Tech Tonics: Nancy Schlichting, Always Unconventional

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Many people have heard of Nancy Schlichting, as she has been part of the fabric of the U.S. healthcare system for nearly 40 years. She has built a long and amazing career as someone who takes chances, makes unconventional choices and leads with her conscience. While her path to success wasn’t always easy, she learned pretty quickly that “courage is the very best lever for professional success.”

Nancy knew early on that she wanted to be involved in the medical world. She couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so went down the administrative, rather than medical path, studying hospital administration at Cornell. She rapidly moved up the hospital management career path, but was stopped short, albeit briefly, in 1993 when she was chief operating officer of Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, and readying for her next move upwards. Instead, her CEO and the board of trustees received an anonymous letter saying in essence, “Congratulations on hiring a lesbian to run your hospital.” She didn’t get that promotion as planned, but she didn’t let it stand in the way of her success.

Ultimately Nancy took over the CEO role at Henry Ford Health System in 2003. While she got to be the captain, the ship itself it was a bit of a disaster, listing severely from its incurred debt and the lackluster clinical quality it was delivering. Undaunted, Nancy led the system through an incredible turn-around which rapidly resulted in profitability and soon after in the receipt of the Malcolm Baldridge award for quality. Nancy stayed at Henry Ford for 17 years, but despite the demands of that role, she found time to sit on over 80 public and private boards, and to play a major role in the revitalization of the downtown Detroit. She also served on President Obama’s Commision on Care, charged with understanding and improving the way that the Veteran’s Administration’s delivers care. She also, in 2015, authored a book called Unconventional Leadership, based on her experiences being a very outside the box leader at healthcare organizations of different stripes.

After many years of health system leadership, Nancy now continues to bring her style of leadership to the many organizations on which she serves on the Board, including Walgreens/Boots Alliance, Hill-Rom Corp., The Kresge Foundation, Duke University Health System, and Encompass Health. She is always thinking about how organizations can continue to get better and frequently serves as the ethical voice in the room, such as she did when she resigned her Board role at Michigan State as a result of the lack of transparency she perceived in the University’s handling of the Larry Nasser case.

In this episode of TechTonics, Nancy talks about her background, her coming out story, and also her views on the future of health systems and the role of technology in changing their forward trajectory. She also admits to being just a little over-competitive when it comes to golf.

We are grateful to Manatt Health for sponsoring TechTonics—Manatt Health is a multi-disciplinary professional services firm that integrates a full service law firm with a broad-based strategic business and policy consulting practice to help our clients grow and prosper. Manatt Health supports the full range of stakeholders in transforming America’s healthcare system.

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Posted in: Audio Podcast, Healthcare, Tech Tonics, Technology