Nathan White, 37
Chief operating officer, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, S.D.
Nate White is no stranger to highpressure situations.
But these days, it’s not about hitting critical free throws during a basketball game for the former Augustana College team captain. It’s about overseeing operations at a $3 billion rural, not-for-profit health system, where he has spent nearly a decade of his career.
White, chief operating officer of Sanford Health, first joined the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based system in 2000 as an executive intern after CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft persuaded him to consider healthcare administration.
Krabbenhoft first met White during the basketball player’s late teens and said he knew about his leadership skills in the locker room and in the classroom. Recognizing his potential, Krabbenhoft offered White the opportunity to shadow him for a year at Sanford Health. “I told him, ‘If you’re successful, we’ll scholarship you,’” Krabbenhoft said. And he was.
“In very short order, you figured out that this was a very sharp young man, very intuitive,” said Cindy Morrison, Sanford Health’s executive vice president of marketing and public policy, who first met White during his internship.
The next year, White began law school at the University of Kansas. Three years later, he was an attorney with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington. He practiced there for just under two years before he returned to Sanford.
Since his return, White, who rejoined the system as associate general counsel before advancing to COO, has led efforts to improve care delivery and financial performance. That included a cost transformation program that resulted in $115 million in savings and a 3.3% net operating margin across the 45-hospital system. White is also leading a $500 million project to build Sanford Fargo Medical Center.
But it’s not just what White has done from a strategic or operational perspective that makes him stand out. Community engagement and service, Krabbenhoft said, is in White’s DNA. “It’s part of his persona.”
For example, White has been instrumental in the development of a 160-acre sports complex in the region that houses athletic facilities and hosts fitness activities for local youth, something that is close to his heart.
“A lot of the lessons I learned through athletics I impart every day—building a team, motivating a team, repetition, holding people accountable,” White said.
CALL HIM COACH: “If I have a management style, it’s that of a coach. But sometimes I find myself using a few too many sports analogies.”
HIS FARMING ROOTS: Grew up on the same South Dakota farm his great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the late 1800s.
WORST JOB: Spent summers pulling weeds in soybean fields.