He’s often seen walking the hallways of his hospitals, chatting with employees and greeting visitors at the front door. He hosts casual lunches with staff members to talk about what’s on their minds. He listens to patient concerns and welcomes ideas for improvement.
These are the hallmarks of his management style, and it’s how he keeps his eye on business.
“It’s the little things that matter, the connections you make with people,” Creem said. “I feel like the biggest cheerleader on Earth. I spend every day of my job encouraging, lifting spirits, building hope.”
Creem shared this sentiment along with other valuable leadership insights at an Oct. 26 Executive Leadership Series event hosted by the USC Professional Development office.
The two-hour event, attended by nearly 150 guests on the University Park campus, highlighted Creem’s 27 years of management experience in health care and included a special “fireside chat” with leadership guru and University Professor Warren Bennis.
Creem opened the morning discussing the dynamics before and after USC’s acquisition of USC University Hospital and USC Norris Cancer Hospital from Tenet Healthcare Corp. on April 1, 2009.
“At the time, we were trying to figure out how we could propel USC to the next stage,” said Creem, who came to the university in June 2008. With Tenet struggling with its relationship with USC and its faculty, the university realized its opportunity to join the ranks of top-tier academia laid within the hospitals and creating an academic medical center of its own.
Following the acquisition, Creem went on to explain the host of challenges he faced in transitioning 1,600 employees and dozens of faculty members from the old Tenet culture to a new vision for USC medicine. Morale was low among staff, information technology systems were scattered, the facilities were in need of upgrades and new governance suddenly was in place.
Still, with the help of a new leadership team, Creem was able to turn things around – growing revenue by more than $68 million, increasing admissions, hiring more than 600 new employees and recruiting some 27 new faculty physicians. It’s something he’d done before at other academic medical institutions as well, such as Tufts-New England Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and UCLA.
“It’s about understanding at a deeper level that we all need to work together,” Creem said, talking about the cooperative effort among staff and physicians to navigate a successful transition. He talked about the importance of reminding people of their purpose, something that hit home with Bennis.
“It sounds almost trivial, but it’s so crucial to keep people understanding what it is that’s important,” Bennis said. “After years on a job, it’s so easy to just dial in sometimes. You have to remind people of the mission. I thought that was very powerful.”
Creem also emphasized his own personal management style – communicating with employees, setting tasks, following through with plans and making staff the number one priority. “It’s about living and communicating your own personal values. You have to walk the talk,” he said. “These hospitals are a community treasure. It is my job to protect this asset.”
Ed Becker, executive director of the USC office of Environmental Health and Safety, called Creem’s leadership insights “thought-provoking” and said they held cross-campus value.
“Like Mitch mentioned, so much of what we do is instinctive and reactionary,” Becker said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Are you putting together the story? Is there a clear, laid-out plan?’ You have to make the journey purposeful.”