Why Healthcare CEOs Make Sense for Corporate Boards
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By Jena Abernathy

Jena Abernathy

Jena Abernathy

Corporate boards are more diversified than ever. As someone who works extensively in recruiting for board leadership, I would like to offer an additional perspective on this trend – ideas that I explored in a  recent article for Directors & Boards highlighting some untapped (some may say “unlikely”) resources for corporate boards. My advice for finding a new and valuable source of for-profit board members is to look in the not-for-profit arena and specifically at healthcare executives. These executives have had to quickly develop skills to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace that is healthcare, making them perfect candidates for corporate boards.

In the article I address the three following strengths of CEOs and other senior hospital administrators that will significantly benefit corporate boards:

  • Market Savvy: During the past decade, hospitals and health systems have had to become more competitive than ever to survive immense industry disruption. Patients are now viewed as consumers, and cost-effective, value-based models are more likely to entice these “consumers” than typical volume-based models of the past. Healthcare executives work tirelessly to meet the needs of these new consumers, which means constant market awareness and the ability to change the direction of an organization to meet market demands.
  • Innovation: As a result of these changes, healthcare executives have had to expand their businesses, explore different sources of revenue, enter new markets and redefine the idea of their typical customer, among other new responsibilities. Healthcare leaders have witnessed industry change more than perhaps any other industry; as such they are ideally suited to understand disruption and promote innovation in other industries and scenarios.
  • Reform-era Healthcare Expertise: Business owners of all industries must stay informed on current healthcare trends, especially health insurance costs. Executives from healthcare have specialized experience in this area, increasing their value to for-profit boards.

Although it is not commonplace to to heavily recruit not-for-profit healthcare leaders to corporate boards, their experience and expertise in areas of market disruption and innovation could be exactly what boards need moving forward.


Jena Abernathy is managing partner/chair of Board Services, senior partner, Healthcare, and serves on the Witt/Kieffer’s board of directors. Jena coaches candidates and assists clients in identifying board members, CEOs, presidents and other c-suite leaders for hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers, and foundations, as well as manufacturing, distribution and healthcare corporations. 

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