Sally Dixon has worked with a lot of men.
At Coopers & Lybrand, where she was hired in the public accounting department and then advanced to public consulting, she was the first woman in her office.
Currently leading Memorial Hospital, Dixon is one of only two female CEOs of an acute-care general hospital in the Business Journal’s coverage area.
And when as a young woman she worked at the sand and gravel plant her father owned, her co-workers were all men.
“I learned how to run stone crushers,” Dixon says. “It was a situation where I had to change to fit the situation as opposed to having the company change and accommodate me. My dad was very stringent on that.”
Understanding flexibility without compromising personal values is, she says, “critically important and probably the most significant piece of my early career.”
Today, Dixon finds herself a role model for women in business, but at the same time, she doesn’t think her gender has affected her career.
“That’s not to say that along the way there haven’t been some small challenges here and there where people kind of look at you and you have to work twice as hard to earn respect, but by and large I don’t feel like I’ve had any disadvantage,” she says. “I grew up in an atmosphere where, if you wanted to do something and you put forth enough effort and hard work, you anticipated being successful at it. I never really believed that there were jobs for women and jobs for men. I just saw what I liked to do and progressed through it.”
She recognizes that she has been fortunate in that respect, and she tells people that finding the right places to work is a big part of why her story is positive. She also credits a succession of mentors.
Dixon wasn’t aiming for this job initially. She started in the financial sector, working with banking, construction and health care. The next step was a consulting position in finance, which gave her more health care experience. Then she got married, decided she didn’t want to be on the road as much and started looking for a stationary position.
So in 1981, Dixon became chief financial officer at Memorial. In 1995, she became president and CEO. She never expected to be at one place this long, she says, but she still relishes the multifaceted challenges of running a hospital.