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7 Questions with Wael K Barsoum

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Wael K Barsoum

Name: Wael K Barsoum

Current title: President and Chief Transformation Officer

Current organisation: HOPCo

Dr. Wael Barsoum is an innovative, value-driven surgeon executive with 20+ years of extensive experience in promoting growth, lowering cost and leading change. He has demonstrated strategic skills to build high-reliability organizations, which facilitated clinical and quality excellence, to meet changing healthcare environment demands.
Dr. Barsoum is currently the President and Chief Transformation Officer at Healthcare Outcomes Performance Company (HOPCo) where he leads the company’s market transformation initiatives along with growth and clinical integration strategies. He spearheads the MSK service line hospital integration, specialty hospitals, quality programs, and operations. Prior to joining HOPCo, he was the CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic Florida. In that role, he cultivated and transformed Cleveland Clinic Florida from a $650M, single, 155-bed hospital system with 9 remote sites to a $1.7B, 5-hospital, 1,083-bed tertiary and quaternary care hospital system with over 40 regional sites. He managed all parts of the system including, but not limited to, quality, patient safety and experience, operations, business development and strategy, finance, HR, IT and philanthropy. Oversight of 10,324 clinical and non-clinical FTE’s. Dr. Barsoum led the successful and seamless integration of Martin Health and Indian River health systems which resulted in significant growth in volumes, revenues, and EBIDA along with improvement in key performance quality metrics across the FL region. He is a proven serving-leader with strong colleagues, business and community relationships and fundraising abilities. During his tenure at CCF, he closed approximately $140M in gifts which propelled the establishment of several endowed chairs, the Egil and Pauline Braathen facility, Maroone Cancer Center, expansion of the ED and Bed Tower, Florida Research and Innovation Center, and the Mangurian Simulation Center. Under his leadership, Cleveland Clinic Florida held their first two fundraising events, Raise the Roof and Celebrate.
As the former Chair of Cleveland Clinic Enterprise Surgical Operations, Dr. Barsoum directed strategic and financial initiatives across the large, academic surgery division with a $1B operating expense budget, 30% EBIDA margin, and operational responsibility for 1,600 clinical and non-clinical FTE’s. He spearheaded continuous improvement initiatives which resulted in 4% increase in EBIDA, $1M reduction in inventory, and $1.6M in labor savings. He incorporated predictive analytics into surgery scheduling operations with the development of the OR Anywhere Application which resulted in a system-wide increase of 1,500 additional cases per year. Dr. Barsoum is an effective visionary adept at forecasting future challenges and instituting roadmaps for organizational success, including the development of the Enterprise Surgical Council, the first-generation Cleveland Clinic Surgical Operations Playbook, and creation of the Check Please Cost Transparency Program.
Dr. Barsoum maintains a robust clinical practice as an Orthopaedic surgeon. He holds the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Distinguished Chair in Healthcare Innovation. He is the principal investigator for clinical, basic science, and translational studies with over 50 granted or pending US patents. He has been the co-Primary Investigator on a Third Frontier grant funded by the State of Ohio, for which he has designed patient-specific customized tools and instrumentation for total hip, shoulder and spine arthroplasty. He leads an active research career, written 12 textbook chapters and published over 200 peer-reviewed publications, and presented over 300 presentations.
He is a respected voice in healthcare serving as the chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Visiting Nurses Association Board, member of the boys and girls club South Florida Board, and most recently as an active member on the Governor’s Task Force to Re-Open Florida and COVID-19 Testing Work Group. He served on the Cleveland Clinic Board of Directors and Board of Governors as well as the Cleveland Clinic Health System Executive Team, Operations Council, and Strategy Council.
Dr. Barsoum obtained his medical degree from The Ohio State University, followed by Orthopaedic Surgery residency training at the Cleveland Clinic and a fellowship in Adult Reconstructive Surgery at the New England Baptist Hospital. He is a fellow of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

7 Questions with Wael K Barsoum

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

Bureaucracy. Every organization talks about streamlining decision-making but very few actually do it. I personally believe that as long as the decision-maker has the best interest of the organization at heart, that they should be empowered to make the decision. The most successful organizations are the ones that empower front line employees to solve problems for their customers or companies. As an employee, you shouldn’t have to wonder if doing the right thing is going to lead to negative repercussions.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

As an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, I had incredible mentors. The Chairman of my department, Joe Iannotti, promoted me to be the Vice Chairman at a very young age. I started working on operations to streamline discharge planning and utilized predictive modeling to better prepare patients who were at higher risk for surgery. This led to a promotion to be the Chairman of surgical operations. That promotion was thanks to Marc Harrison, who now runs Intermountain Health, and Joe Hahn, who was the Cleveland Clinic Chief of Staff. These visionary leaders always believed in promoting folks and providing them with the tools to be successful. I will forever be indebted to them. When the opportunity to lead Cleveland Clinic Florida became available, it was Joe Hahn that suggested my name. After six years in that position, I moved on to being the President and Chief Transformation Officer at Healthcare Outcomes Performance Company (HOPCo). This has truly been a dream job for me. It is a forward thinking, fast moving, massively growing company that is trying to do the right thing in healthcare by managing the musculoskeletal health of populations. Our CEO, David Jacofsky, also an orthopedic surgeon, is one of my closest friends.

The biggest piece of advice I would give folks who are looking to grow in leadership roles is to do your homework. When opportunity knocks, make sure that you have the foundation to be successful. I took courses at Harvard Business School, Harvard School of Public Health, Kellogg, and countless courses at the Cleveland Clinic and through the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons to grow my business acumen. It is important to be well-rounded if you want to lead in healthcare.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I usually start every morning with a quick prayer. We have a saying in my family, wake up, say a prayer, go hustle. After the prayer, it’s time to hustle. I start by reviewing my agenda for the day and making sure that I am well prepared for all of my meetings. I never go into a meeting with anybody where I haven’t done my homework on them. I like to know exactly who I’m dealing with and what to expect. My morning usually starts with a quick workout followed by several meetings. I always take a break for lunch. My lunches are always working lunches. I either go with members of my team or meet with somebody during lunch. It’s a great opportunity to get to know people better in a more relaxed atmosphere and to discuss issues at work without the pressure of the work environment. My afternoon is usually taken up with planning sessions and meetings. I almost always have dinner in the evening. Again, I find that meals are a great environment to conduct business meetings. You can get a lot done and people tend to be more relaxed in that environment.

Some of my favorite days of the month are my clinical days. This is where I go to the hospital, see patients in the clinic, and operate. Surgery is a true passion for me. Being able to combine my passion with my love of business has been a dream come true.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

The answer here is without a doubt building and empowering teams. The very best teams have folks that symbiotically and synergistically make each other better. It is the epitome of 1+1 can equal three, four, five or six. Strong teams that are diverse and see things from different perspectives will almost always get better results than a single decision maker or a single, linear way of thinking. Empowering diverse teams to make decisions, in my view, is a testament to strong leadership.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

I remember reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s book, Outliers. He very elegantly put on pages what most leaders recognize to be the keys to success. Hard work, talent, and some element of luck. All three of these play a role. The differentiator is the willingness to embrace the talent and put in the hard work.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

You have to invest in leaders. It’s not easy or cheap. The reality of it is, if you build capacity within your own organization, your organization will be paid back in spades. The reason being, your own people know the culture, they know the operations, and they know the people. As a leader, it is your job to ensure that they have the tools to grow their own leadership skill set. Using outside organizations to help build that skill set allows you to bring in fresh ideas but still capitalize on the cultural and organizational knowledge that exists within your own bench.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

Four years ago, we were gearing up for a hurricane in South Florida. Whenever a hurricane was approaching, we would activate our disaster plan. When the roads were closing, our “A“ team would come in and would have to stay until the hurricane passed and the roads were safely reopened. Caregivers would be allowed to bring pets as well as family members to stay with them at the hospital while they cared for our patients.

I remember vividly coming down to the lobby the night that the hurricane was supposed to hit. One of the caregivers was playing the piano while about 150 people were around him singing. Talk about teamwork! Everybody was working together for one common cause and that was to take care of our patients and to be there for our community. Even with a potential disaster bearing down on us, the joy that it brought to our caregivers recognizing the higher calling that they were there for was absolutely mesmerizing.