of General Employment Enterprises, Inc. and Fedcap Rehabilitation Services, and a former senior advisor to Coller Capital, L.L.C. He previously served as global chairman for the Association of Executive Search Consultants and on the board of Cowen and Company.

About Witt/Kieffer
Witt/Kieffer is among the nation’s top ten executive search firms and the single largest specializing in health care, education and not-for-profit organizations. Witt/Kieffer’s mission is to identify outstanding leadership solutions for organizations committed to improving the quality of life. The firm serves hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers and other health-related organizations; life sciences companies including pharmaceutical, biotech, diagnostics and medical device corporations; colleges and universities and not-for-profit community service organizations and foundations. Specialties include healthcare, hospitals, higher education, executive search, life sciences, board services and sports leadership.  www.wittkieffer.com

About the Association of Executive Search Consultants
The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) is the worldwide professional association for the retained executive search and leadership consulting industry. The AESC promotes the highest professional standards in retained executive search and leadership consulting through its industry recognized Code of Ethics and Professional Practice Guidelines. The AESC also serves to broaden public understanding of the retained executive search and leadership consulting process and acts as an advocate for the interests of its member firms.

About BlueSteps
BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 8,000 executive search professionals in more than 75 countries, including China. Be visible, and be considered for up to 75,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.

2017 BlueSteps Career Outlook Report

The 2017 BlueSteps Career Outlook Report connects insights from more than 1,200 management-level professionals around the world, all BlueSteps members. Findings from the report include data on what industries, sectors, and geographic regions executives expect to see the most growth, with supporting data from AESC member executive search consultants. The data for this report was generated by BlueSteps and the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. Download a complimentary summary of the report below.

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About the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants

Since 1959, the AESC has set the standard for quality and ethics in executive search and leadership consulting worldwide. Because AESC members must commit and adhere to the AESC's industry and government recognized Code of Ethics and Professional Practice Guidelines, clients can be assured that AESC members are able to serve as trusted advisors for their most important engagements. As the voice for executive search and leadership consulting worldwide, today the AESC is comprised of more than 350 member firms, representing 8,000 executive search professionals in 75 countries. To learn more about the AESC and its membership, visit www.aesc.org.

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