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Profiles in Leadership: Top 25 Minority Executives

 

The undercover exec: Wright Lassiter III scoped out his hospital before he took the job, then forged a bond with his board to stage a remarkable turnaround

By | September 11th, 2012 | Blog | Add A Comment

 

Lassiter

Wright Lassiter III: “I think it’s important for CEOs to partner with their boards to drive change.”

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

Back in 2005, before Wright Lassiter III interviewed for the position of CEO at the then-beleaguered Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., he decided to see for himself if there were some signals of hope in an institution that had seen 10 CEOs crash and burn in the previous 11 years.

 

“I flew in the afternoon before and grabbed a taxi over to the hospital,” he says. “I was in street clothes; I wasn’t in a suit. No one knew who I was. I walked into the ER waiting room and then walked the hallways. I wanted to get a sense of how the staff functioned; to see if people might help you find your way.”

 

What he found surprised him, especially for an organization with such a troubled recent past. Everyone he encountered was consistently courteous and helpful to him as a visitor, and to patients.

 

“There wasn’t one interaction that was negative,” Lassiter remembers. “The people doing the work in the trenches serving the community were doing the best they could.”

 

That, Lassiter says, gave him some hope that the health system could be turned around with the right moves. It also helped persuade him to give up a solid, comfortable position at JPS Health Network in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where he was senior vice president of operations.

 

Fast-forward a few years and the work that Lassiter has accomplished earned him a glowing write-up in Fast Company magazine, a spotlight that brought him national attention as well as some good-natured ribbing from his peers, he adds.

 

But to Lassiter, none of it would have happened without the backing of his board of trustees, a source of strength that is sometimes overlooked in the business world, he says.

 

“Two board members who served on the search committee that selected me are a large part of the reason why I considered the job in the first place,” Lassiter says. “They were instrumental in the turnaround. I think it’s important for CEOs to partner with their boards to drive change.”

 

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