A healthcare organization is going to land Mark Johnson soon, and once it does, it’ll have access to twenty-seven years of turnaround expertise by a finance guy who says that you can call him whatever title you want—CFO, chief operating officer, chief strategy officer, senior vice president—as long he knows his skills are going to be put to use.
At this point in his career, Johnson knows what he’s looking for, and it’s not a massive health system; it’s one where his impact can be felt quickly and where he’ll have the clearance to bring the kind of positive change he’s brought to well over a dozen roles in his career thus far.
Here’s what makes Johnson, current interim CFO for CareWell Health, so unique. (Well, frankly, there are a lot of things.) Informally, he admits he may have a bit of an attention issue. Prior to his call with American Healthcare Leader, his husband walked by him in his office and said he’d like to ask him a question, but was afraid that he might “short circuit.”
“I had three different screens in front of me,” says Johnson with a laugh, his smooth southern drawl immediately evident. “I’m a licensed real estate agent in Massachusetts, so I had that stuff up on one screen, I was doing my continuing education for my CPA [certified public accountant] license on another, and, then, my normal work screen up. I think I’ve just learned to harness whatever my issue is and make it work for me.”
That’s not actually what makes Johnson such a unicorn, though. You need to pull up his résumé for that. Typically, a turnaround pro floats from organization to organization, saving the day and then moving on. And Johnson has done that in spades. However, he also has a habit of getting repeatedly promoted into other roles by leaders who love his work and want to see if he can impact other areas of the healthcare business.
Turnaround work requires a certain kind of disposition and a certain kind of appetite for stress. Johnson has both. But he says it’s important to make clear that it’s not the stress or the mayhem that brings him pleasure.
“I’m OK working in chaos for a period of time,” Johnson says. “I like a game plan and looking at a problem holistically. My mentality has been to fight the fire, put it out, and then turn it back over to somebody having created a sound foundation for them to build on. Over time, you realize that some people like working in chaos and can’t ever get out of it. That’s a problem. Others shut down as soon as they encounter it. That’s another problem. At some point, I realized it’s just kind of the work for me.”
Almost every role Johnson has taken on in the last quarter of a century has had some kind of turnaround process. He’s done it for eight hundred-bed hospitals, but that’s not where his heart lies.
“That kind of a role was great for me when I needed that experience,” Johnson says. “But that’s not what my driving force is today. I want to bring my knowledge and expertise to an organization that really needs that assistance, a place where I can truly make a difference for them.”
When he talks about a difference, consider one organization he joined that was losing $9 million a year and, by the time he left three years later, was around $18 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Johnson brings a well-honed reputation of bringing things up around him while engaging in turnaround efforts and wider financial strategizing.
Johnson has trained a baker’s dozen worth of future CFOs. That’s not “future” as in someday. Thirteen people who worked on Johnson’s team have gone on to be CFOs in their own right. And those who have interacted with him in some of their worst moments have still walked better for it.
“There have been times when I’ve had to let people go just because of the turnaround process or part of an acquisition, and I’ve had people tell me they’d come back to work for me. That means a lot to me,” he says. “I’m sure there are people out there who also curse me, but I’d like to think I’ve been able to help more people than I’ve hindered.”
In discussing the future of healthcare, Johnson says that with so much of the industry moving toward outpatient facilities and treatment, hospitals are not currently equipped to deal with the evolution. Health systems have relied on inpatient volume to get by, and those brick-and-mortar institutions are the opposite direction of where health at home and outpatient services are heading.
“It’s a very different model,” he explains. “The paradigm has shifted where the hospital itself is going to be the cost center. We have to figure out how to deliver that care differently and figure out where the business is going.”
It’s just one issue that Johnson said health systems should be dealing with right now. And he’s ready to help begin that evolution. That’s the true kind of challenge that can capture his full attention.
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