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POWERBOOK 2012: Not afraid of challengesFresh from two turnarounds, Michael Young now is tackling the task of leading a successful system

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Michael Young, in the new orthopedic and spine unit at the PinnacleHealth Harrisburg Campus, is president and CEO of PinnacleHealth System. Photo Submitted/Stephen Moyer Photography
Michael Young, in the new orthopedic and spine unit at the PinnacleHealth Harrisburg Campus, is president and CEO of PinnacleHealth System. Photo Submitted/Stephen Moyer Photography

Michael Young's time as president and CEO of PinnacleHealth System has been short — not even a year and a half. But his reputation as a force in health care is much longer.

Young says he always wanted to be in health care — as a dentist. But being blind in one eye put the kibosh on that dream. So after college, he spent a year selling pharmaceuticals, acquired an idea of what the hospital management world was like and got a master's degree in hospital management.

In 1986, Young came to Lancaster General Health. He stayed 18 years, 16 of them as president. During that time, LGH built a women's hospital and an orthopedic hospital and focused on its ambulatory services program.

John Fry, currently president of Drexel University, became president of nearby Franklin & Marshall College toward the end of Young's tenure at LGH.

"Mike has a remarkable track record of success in one of the nation's most complex and competitive industries," Fry says. He was also "immensely helpful" to Fry in getting to know the Lancaster region and its businesses.

"Together we forged a relationship between F&M and Lancaster General that served both institutions and the community exceptionally well," Fry says. That relationship continues today, as the two organizations work toward completion of their massive Northwest Gateway Project.

Young's next two positions were at famously struggling operations: Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, N.Y., and then one of the largest public health systems in the country — Grady Health System and Grady Memorial Hospital, in Atlanta. Both have been widely lauded as turnarounds.

Young says he did the first "to demonstrate that I could do it." Historically, ECMC had operating losses, but in Young's first two years there, it posted its first-ever operating gain.

"I did the second because it was Grady, and nobody else in the country would do it," Young says. In his first year there, costs went down $20 million and the total financial turnaround totaled about $75 million.

Young says he did what needed to be done. For instance, he said, Grady needed a new computer system, but it didn't have nearly as much time or money for it as most health systems would require.

"That was so important to Grady that I took that project myself," he says — and reports that it was a success. "Not many CEOs do computer installs."

Administrators at Grady declined a request to talk about Young, and Lancaster General Health said its policy is not to comment on executives in other hospitals or health systems.

Amid all that activity, Young says, he had a change of perspective. He spent the first 25 years of his career thinking more like a manager, but for the last five, he's been thinking more as a leader.

"If people are developed into leaders, management comes along automatically — but if you teach people how to manage, they don't necessarily learn how to lead," he says. "Leaders develop people and let them do more than they ever thought they would do."

Young says PinnacleHealth "was a very strong organization when I got here," and in that he sees a challenge.

"The hardest places to succeed in are successful companies, because they're already successful and everybody's happy just where they are," he says. "So things that should take two weeks take a month. You hear the words, 'I can't,' because everybody's really comfortable."

The solution, he says, is leading.

"They have to see your car in the parking lot first thing in the morning," he says. Leaders must encourage people to take risks, and they can do that by accepting responsibility for all failures and giving their people credit for their successes.

George Grode, chairman of PinnacleHealth's board, says it is pleased with how Young has grabbed the reins and is pursuing its vision of being the health system provider of choice in Central Pennsylvania in 2017.

To that end, PinnacleHealth just broke ground on a $100 million West Shore Hospital in Hampden Township and also plans expansion and renovation at Community General Osteopathic Hospital in Lower Paxton Township and Harrisburg Hospital.

Grode knew Young from his days at LGH but said that, when the search committee was seeking a new leader for PinnacleHealth, it was also impressed by Young's success at Buffalo and Atlanta, which share some inner-city urban characteristics of Harrisburg.

"He's got a commanding presence, willingness to make tough decisions and flexibility to make mid-course decisions when necessary," Grode says.

Young communicates clearly and effectively, reaches goals – "and when a little fire needs to be lit from time to time, he doesn't hesitate to light it."

About Michael Young

Age: 56

Education: bachelor’s in biology from the University of Pittsburgh, 1978; master’s in health care administration from the University of Pittsburgh, 1979; MBA from the Harvard Business School’s advanced management program, 1998

Family: Married 30 years to Karen; two grown sons

Hometown: York

Current residence: Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County

First job: “I delivered The York Dispatch with my brother and sister. We had 132 customers.”

Current job: President and CEO of PinnacleHealth System

Last book read: A compilation of old newspaper stories about the creation of Harrisburg.

Favorite saying: “I have two. The first: ‘1. The customer is always right. 2. If the customer is ever wrong, see rule #1.’ The second is, ‘Just do it.’”

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