Winter 2021

Ravi Chari (EMBA’08) Bridging Business and Healthcare in a Pandemic

In 2006, Ravi Chari was serving as chief of Liver Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center when he realized that adding a business skillset might offer a unique advantage in healthcare. He says, “It was like business was speaking French, and healthcare was speaking German. So, I needed to learn some French.” He enrolled in Owen’s EMBA program, graduating in 2008 with the new fluency he needed. “The degree at Owen was massively pivotal to me. I was blown away by the structure and rigor around the study of management,” he recalls. Now, as president and CEO for HCA Healthcare, West Florida Division, he called on all those lessons to successfully bridge the business and clinical worlds while his industry faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On March 1, 2020, one of the hospitals in Chari’s network took in the first patient in the state of Florida to be hospitalized for COVID-19, ushering in a new era for healthcare and, so far, four waves of community spread. “It’s been a journey for us in healthcare,” Chari says. “Each surge had its own flavor, each of which have taken a toll on our teams.” By engaging in the kind of entrepreneurial thinking he was taught at Owen, Chari helped lead his teams in adapting to completely new scenarios around issues like contagion and visitation as well as PPE shortages. “By and large, everything we’d held true was under siege and we had to be creative and intentional to overcome challenges,” Chari says. “We learned that we have an amazing capacity to pivot when needed in order to create the right outcomes for our people and our community. Where there’s need, begin creative in finding a way to address it is necessary.” One such method was to form an alliance with sister hospital systems and schedule a weekly call with the CEOs to check in, share data and support each other. “Our leadership teams in our hospitals have done fantastic work to keep our focus on compassionate patient care, even while dealing with significant uncertainty,” Chari says. 

While Chari focused on how he could best resource his colleagues and advocate for them, he was consistently inspired by their commitment and hard work. “It helped us remember who we are as an organization and what we stand for,” he says. “We’re committed to people—they’re our greatest asset.”  

In early 2021, HCA worked closely with the state of Florida to determine how Super Bowl LV could be held safely. Because fan attendance would be limited and his employees were at the forefront of the vaccine rollout, Chari was able to reward them with an unforgettable experience—a trip to the Super Bowl. “It was so exciting to appreciate them in this way,” Chari says, “especially since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing, and won!” 

As he looks toward the future of healthcare management, Chari says he is looking for candidates not only with diverse skillsets like his, but also for experiences where discipline and hard work are paramount, “If I look at a resume, bar none, if you’re a Division 1 athlete, I’m going to hire you. If you’re in the military, I’m going to hire you.”  He adds, “The three key things I’m looking for are integrity, authenticity and humility. The attitude I’m looking for includes an understanding of what it means to work hard, a commitment to do what’s right and to call it out if you see something that’s not right, and an attention to detail.” 

When asked what keeps him going, Chari acknowledges running and working out at the gym and day trips on his boat. “At the end of the day, though,” he says, “what keeps me going is that the work I do is making a difference. It’s a privilege to be able to go home and be able to say—I made a difference today.” 

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