November 28, 2016

World renowned surgical pioneer Dr. Denton A. Cooley once said, “I find I’m luckier when I work harder.” We at Texas Children’s were actually the “lucky” ones. A few days ago, we lost one of the greatest surgeons of the 20th century. But for decades, we were recipients of Dr. Cooley’s gifted hands and mind, and we will be forever grateful for the indelible impact he made on the history of medicine and his contributions to Texas Children’s.

Dr. Cooley is one of the most important figures in the history and success of our hospital as we know it today. He was a phenomenal pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, and he was the co-founder and chief of cardiovascular surgery at Texas Children’s Heart Center. It was Dr. Cooley in surgery and Dr. Dan McNamara, the father of pediatric cardiology, who laid the foundation for what has remained one of our centers of excellence for more than 60 years.

When Dr. Cooley was beginning his career in Houston in the 1950s, he was already thinking about things no one else could fathom. One of those things was pediatric cardiovascular surgery – what we now refer to as congenital heart surgery. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, adult cardiovascular surgery was considerably ahead of congenital surgery on babies, children and adolescents. People were afraid to operate on babies. In fact, the rule of thumb was you didn’t operate on a baby less than a year old.

I think the challenge of such a complex undertaking is what fascinated Dr. Cooley. And every person who worked alongside him said he had the best set of surgical hands they had ever seen. So I imagine what drove Dr. Cooley was a tremendous sense of responsibility to use his talent and skill in the most challenging arenas, on the toughest cases. Operating successfully on babies and children and creating hope and possibility where neither had previously existed presented him that challenge, and he absolutely rose to and beyond it.

Lest one could possibly take for granted just how special Dr. Cooley was, there was always an intriguing reminder. I recall traveling with him in 1994 to the White House at the request of First Lady Hillary Clinton. Dr. Cooley was very interested in health policy, and First Lady Clinton was leading the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. She invited a contingent of about 20 Texas Medical Center leaders to the White House to discuss health care reform.

On the shuttle to the White House, I remember talking with Dr. Cooley in great anticipation of the visit. We arrived, and we were taken to The Roosevelt Room, one of the most distinguished venues within the White House. When we met with First Lady Clinton, she greeted each member of the group, but she stopped and spent a generous amount of time speaking with Dr. Cooley. It was obvious that she had looked forward to meeting him more than anyone else, and she was clearly in awe of his presence. The rest of us were in awe of the White House, the historic splendor of The Roosevelt Room and the company of the first lady, and she was completely enamored with Dr. Cooley.

I recall another occasion when Larry King visited Texas Children’s. He was impressed with the hospital but could not resist requesting a visit with Dr. Cooley. I sat with Larry King in his heyday and Dr. Cooley, talking about the future of medicine, Hollywood, entertainment and their friendship, and it was just fascinating.

Dr. Cooley was indeed some kind of special. He was gifted and confident, for sure, but he was also tempered. He didn’t brag – his skills and outcomes spoke volumes. And the only thing that possibly compared was his work ethic. He worked Monday through Friday, 12 to 14 hours a day. He made rounds on Saturday morning, came back and made rounds again on Sunday morning, and then he went to church. For decades, he consistently worked 6½ days a week, and ultimately, he performed more than 100,000 heart procedures. That is amazing, and it is a record that will probably never be broken.

We have lost one of the last titans of the Texas Medical Center. But there is neither time, words nor space to describe how much we have gained from them. Dr. Denton Cooley, Dr. Michael DeBakey, Dr. James “Red” Duke, Dr. R. Lee Clark, Dr. Ralph Feigin, and so many others have gone, but they all left such precious gifts – impeccable vision and the fruits of their ceaseless, inspiring pursuits. Dr. Cooley’s passing last week was the end of an era in the Texas Medical Center, but he used his calling and his time here to create possibilities that will renew life forever more.

Thank you, Dr. Cooley. Very well and precisely done, my friend.

November 15, 2016

Yesterday, I said a last goodbye to George A. Peterkin, Jr. – a good friend and avid supporter of Texas Children’s Hospital for nearly 50 years.

George joined the Texas Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees in 1967. His 49 years on our Board is the longest in the hospital’s history. George also served as Board president in 1978 and 1979, and then as chairman from 1987 through 1991. In addition, he served for many years as a member of the Texas Children’s Hospital Foundation Board, sharing his knowledge and expertise, and providing invaluable guidance. But it is not just George’s longevity of service that is notable. It was the quality of his governance and leadership that made him the best all-around trustee in the history of Texas Children’s.

And as many people know, George was the principal trustee who recruited young infectious disease pediatrician Dr. Ralph Feigin from St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University to come be the physician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in 1977. Then 12 years later, in 1989, he recruited me from Houston Methodist Hospital to be Texas Children’s CEO, working alongside Ralph and with the Board.

Dr. Feigin and I were battery mates from 1989 until his untimely death in 2008. That’s 20 years, and I think during that period we did what George aspired to – we made Texas Children’s one of the preeminent children’s and women’s hospitals in the nation.

Throughout the years, George provided crucial leadership during times of significant challenges for Texas Children’s, and he also oversaw the hospital’s first major expansion with the addition of the West Tower and the Clinical Care Center (now the Feigin Center). His exceptional leadership during these years helped build a foundation of financial strength and renewed commitment to the mission, thereby ensuring the future success of Texas Children’s.

In 2012, we acknowledged George’s rich and generous legacy with a Texas Children’s Board resolution naming the George A. Peterkin, Jr. Boardroom in Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in his honor. We wanted to recognize his leadership in imparting the value of quality governance and fiscal responsibility and its impact on the continued success of Texas Children’s.

Those same leadership traits are reflected in George’s “business philosophy,” which he shared with me when I joined Texas Children’s 27 years ago and which still resound today. In honor of my friend, I want to share an excerpt of that philosophy with you.

My Business Philosophy George A. Peterkin, Jr.

Following are the business cardinals that I consider to be paramount:

  1. Honesty is a trait that all employees must have.  Integrity toward business and toward each other are of the utmost importance.
  2. Think like an owner.
  3. In your contacts with your colleagues and those whom you supervise, exercise discretion through your competence, not your authority.  Plans, ideas or solutions which are “sold” generally work out better for the company than plans which are mandated.
  4.  Please, no surprises.  Keep me posted as there will be times when I want to have input on appropriate priorities.  With particular reference to bad news, I do not want to hear it from an outsider first; I want to hear it from you.
  5. A pleasant atmosphere is conducive to job accomplishment.  Being polite and helpful are important to that atmosphere; besides, smiles and laughter are said to be good for your health.
  6. Understand where the company is headed and what your role is.  If not clear, ask.
  7. Have a good feel for your job priorities so that you do first things first.
  8. Be loyal to the objectives of the company, not to me or any other person in the company.
  9. When you come to a problem you would like to discuss, obtain the requisite facts, and try to have a recommended solution.
  10. Be a good coach to your people.  If you find you need to be offering more direction than support, either retrain or rehire.
  11. Company politics are not part of our corporate culture and have no place here.
  12. Don’t confuse cleverness with maturity and judgment.
  13. We all have strengths and weaknesses.  Relax and concentrate on your strengths.  Be open about what you are doing.  Some of the rest of us may be able to help.
  14. Always be aware of the outside influences that affect our business and keep yourself educated on new developments in your area.
  15. I have strongly held beliefs against conflict of interest.  If in doubt, ask.
  16. Never make corporate policy.  If you believe a change is desirable or necessary, let me know so we can consider it together.
  17. Know your objective first, then devise an overall strategy and last, develop the tactical approach to implement the strategy.  This should not be a casual process.
  18. Never become a yes man.  Present your point of view with your supporting argument and I will always listen to your case; however, should a decision be made with which you do not fully agree, I expect you to support the decision as if it were exactly what you wanted.
  19. If you become completely unhappy and frustrated and have not been able to bring about a change, please come talk to me.  Together we may be able to reach a satisfactory solution.
  20. Management should be dynamic, and the above precepts might be able to stand improvement or clarification from time to time.  I would be glad to discuss any of them in more detail at your request.

George was extremely talented in business, finance and investments. He brought those skills with him to Texas Children’s, but most of all, he shared a passion for the mission of Texas Children’s. He wanted us to take care of ALL children, regardless of their financial circumstances. I’m so proud that we are doing just that. And I am forever grateful for each of those glorious 49 years that George gave to Texas Children’s. Thank you George … your legacy will endure for decades to come.

Click here for a video highlighting George Peterkin on the occasion of the boardroom dedication in his honor.

November 10, 2016

During the recent Catalyst Leadership Award Celebration, I was reminded that authentic leadership and culture sometimes shine brightest when we make mistakes. I want to share a story that Linda Aldred told the audience at the celebration luncheon.

She explained how, about a week before the celebration luncheon, two employees emailed me after we announced Texas Children’s was selected by Houston Business Journal for the 11th year in a row as one of Houston’s Best Places to Work. These two employees had second thoughts about this recognition because, as expressed in their emails to me, they were deeply disappointed with our organization for discontinuing a particular program, and they outlined reasons the program should continue. They also shared that, in the past, they have been supportive of our decisions, but they could not support this one because it seemed to go against our values and our culture. I took those words to heart.

I decided I would go home and think about these powerful emails I had received, and the next morning, I called the members of my executive team to discuss the issue. As I spoke with them, I did not ask how this had happened. Instead I simply said, “We missed it. How do we make it right?” The team agreed – we had missed it, and we moved quickly to correct it. I am happy to say the program was back on line within a few hours.

When Linda spoke about this during her opening remarks at the Catalyst Leadership Award Celebration, she did not applaud us for acting quickly or bringing the program back. Rather she spoke about leadership and her pride in being a part of a leadership team that admits when we get it wrong and moves quickly to get it right.

As leaders, we should of course be proud of our valuable contributions, but we also need to know when to step back and reassess a situation and change course if necessary. Sometimes our most profound leadership moments are when things do not go as expected. Our culture is defined by moments like this. When compassionate employees find their courageous voices and weigh in on an issue or a decision, we need to listen.

Once the program was reinstated, I received another email from one of the employees:

Mark, I cannot even begin to tell you how much this means to me, as well as my fellow employees. We were in shock yesterday at how quickly things were escalated and the speed of making the change. To be quite honest, I am still a little in shock at the impact of our words. Thank you for your immediate response, and empathy. It certainly showed me that employees are truly valued here, and I am forever grateful for the seriousness taken regarding our concerns.

As I said to the executive leaders, leadership is about listening to your team. I am glad that Texas Children’s is an organization where staff and employees know they have a voice and where leaders stand ready to listen and respond.

Congratulations to just a few of our many leaders who demonstrate that daily – they are truly Catalyst Leaders who courageously lead their teams and help enrich the culture that makes Texas Children’s the special place that it is.

Meet the 2017 Catalyst Leaders