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:
- Honesty is a trait that all employees must have. Integrity toward business and toward each other are of the utmost importance.
- Think like an owner.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Understand where the company is headed and what your role is. If not clear, ask.
- Have a good feel for your job priorities so that you do first things first.
- Be loyal to the objectives of the company, not to me or any other person in the company.
- When you come to a problem you would like to discuss, obtain the requisite facts, and try to have a recommended solution.
- Be a good coach to your people. If you find you need to be offering more direction than support, either retrain or rehire.
- Company politics are not part of our corporate culture and have no place here.
- Don’t confuse cleverness with maturity and judgment.
- 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.
- Always be aware of the outside influences that affect our business and keep yourself educated on new developments in your area.
- I have strongly held beliefs against conflict of interest. If in doubt, ask.
- Never make corporate policy. If you believe a change is desirable or necessary, let me know so we can consider it together.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.