Recruiting Top Brass
Recruiting Top Brass | Brian Kelley, The Buffkin Group, healthcare executive recruiting, hospital recruiting

Brian Kelley

What Are Today’s Necessary Qualities for C-Level Healthcare Executives?

While hospitals, some clinics and other providers spend much time and money in a near continuous cycle of recruiting physicians and other clinicians, occasionally it’s time to fill the corner offices. That’s when recruiting companies like The Buffkin Group step in. The consulting firm is headquartered in Cool Springs with offices in New York City and Stamford, Conn.
“What we do for those entities is we are retained to find senior leaders,” said Brian Kelley, a Buffkin partner who heads the firm’s Healthcare Practice. Typical searches are for C-level executives and executive or senior vice presidents of operations. Kelley said most, but not all, of Buffkin’s clients are for-profit, service-based providers: acute care hospitals and ancillary services like ambulatory surgery, wound care management, outpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy and the like. Buffkin also works with payers and medical technology and device companies.
Yet, Kelley said the recruiting process for healthcare executives is “really no different” than the process when recruiting a high-level decision maker in most any industry. “Quite frankly, at the senior levels, it’s a lot about relationships,” he said. Kelley joined Buffkin about three years ago, after stints at two other executive search firms. The former owner and operator of Professional Sports Care Management, he sold the company and its more than 40 facilities to HEALTHSOUTH in 1996.
Kelley said he spends a lot of time recruiting for larger hospital systems, and he’s seen a shift in what these entities are looking for in their top execs. While there’s still the rare case of a hospital administrator working his or her way up through the ranks, today’s hospitals are clamoring for fresh blood. “They’re looking to bring other types of personalities and/or experiences inside the hospital now,” he said. “We’re seeing the appetite change a little bit for a variety of healthcare-service experiences on someone’s resume. They are more open and apt to consider what we call ‘out-of-the-box candidates.’” While an acute care background is a must, has the candidate run an ambulatory surgery center or worked on the managed-care side? That broad experience is a plus these days, he said.
In today’s world of healthcare reform, Kelley said his clients are working to recruit “people who can make a difference. Change makers, not just your day-to-day operators.” In other words, potential candidates needn’t apply if they adhere to the ‘if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it’ tenet.
Kelley added, “What they are looking for are proven capabilities, leadership qualities and vision, with a track record of success in executing a strategy. They want innovation as well. Having the ability to grasp change is very important.” That certainly includes grasping the importance of and implementing key information-technology strategies, he noted.
Buffkin’s Healthcare Practice consists of a team of five partners and four research analysts. Maintaining the firm’s sophisticated database is an ongoing and critical task. Kelley said a typical search takes three to five months, beginning with marketing the position to key audiences and searching the firm’s database for potential candidates. Buffkin follows a candidate through the process – referencing, background checks and even through the “onboarding” process, as the newly hired executive integrates into his or her role.
“We put the candidates through a pretty rigorous process of our own, and we also have them answer some behavioral-based questions in and around their own operating experiences,” Kelley explained. “Then we present to the search committee our candidate profile, which is inclusive of a resume or CV, a two- to three-page assessment of that interview, and then the behavioral questions that they answer.” Buffkin is retained by the employer on a percentage of the cash compensation, plus a protected bonus.
Buffkin also occasionally represents the private-equity sector looking to make changes after investing in an entity. Those clients know that the name of the game isn’t about investing in technology, “but it’s investing in people to execute,” Kelley said.
Kelley predicted that there will be “a lot of movement and aggressive changes” to components of the healthcare reform legislation, yet he added, “I think there’s still a lot of money out there in private equity. So you’re going to see a lot of new deals. … Healthcare isn’t going anywhere. We’ll always have a healthcare system.”