Like much of the rest of the country, John Randolph Medical Center was struggling financially in 2011. The HCA hospital in Hopewell, Va., was hemorrhaging cash, and the state of its balance sheet presented one of the first major challenges for its young CEO, according to a company official. But aggressive management changes undertaken by Dia Nichols, 37, demonstrated why executives at the Nashville-based hospital chain appointed him CEO in August 2009.
The facility “went from losing money to being in the black,” Margaret Lewis, president of the HCA Capital Division, says about the 2011 downturn that was resolved by 2012.
“And he did that while maintaining its high quality scores,” she says.
Lewis, who has worked with Nichols for eight years, specifically credited Nichols’ development of an expense management plan that identified a range of cuts at the hospital and his efforts to restructure it to meet the areas evolving demand for different healthcare services.
But also critical, she says, was Nichols’ skill in assembling teams of professionals with diverse skill sets and trusting them to reach the goals he lays out. “I believe in surrounding yourself with quality personnel and then getting out of their way to let them work,” Nichols says.
Nichols says that kind of big-picture approach to hospital management was inspired by a trip years earlier to a topranked New Orleans restaurant. When Nichols began to ask for a specific change to his order, the server interrupted him to assure Nichols that there was very little they wouldn’t do to make his visit a pleasant experience.
“Obviously, that was someone who worked for a leader who said, ‘Here’s the vision, now let me get out of the way and let you get it done,’ ” Nichols says.
Nichols’ approach to leadership also includes keeping a sharp eye out for quality candidates to join his executive teams.
For example, Frankye Myers is the chief nursing officer at John Randolph, but when she met Nichols six years ago, Myers was director of the cardiac unit at Chippenham Hospital in Richmond, Va.,
She credited Nichols’ influence in her enrolling in HCA’s CNO development program after having worked as a nurse for 12 years. “He was very instrumental in my upward mobility in the company,” Myers says. “Sometimes people are able to see in you what you do not see in yourself.”
Nichols, too, says he’s working to keep up with changes brought on by the industry’s “transparency era.” The emergence of provider report cards, opening price and quality databases and other changes are requiring executives to change their thinking, he says.
“I believe in surrounding yourself with quality personnel and then getting out of their way.”
37, CEO, John Randolph Medical Center, Hopewell, Va.