Commencement Spotlight: Ayse McCracken, Executive MBA
Does a business student earn extra credit if she becomes a CEO while in school?
Maybe not, but it’s bound to bring an entirely different perspective to those management classes.
Texas Executive MBA student Ayse McCracken started at McCombs while she was senior vice president of Houston's Methodist Hospital System and COO of TMH Physician Organization. One semester later she became CEO of Memorial Hermann Medical Group.
It was no small undertaking. Memorial Hermann Medical Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Memorial Hermann Health System, a multibillion dollar enterprise comprised of 11 hospitals in and around Houston, a number of surgery centers, and imaging and physical therapy businesses. Areas of practice include everything from neurology to pediatrics to addiction medicine.
In the chief executive role of the Medical Group, McCracken hopes to build a truly integrated healthcare system.
One year ago her business unit employed 60 physicians; by end of June it will employ about 170. She aims to bring another 200 doctors on board in 2013 and eventually ramp up to between 500 and 700 physicians.
That drive for growth is part of her ambitious take on health care management and why she decided to pursue an MBA in the first place.
After 29 years in health care McCracken says, “I felt like my point of view was too narrow. And with the challenges that health care has today, all the pressure can seem to be a problem, or you can find ways to identify opportunities through the challenges. I thought business school would help me bring a fresh perspective to what I have been doing.”
McCracken says that perspective has come, along with “good wake up calls,” including a statistics class that presented headache-inducing math, even for a self-described “numbers geek.” She is grateful for Professor Thomas Sager’s knack for turning dry stats into a practical subject. A managing innovation class helped her see the world around her differently, such as envisioning the doctor’s office of the future.
“You can pull from a variety of classes to see how you might innovate and put something in the market that’s new and different and maybe more relevant to how people want to receive health care services in the future,” she says.
McCracken’s connection to medicine is a deep one. Her grandfather was a surgeon in their native Turkey, and she considered becoming a doctor. But her path into health care wasn’t so direct. She earned an accounting degree from Louisiana State University and joined Arthur Andersen in Houston after graduation.
Although McCracken didn’t enjoy the work initially, she found her passion in health care audits. “This was another way to work with hospitals that appealed to me more than medical school,” she says. She is drawn to the social responsibility that health care work entails. “I have a lot of respect for not just making profit, but also doing good work.”
That led to working in health care finance at Price Waterhouse, where McCracken helped tax-exempt hospitals with bond offering projects, and then developed business models for new ventures. “That was really where I started to enjoy the creativity in developing new businesses,” she says. That job was followed by stints with two health care companies and consulting work.
Then in 1995 she collaborated on a business plan to create a new subsidiary for Texas Children’s Hospital called Texas Children's Pediatric Associates. She eventually became the new organization's CFO and then president a year later, leading it to become the country’s largest pediatric primary care group. After 12 years, she moved on to the senior vice president position at Methodist.
McCracken’s career has traveled through organizations of increasing complexity and size, from one pediatric facility to an 11-hospital system with “everything,” as she puts it. And through those years building new business units, organizing physicians, aligning strategies and integrating services, a handful of leadership lessons stand out to McCracken.
Establish a vision, and share it over and over and over again. Communicate roles and responsibilities. Measure and report performance—everyone is engaged by seeing results, good or bad. Embrace servant-leadership, and it will help you survive challenges both big and small. Learn from failure. Celebrate success.
Still, McCracken acknowledges that health care in America is in a tumultuous place. “There are clear challenges,” McCracken says. “The financing of health care is under incredible scrutiny, so how can we—as providers of health services—reach more people and spend less?”
Armed with an ability to innovate, a passion for the industry, and now a bolstered set of business skills, McCracken is poised to continue her leadership through this challenge and the next.