From Surgeon to CEO: My Trip to the Top of Cleveland Clinic

October 22, 2012

Editor's Note: One of the key aspects of LinkedIn's culture is Transformation: of Career, Company, and World. This month, we are kicking off a series to highlight inspiring stories of Transformation starting with Delos Cosgrove's journey from cardiac surgeon to CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. This story is syndicated from Delos Cosgrove's posts on LinkedIn.

I call myself a recovering cardiac surgeon. I did it for more than 35 great years and performed 22,000 operations. In 2004, the Cleveland Clinic pulled me out of the operating room and gave me a new assignment. They made me president and CEO of the second largest private medical practice in the world.

At an age where many people are considering retirement, I was handed a whole new career.

The change from surgeon to CEO was enormous. In just a few short months, I went from the operating room to the boardroom, from wearing a mask and gloves, to wearing suits and ties, from manual labor to cerebral labor, from a job where I got immediate results, to a job where results can take months or years to develop, from certainty to ambiguity, from reading the New England Journal of Medicine to Harvard Business Review.

There were some excellent people helping me make the transition. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, and Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, have given me good advice over the years. So have our trustees, directors and donors.

There was no underestimating the size and complexity of what needed to be managed. The Cleveland Clinic is a $6 billion dollar a year business. It pumps $3.5 billion into the local economy annually.

After eight years, I’ve got a fairly good handle on the job. The key is continual learning. Meeting new people. Hearing new ideas. For instance, some years ago I heard a young guy at the World Economic Forum at Davos talking about something called “social media”. His name was Zuckerberg. I came back and asked our internet people to look into it. Today, Cleveland Clinic’s Facebook fan base is 100,000 and rising. We also have the most-visited hospital website in America.

Healthcare reform, the epidemic of chronic disease and the rising cost of care will continue to challenge us all. I expect to be learning more and working harder in years to come.

All of this proves that there are indeed second acts in American lives. In one way or another, my experience will be duplicated by many more of you going forward. The concept of retirement is obsolete. People aren’t disappearing at age 65. They’re becoming more visible than ever. And it’s a good thing. We’re not put on earth to observe life. We need to contribute.

As Coach Lou Holtz said, “It’s how you meet the challenge of the second half that determines what you’ll be after the game – the winner or the loser.” And of course Mark Twain put it best: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

There are so many exciting things going on in the world of medicine and at Cleveland Clinic. I look forward to telling you all about them here on LinkedIn. In my next post, I’m going to talk about Cleveland Clinic itself – and what makes it different from your hospital down the street.

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