Career ladder: Schlichting, 61, graduated from Duke University in 1976 with a major in public policy studies. She started her 40-year health care career in entry-level jobs — nurse's aide, unit secretary and switchboard operator — in three hospitals. She earned an MBAfrom Cornell University in 1979. In 1983, at age 28, she became the COO of 650-bed Akron City Hospital in Ohio, which she considers to be her big break into hospital administration. Despite being outed as gay in an anonymous letter to the hospital's board in an attempt to block her promotion, she later became COO and CEO roles at hospitals in Columbus and Akron. She joined Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System as senior vice president and chief administrative officer in 1998 before becoming COO in 1999, president and CEO of Henry Ford Hospital in 2001 and CEO of the health care system two years later. She is retiring in December.
Power metrics: In 2015, Henry Ford Health System had $5 billion in revenue with 27,000 employees. Since merging in 2016 with Allegiance Health in Jackson and acquiring HealthPlus in Flint for its HAP subsidiary, the company will approach $5.5 billion this year. Henry Ford Health has six hospitals and nearly 100 ambulatory sites, which Schlichting says serve 1.5 million people annually.
What attracted you to the health care industry? "When I was young I had terrible experiences in hospitals, especially when my mother was quite ill when I was in the fifth grade. I just found hospitals to be scary and depressing, and I really wanted to make a change; I wanted to make them better, and that's been my motivation for my entire career — making health care better for patients and families."
What was the major challenge you've faced in your career? "I've been involved with four financial turnarounds, which were very challenging because they affect the people that work in the organization. During the first couple turnarounds, we really worked hard to make sure that we protected our people, and I think from learning that, I've tried to do that throughout my career — even when we faced potential layoffs, I've tried to find ways to reduce that risk on our people. When you're losing money and making decisions that affect employees, those are really tough times for a leader."
Who had the biggest influence on your career? Why? Professionally, her mentor, Gail Warden, who preceded her as CEO of the Ford system. Personally, her parents, who she credits for influencing her values and preparing her well for her life. "You can never repay that."
Big win: When the hospital system won the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award — an award that took five applications and was worked on by the whole organization for seven years. "Everybody won the award, and that is what makes it so meaningful and important."
What sacrifices have you had to make? Schlichting works 70 to 80 hours a week, so she would consider time to be the largest sacrifice that she has had to make. According to Schlichting, though she has never sacrificed time with her family, she has had to sacrifice personal time. Some of her many hobbies include golf, tennis, swimming, playing the violin, cooking and gardening. Despite her many interests, Schlichting said, they must often be put on the back burner for work.
Super power: Her focus on people. "My fundamental job as a CEO is to create a great environment for people to do great work and to reach their potential. So I spend a lot of time focusing on the needs of our staff and how they can best deliver great care to our patients and their families."
Power lesson: "The more you share power, the more power you have."
Surprising fact: Schlichting played golf at the Augusta National Golf Club.
Best mentor: Gail Warden, who taught her to think about the impact of their work on a national scale, and to bring the national landscape in health care to their work at Henry Ford.
I recently learned to: Do book signings. In October 2015, her book "Unconventional Leadership: What Henry Ford and Detroit Taught Me About Reinvention and Diversity" was published a year and a half from the time she began working with her writing partner, Jacque Murphy. She and Murphy worked on the book every weekend for a year, submitted nine book proposals to publishers and received three positive responses.
Board/community connections: Board member and chairman, compensation committee, Walgreen Co.; board member, Kresge Foundation, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago-Detroit Branch, Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy Board of Visitors, Citizens Research Council of Michigan, Detroit Economic Club, Detroit Regional Chamber and the Downtown Detroit Partnership.
You're retiring this year. Will you continue to be active in the community? "Yes, I will be joining some additional public boards after I retire. I enjoy the opportunity to learn about and contribute to the success of diverse companies, and to meet and work with talented board colleagues," wrote Schlichting. "My spouse, Pam, and I will be staying in the Detroit area after I retire, and look forward to being active in the community.
Areas of interest for nonprofit work? "I will continue to work with Kresge Foundation, a national nonprofit foundation, and may consider other opportunities as well, especially helping kids in Detroit."
How do you assist other women in your company, in your community, in the world? "I have strived to create a welcoming and supportive environment for women at Henry Ford, and I try to help any women I can with their career journeys."
What changes have you seen in how women wield power in Michigan or in your industry over the last 10 years? "There has been positive progress for women in leadership roles in Michigan, but we need to continue to better utilize the incredible talents of women to create a stronger state and in the health care industry."
What's next: To retire, and begin the next chapter with a focus on learning, fitness and contributions to our community.
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