Tony Spezia, who recently retired from his position as CEO of Covenant Health, gave a speech at a party in his honor April 1 that truly knocked it out of the ballpark.
Spezia’s speech was so powerful that Alan and I showed a video of it to our staff the following week. I think it contains some lessons for all business leaders — as well as an explanation of some of Spezia’s philosophies.
The party itself was phenomenal. Nearly 600 people came to the Knoxville Convention Center to toast the dynamic executive who has led our community’s largest private employer for the past 15 years.
During Spezia’s tenure, Covenant Health has:
- Spent over $1.2 billion investing in its facilities, including building three new community hospitals
- Taken over operations of hospitals in four counties at the request of communities that trusted Covenant to preserve services and jobs and improve the quality of available health care and access to physicians
- Turned around its struggling managed care organization and sold it for $300 million, bringing needed capital into the Covenant organization
- Been nationally recognized for its quality and service
- Strengthened its balance sheet, resulting in one of the lowest borrowing rates in the country, providing Covenant with opportunities for growth and a certainty of continuing its nonprofit mission
- Entered 2015 with the best financial performance in its history
Spezia is now CEO emeritus, focusing on strategic planning. He is succeeded by Jim VanderSteeg, whom he has been mentoring for years in preparation for this transition.
Here are a few highlights from Spezia’s speech:
- “The first half of my business career was spent in fields unrelated to health care,” he said. “I was born in a hospital and I had my tonsils out there. But that was the extent of my health care experience when I came to Knoxville in the early ’90s.” Spezia, the son of a waiter and a homemaker, was the first of his family to attend college. His early careers were in accounting and coal.
- “Everyone’s job is the lifeblood of their family and should be treated as such by leadership. Without job security, not only the employee, but the entire family has stress and uncertainty.”
- “Every employee wants to be proud of the organization they work for. They want it to stand for the right things.”
- “Layoffs are not a part of Covenant’s vocabulary. If a leader suggests a layoff in order to right-size their department or business unit, they need to put their own name at the top of the list. Most layoffs are avoidable and are the result of poor planning and a failure to perceive the business conditions the organization is going to face.”
- For leaders, there are a set of “Tony maxims:” “Lead by example. No matter how much success you have, never forget where you came from. Focus on making all the hard decisions. Drive decision-making throughout the organization — there are far more decisions to be made than leaders and employees realize. Do not accept the status quo. No more business as usual. Challenge everything. Look at everything and make decisions about everything all the time. Value commitment and teamwork above IQ.”
- “Don’t complain about the challenges you face. Relish them. Because without challenges, there can be no accomplishment.”
- “One comment I have heard frequently is that I am an outrageous risk taker. To those I would respond, ‘It is not a risk if you know how it’s going to come out.’ “
- “What might appear to be bold strategy is, in reality, a long series of incremental activities based on available data that has been thoroughly studied and for which outcomes are far more predictable.”
- “I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to lead Covenant Health. It is an organization that not only provides nearly 10,000 jobs, but it also makes a positive difference every day in the lives of the thousands of patients and their families who entrust their care to us. No one can ask for more meaningful work.”
(Disclosure: Covenant Health and Tony Spezia have been clients of Moxley Carmichael for more than 15 years.)
Dolly Parton paid a special tribute to Tony Spezia in a video presentation. Click below to see that.
Click here for a great article about Spezia in the News Sentinel a few years back.