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Inaugural Address – Ricardo Azziz, MD, MPH, MBA

BUILDING BRIDGES THROUGH TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP Members of the Board of Regents, Chancellor Davis, Chancellor-designate Huckaby, Dr. Rock, Dr. Chaudhuri, delegates, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends – thank you all for gathering on this red-letter day in the life of Georgia Health Sciences University and this very happy day for my family and me. Thank you to our friends at Fort Gordon who kindly are honoring us with a Color Guard and the pleasure of their Brass Quintet. And thank you also to our colleagues here at Paine College who have been good neighbors and good friends. Thank you for opening your doors to the GHSU community and allowing us to hold this investiture ceremony in the lovely Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel. When Dr. John Wesley Gilbert and Bishop Walter Russell Lambuth, the gentlemen after whom this chapel is named, met in London in 1911 before embarking on missionary work in the Congo, Dr. Gilbert asked the bishop – “What shall our relationship be?” And Lambuth replied, “We shall be as brothers.” That same sense of fellowship – of shared commitment to a cause and to each other – exists in academia. So to all the presidents and representatives from other universities who have joined us this afternoon, I am very proud to stand with you as we advance our shared mission of education, of discovery, and of service. I would also like to extend my deepest gratitude and appreciation to my family for traveling alongside me on this journey. What I have achieved in my professional life is in great part due to the unflagging support and encouragement of my family… my wife Cindy, my daughters Ashlee and Mallory, and my son Jonathon; my mother who has been with us these past few months; my father who is watching the live stream of this event from his home in Florida; and to my siblings. You have all been such a great source of support to me and I am so pleased that we are together for this special day.


Many other friends and family have traveled great distances to be with us today – I thank you and I welcome each of you to Georgia Health Sciences University. Today is truly a wonderfully happy day for my family and me.But much more importantly, the inauguration of a university president is a celebration of the institution, a celebration of its history and its past, of unwavering dedication and mission, and of its rich future. And today we celebrate a great institution, the state’s only health sciences university, and one of only two integrated academic health centers in Georgia, an institution that is a great research university and yet so much more than a university. An institution whose mission is no less than “leading Georgia and the world to better health.” Today we celebrate an institution whose vision is to be a top tier research university and academic health center, but to do so while transforming the institution and the broader region into a healthcare and biomedical destination. An institution that boasts some the nation’s best educational leaders, a university that has trained a great proportion of Georgia’s health care workforce, which includes the 6th largest and 13th oldest medical school in the nation and the only College of Dental Medicine in Georgia, an institution that trains leaders in nursing and allied health sciences and the future innovators and researchers of tomorrow. Today we celebrate an institution that provides service to millions, that provides care to our under-served populations, that serves as a safety net for many communities, that provides needed specialized and acute care to the entirety of Georgia and many parts of South Carolina, and an institution that does so in a dedicated patient and family-centered manner, nationally and globally recognized for its excellence. Today we celebrate an institution with demonstrated excellence in cancer, in neurosciences and behavioral health, in cardiovascular biology and prevention, in transplantation and regenerative and reparative medicine, in pediatric and child services, in molecular medicine and genomics research – an institution whose investigators are among the most productive in the nation. Today we celebrate an institution that is a powerful economic engine, a thriving enterprise that generates billions of dollars for the regional, state and national economies each year. Today we celebrate an institution whose future is as bright, whose potential is as great, whose relevance is as broad as any. Today we celebrate Georgia Health Sciences University. And it is with appreciation of our 183-year history that I accept and embrace the responsibilities, the duties, and the obligations of the presidency of Georgia Health Sciences University, and commit – like those who came before me – to steward this university, this vital state and national resource, with dedication, with passion, and with energy into an uncharted future.


And in this celebration, I am humbled, determined and mindful. Humbled for the honor and trust given to myself, to my family, to our team, humbled by the enormous responsibility entrusted to us, humbled by the power and potential of this great jewel, this great asset of Georgia, of the nation, and of the world. Determined to ensure we meet this responsibility fully, determined to ensure its value, its quality, and most of all its excellence. Determined to ensure the right team and the right leadership are in place and empowered. Determined to do the right thing – always – the right thing for our institution, for its communities, for its patients, staff, students and faculty, the right thing for the state, the nation and the world and firmly and unwaveringly determined to ensure we succeed in our ambitions. Mindful of the need to meet an uncertain future, of the need to predict and plan, of the need to transform and adapt, of the need for speed and flexibility. Mindful of our history and tradition, mindful of the concerns and fears of our communities, mindful of the need for compassion with determination, of the need for transparency with education. And deeply mindful of the need to build bridges, bridges across our enterprise, bridges to people and places beyond our walls, to our communities and to our state, to our neighbors, our supporters, and our competitors, and bridges to our nation and to the world. Bridges that will ensure our strength, our relevance, and our excellence, and that of our communities. That is why I speak today of building bridges, of reaching out. Of spanning chasms and divides. Of connecting. There are many challenges that face us, those tasked with stewarding one of our nation’s, indeed one of mankind’s greatest assets, our health. Reversals in economic fortunes, global competition, and very importantly to our nation and to its economy, changes in how we perceive and value the burden and benefit of health and healthcare. And these challenges are compounded exponentially by a veritable revolution in the speed and reach of our communications – a revolution never before seen by humanity. Sometimes we must change to stay the same, and sometimes we must change to become more relevant, and sometimes we must change just to survive. Regardless, it is always our task to manage change and transformation. How do we address these global challenges, these macroeconomic forces? For we cannot repel and hide, we cannot hope to remain unscathed, untouched, unchanged. We must embrace, analyze, understand, incorporate and eventually supersede these challenges through transformation. And so today’s challenges require transformative leadership, leadership that will ensure growth, value and excellence in an increasing competitive and changing environment.


And the many challenges facing today’s leaders call for many skills and competencies. Leaders: must understand and respect history while being future-oriented and visionary must be firm yet adaptable must be relationship-oriented yet analytic must formulate strategy and understand tactic must be politically savvy yet not be impeded by partisanship or bias must identify and manage risk while avoiding stagnation and complacency must be able to read tea leaves and interpret smoke signals while identifying those opportunities always present in crises must be determined yet compassionate and understanding must ensure fiscal sustainability while fostering growth and innovation must lead from the front and not care too much about his or her own security But a key skill for today’s transformative leadership is the ability to build bridges. When I speak of ‘building bridges’ I speak of ‘building,’ of creating something greater than the sum of its individual parts. It is much more then merely bringing elements together to create a whole. It is about synergizing and crafting the new. It is about ensuring competitiveness, but in a new and innovative manner. It is about reinventing. ‘Bridges’ is a metaphor for the myriad links and strategies available to us to create and build a greater good through partnerships and collaborations, through integration and merger, through relationships and recruitment. No longer are academic health centers solely institutions of higher learning. Today they are economic engines, heath systems with countless partnerships with physicians and healthcare providers, with state, federal and local entities, with communities close and far. Harnessing the great power of these institutions will require that we build bridges across our enterprise, embracing all our constituents. And we have built many bridges in the past 11 months. We have brought together the disparate parts of our University and created an integrated academic health center, one of only two in Georgia. And we accomplished this integration in short time: by understanding that timing and pace are critical by giving voice to all members of our university by maintaining the fiduciary independence of the corporations comprising our university by leveraging our top leadership, double- and triple-hatting them, while ensuring their responsibility to all by pressing forward, while maintaining flexibility in the particulars of a unit’s integration strategy by increasing the role and development of clinical leadership in the governance and voice of our health system by ensuring continued communication and transparency


by providing immediate and continuing forums for interaction by empowering interim leadership by harnessing the power of our internal and external communities and by choosing the right leaders. While there is yet much to be done to ensure cultural as well as structural alignment, we are well on our way to building a great many bridges across our university, ensuring we become the force we are destined to be. And as we create a greater enterprise through integration, we need to begin to think of new ways in which we can leverage and grow the clinical and academic enterprises, of building novel bridges within our enterprise. For example, contemporary deans and chairs have been burdened with the task of developing and managing our educational, research and clinical missions. But this belays the reality that academic leaders have varying strengths, and hence wisely and insightfully they often rely on others to lead the disparate initiatives and missions of the unit. And today we build new units within our enterprise that will help us harness further the power of the whole, to build and address the challenges of tomorrow. These units come in a variety of colors and names – service lines, institutes, research centers, clinical centers of excellence – each with a different but specific focus, and each with a varying mix of clinical, research and educational accountability. And so today’s deans and chairs will continue their long tradition of embracing new partners on their way to accomplishing the missions of their department, be they service line, institute or center directors. And bridges will need to be built across academic and clinical boundaries, ensuring that all leaders are accountable and celebrated for the fortunes and successes of the broader enterprise – for if even one sailor does not care about the safety of the whole ship, it surely risks sinking it. And we should also be reminded that no university stands alone, no university can succeed without the success of its diverse communities, for the success of its communities fosters the retention and recruitment of its faculty, staff and students, fosters the economic growth necessary to support its activities, and fosters the political will and alignment necessary to support it. And for the Georgia Health Sciences University, a powerful and unique entity with statewide and regional missions, our communities not only represent our immediate locality, but the entire state of Georgia and many parts of South Carolina. Bridges must be built with all these communities, bridges that speak of mutual benefit, bridges that speak of synergy, bridges that speak of partnership, and bridges that leave behind the all too frequent query “What’s in it for me?” For this question belies the fact that we are often an invisible good, towering behind the health and wealth of our communities, and the question belies the reality that bridges are two-way streets. And so, it is the responsibility of all leaders, of our university and of our many communities, to ensure that the word is out and that all understand the great asset that we are privileged to have here today.


Bridges must be built across our research and discovery enterprises, for the problems we address today – those common, yet complex disorders that rob us of health, wealth and time – require novel collaborative and global approaches to solve. Today’s innovations require that we create synergies and partnerships between laboratories, departments, schools, institutions and communities. The formation of cross-departmental, cross-school, and even cross-institutional institutes and centers is one such clear mechanism, fostering the inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary approaches needed today – but so is the development and training of translators within our university, individuals trained to recognize and foster the development of novel translational collaborative approaches. The need to accelerate the translation of our research and discovery speaks of the need to build bridges with our patients and communities; speaks to our need to develop promotoras – lay individuals trained to engage our communities in the research that ultimately helps improve their health and life; and speaks to the need to train nurses and allied health professionals who may serve as anchors for our community-based and patient-oriented research. There is great risk in not building bridges. It allows isolation, separation, segregation, seclusion and insular thinking. But there is also great risk in not building bridges well, so I ask you to keep in mind the following principles. Bridges are two-way streets. Bridges should speak of mutual benefit. Otherwise they are either an intrusion or an abuse. Bridges are bidirectional but are not necessarily built to equal extents. One party or another may have a better situation, better resources, or simply greater drive to build these bridges. Before building a bridge, the grounds have to be ready on both sides. While we should recognize that timing is critical, this does not obviate the need to find ways to induce goodwill on more barren soil. We must not ignore the fact that much preparation and groundwork precedes the building of a bridge, and which often may be as simple as re-initiating dialog Bridges have to be built to last, intended to outlive those that created it. While our Constitution was built on the personalities and strengths of our forefathers, it was also built to last well beyond each of their lives and reach. And so, we must be inclusionary in our building, ensuring as broad a buy-in and acceptance as possible. And in addition to building new bridges, we must work to preserve those bridges that others before us constructed, and which were meant to last. Bridges have to be built using many different approaches. There is no single formula or structure that fits all needs. Building bridges requires continuous innovation. Building bridges does not obviate the need for individual accountability and responsibility. In fact, as we more frequently use matrix approaches to the governance of our partnerships and collaborations, we should never forget the power of solid and dotted lines. Let’s make sure we always know who is ultimately accountable.


When building bridges, expect setbacks and accept them as proof that the bridge needs to be built. In fact, if there wasn’t a chasm or an abyss to cross, you would not need to build a bridge. And, building bridges is about the right leadership. Not all leaders are adept at building bridges. Many more leaders are more adept at building silos, barriers and fortifications. Leaders who build bridges that last are those: who can put their egos on hold who can see beyond superficial differences who can provide and understand varying perspectives who seek and thrive on common ground who understand the need for determination and doggedness who know that the truth comes in many colors and that your truth may not be that of others who can understand and appreciate the past while envisioning a different future and, who can stress fairness above all else, including personal comfort and privilege. And it is these leaders, those who can and do build bridges, that we should seek and develop, for they will be the leaders of tomorrow. And so, in building bridges, we will build a greater enterprise, more than the sum of its parts; a greater community, more than the sum of its peoples; and a greater state, more than the sum of its budgets. For in building bridges, we will build a greater and new tomorrow. And finally let’s remember, while my family and I are deeply appreciative of your support today, today is not my day. Today is our day, our day to celebrate the past, the present, and the very bright future of the Georgia Health Sciences University. Thank you.


Inaugural Address