Keeping the team intact

Local business veterans prove a move in tandem can be successful

Team chemistry in the workplace is often fostered by familiarity.

That comfort zone can result from high-ranking company colleagues having spent many years together at one place or at several, having experienced each other’s strengths and weaknesses and/or having hired — or even having fired and then re-hired — either of the other. 

And though the dynamic is playing out with senior leaders at multiple Nashville companies — particularly within the music industry —Dan Slipkovich knows it better than most.

In fact, the Capella Healthcare founder and executive board chair has toiled side by side with Mike Wiechart at four different companies.

Wiechart, who recently replaced his good friend as Capella CEO, and Slipkovich also have worked together at HealthTrust, HCA and LifePoint.

Slipkovich hired Wiechart for his first chief financial officer job when both men were with HealthTrust (which later became a part of HCA). He eventually would hire Wiechart to be Capella’s chief operating officer in 2009.

“Frankly, if you already know someone, have experienced a good working relationship with them and respect their knowledge and work ethic, it’s easier to hit the ground running, particularly when you are starting a new company,” Slipkovich says. “ It certainly makes for a smoother transition process because you aren’t having to navigate a new relationship simultaneously. You don’t have to spend a lot of time developing that new relationship at the same time you’re building the new company. You can focus more exclusively on the vision and mission.”

Wiechart is not the only colleague with whom Slipkovich has worked at multiple places. He recalls the evolution.

“Several years after LifePoint was successfully launched, I left the company and took about six months off,” he says. “Marty Rash (now at Regional Care) then called and asked me to join him at Province Healthcare as president and COO. I hadn’t worked with Marty previously but knew him from various industry meetings.  That’s where I met Tom Anderson (now at Capella). Andy Slusser (also now at Capella) was also [at Province] but I already knew Andy, having previously worked with him at HTI and then HCA. Relatedly, Mike was also part of Province (though Wiechart and Slipkovich did not work their simultaneously) and helped to bring Andy there.”

As with a sports team that has maintained a stable roster and enjoyed much success, companies can benefit from such familiarity, Slipkovich says.

“This is one of the dynamics that has led to Nashville becoming the ‘health care industry capital’ of the country,” he says. “There are so many talented people who have come here to work with existing companies then branched out and started up new companies. Those positive working relationships have gone into the building of these new companies and helped them be successful.”

Slipkovich says the nature of the local health care industry is such that many of its executives have worked with more than one company.

“So you’ve either worked with folks professionally [at other places] or as volunteers to support the industry within professional organizations like Nashville Health Care Council, the Federation of American Hospitals or American Hospital Association.”

However, not all work situations — or individuals — lend themselves to the dynamic, Slipkovich says.

“It depends entirely on the skill set, experience and desire that each person brings to the table,” he says. “ Frankly, it may not translate well to a smaller start-up. You could liken it to whether or not you could take the COO out of a large hospital or system and make [her or him] the CEO at a smaller hospital.  That just doesn’t always work well because, in that different environment, you may have more to do personally with fewer resources to accomplish the work. Even at a smaller start-up, such as when Capella was formed nine years ago, members of senior management had to be both leaders and doers — and that’s not for everybody.”

That “leaders and doers” requirement was suitable for Ron Samuels and Kent Cleaver.

The Avenue Bank officials have worked together since 1985 at six different banks, having left, essentially simultaneously, three times for new opportunities. Their skill sets are both complementary yet differ enough to add a comprehensiveness one-two punch.

Samuels, chairman and chief executive officer, is the Avenue Bank visionary and company face, while Cleaver, president and chief operating officer, serves as the “details man.” Either, however, can exhibit traits of the other when needed.

“Kent and I have always felt we had complementary skills and that’s what made our partnership work,” says Samuels, who is 10 years Cleaver’s senior.

Cleaver puts it more succinctly, noting, “Either one of us can be away on work or on vacation and can totally trust the decisions made by the other.”

Cleaver and Samuels started their working relationship at Nashville City Bank before moving onto Dominion Bankshares after it was bought by NCB. Later, the two moved to Union Planters (Samuels in 1999 and Cleaver in 2000). Union Planters would then merge with Regions, from which the pair eventually left to found Avenue Bank in 2007.     

Not surprisingly, given the years that have passed, Samuels and Cleaver have fostered strong working relationships with others who became co-workers.

“Nine other Regions folks later joined us and seven are still with us,” Samuels says. “And those seven also worked with us at Union Planters.”

With familiarity comes the ability to offer constructive criticism and face rejection. Samuels says he has attempted to lure some former colleagues to Avenue Bank without success. And he is fine with that.

And fine with some good-natured ribbing.

“Somebody once introduced us to a group of people and said, ‘Ron has 20 ideas a day and Kent is trying to figure out which one works,’ ” Cleaver says with a chuckle.

Mark Wright, president of Show Dog-Universal Music, has worked with colleague Carie Long at four companies.

Long, who serves as Show Dog-Universal Music senior director of A&R administration, allows Wright to, he says, “fly at my own speed.”

“I go out and record music and Carie takes care of all the backroom stuff,” Wright says. “She makes sure everybody is paid and the union is covered. It’s a tedious job.”

Wright says changes hit many music industry companies every seven to eight years. As such, it’s important — and not unusual within the sector — to see some co-workers move together.

“It does happen,” he says.

Capella’s Slipkovich says a company can have effective teams comprised of high-ranking officials who have worked together at multiple places. Similarly, he says,  the dynamic can be effective with mid-level company officials who have a shared work history.

“But that shared work history isn’t the most important thing nor is the position individuals previously held,” he says. “What’s most important is their desire or aptitude in combination with their fit for the work that’s needed.”