Carolinas HealthCare System on Thursday introduced its next president and CEO as a “servant-leader” well suited to guide the region’s largest hospital chain through what some predict will be a decade of industry change.
Eugene “Gene” Woods, president and chief operating officer of CHRISTUS Health in Irving, Texas, will join Carolinas HealthCare in May to replace outgoing president and CEO Michael Tarwater, who retires in June after 35 years with the company.
In taking over the top leadership posts at Carolinas HealthCare, Woods, 51, will leave an organization with roughly 30,000 employees in the United States and Mexico to head one with roughly double that number.
At a press conference Thursday inside the Levine Children’s Hospital, Woods, accompanied by his wife, Ramona, and one of their two sons, said he is looking forward to the challenge.
“This is a very, very exciting day for myself and my family,” he said. “I’m looking forward to building on the platform (Tarwater) has created here, with the team and the board, as I look to the next decade.”
An Industry in Transition
The healthcare industry that lies ahead, he said, will be vastly different than the one currently in place.
“This is an industry that is going through phenomenal change, unprecedented change,” he said. “The next 10 years will look completely different than the last 30 or 40.”
One of the challenges, he said, will be learning to provide services for Internet-savvy millennials while continuing to care for older Americans. He compared that challenge to playing chess on all sides of a Rubik’s Cube.
“When you think you’ve got it figured out, somebody comes and twists it and resets the game,” Woods said. “And that’s how it’s going to feel over the next decade to come.”
In going outside the organization to find its next leader, Carolinas HealthCare broke with a recent history of promoting home-grown talent.
Tarwater, 62, has led Carolinas HealthCare since 2002 and has been with the hospital system since 1983, when he was hired by his mentor, then-CEO Harry Nurkin, who retired unexpectedly after 21 years.
Edward Brown III, who chairs the Carolinas HealthCare board of commissioners, said the search committee conducted an extensive search and sought input from more than 150 people, both inside and outside the organization.
“We just didn’t go and find candidates and pick one quickly,” he said. “…As we evaluated the candidates, one of the key criteria was finding a servant-leader, somebody who’s outstanding at listening, not coming in here and directing, not coming in here and acting as, ‘Ok, I’m in charge; I’m at the top of the pyramid.’ That’s not what we wanted…We needed a leader who would inspire and engage… As we evaluated the candidates, Gene just rose to the top.”
A Career in Health Care
Woods has spent the last three decades with various health care organizations. In addition to his duties at Carolinas HealthCare, he also is president-elect of the American Hospital Association, a lobby group.
He previously served as chief executive officer of Saint Joseph Health System in Lexington, Ky. Before that he was chief operating officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
Woods received his bachelor’s degree in health planning and administration, master’s degree in business administration and master’s in health administration from Pennsylvania State University. He was named a Modern Healthcare Up and Comer in 2001, and is a two-time recipient of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executive honors. Woods is also fluent in Spanish.
The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.