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Dr. Paul J. Kronenberg, CEO and president of Crouse Hospital. PH OTO BY FR A NK O RD O ÑE Z

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CNY BUSINESS EXCHANGE | february• March 2012


SECOND OPINIONS A RELUCTANT LEADER TAKES CHARGE WITH THE HELP OF COLLEAGUES AT CROUSE B y

Dr. Paul J. Kronenberg did not know how to read a financial statement, never mind run a hospital. So when he was suddenly drafted to serve as Crouse Hospital’s interim chief executive officer in 2004, the physician was clearly in way over his head. In his first meeting with senior management, Kronenberg was candid about his lack of experience and knowledge of hospital administration. “I’m your new leader, and I need your help,” he told them. The Syracuse hospital had just emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. David Speltz, the temporary CEO hired to fix the hospital’s finances, had abruptly left earlier than expected to take another job at a New York City hospital. Before he departed, Speltz had asked Kronenberg if he had any interest in taking over. Kronenberg, who had built up a highly successful private practice, told him, “Not un-

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The familiar clock tower atop Crouse Hospital on University Hill.

der any circumstances.” Crouse’s trustees were subsequently advised at a board meeting to appoint a doctor to serve as interim CEO until a permanent replacement could be found. Kronenberg, then a trustee and chief of internal medicine at Crouse, was at the meeting. Dr. John Fey, also a trustee at the time, told fellow board members Kronenberg was the only doctor suitable for the job. The other trustees quickly agreed. Kronenberg, who didn’t know Fey was going to nominate him, was caught off guard. After mulling it over for a week, Kronenberg agreed to serve as interim CEO as long as he could continue seeing patients parttime in his practice, Internist Associates of Central New York, across the street from the hospital. A few months later the board asked him to take the job permanently. “I accepted the role because of my dedication to the organization,” he says. “Then it was up to

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me with a lot of help to figure out what I could do to benefit the organization.” Kronenberg turned out to be a quick study. Under his leadership Crouse has generated profits for seven consecutive years and expects to post another profit for 2011 when it completes its financial report for the year. The hospital also has improved quality, boosted employee morale and increased patient volume. The hospital’s turnaround has earned it local and national recognition, including a Business of the Year award in 2006 from the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce and an Optimas Award for General Excellence in 2008 from Workforce Management magazine. Crouse employs 2,700 people, cares for about 24,000 inpatients annually and generates annual revenue of about $360 million. Kronenberg says he leaned heavily on his senior management team to bring him up to speed when he became CEO. He also voraciously read books about management, leadership and organizational excellence. “He doesn’t have a problem saying, ‘I don’t know this,’” says Derrick Suehs, Crouse’s chief quality officer. “He seeks help. High achievers seek help.” Suehs says Kronenberg uses the same skills he developed as a physician in his role as CEO. “He’s able to see connectedness to things many others cannot see,” he says. “He connects dots differently.” Kronenberg, for example, often assigns responsibilities to managers that Kronenberg makes a point during a Dec. 20 meeting of the Crouse Hospital board of trustees. go beyond the traditional scope of their jobs. Suehs, for example, oversees hu1998, had just been appointed CFO. man resources, organizational develinformation technology. Kronenberg says he matches responsi“I was nervous because I was takopment and other areas not typically ing on this big job and we were barebilities to people based on skills he recmanaged by a chief quality officer. ly out of bankruptcy,” she says. Kimberly Boynton, Crouse’s chief fiognizes in them rather than their titles. Crouse had filed for Chapter 11 pronancial officer, “He doesn’t know the tection from its creditors in 2001 when traditional way, which also has some it was no longer able to make payments duties unusufrees him to think difon $90 million in debt. It lost more than ferently,” Suehs says. al for some$44 million between 2000 and 2002. one in her role. “He goes with what Hospital officials had reassured makes sense.” In addition to Boynton that Speltz would stay Boynton says she was the typical reon for at least six more months to initially “terrified” when sponsibilities help her launch the hospital’s postSpeltz was suddenly reof a CFO, Boynbankruptcy financial plan. placed by Kronenberg. ton oversees —Derrick Suehs, Six weeks later Speltz was gone. Boynton, who had engineering, Crouse’s chief quality officer “I felt like I had been hung been at Crouse since construction and

He seeks help. “High achievers seek help. ”

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PH OTO BY FR A NK O RD O Ñ E Z

out to the unknown,” she says. Her fears turned out to be unfounded. Boynton says she and Kronenberg learned from each other. She helped him decipher the hospital’s financial statements and, in the process, put the financial data in an easy-to-understand format available to everyone at Crouse, from board members and doctors to housekeepers. Kronenberg in turn taught Boynton about patient care and how to interact with people. “He has incredible people skills,” Boynton says. “He has the ability to put people at ease and make them feel com-

fortable and then gain their trust.” Kronenberg, 67, of Fayetteville, grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. His father was a doctor. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. While in college, he worked summers as a counselor at a children’s camp in the Catskills. It was there Kronenberg met his future wife, Martha, who also worked as a camp counselor. He went to medical school at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, served a brief stint in the military, then returned to Syracuse in 1975 to join the Upstate faculty. He left Upstate in 1982 to go into


private practice. wrong with a patient, anaHe and his wife, a retired teachlyzes whether the potential er, have five adult children and 11 benefits of a procedure or treatgrandchildren. Four of his children ment outweigh the risks, then became teachers and one, a docmakes a decision, he says. tor. “That shows my influence,” “In an organization you do the Kronenberg says with a laugh. same process, but to change the When he’s not working, he ensystem you must involve many joys spending time with his family, more people than a physician and reading and engaging in what he dea patient. I had to learn how to scribes as “intense physical activity.” take the skill set that I have and He’s an avid make use of it downhill skiin a completeer who annually different ly travels with structure,” friends to tackhe says. le the steep “I learned terrain in Jackquickly it’s son Hole, Wyo. not just a They wear Tquestion of shirts that say, making a de“If it looks cision and it too steep, you happens.” are too old.” Kronen—Kimberly Boynton, Kronenberg says he Crouse’s chief financial officer sometimes berg learned to ski in his feels frus30s when he trated bejoined the faculty at Upstate. He strugcause it can take so long to effect gled at first to keep up with his friends change in a big organization. who were native Central New Yorkers Being open and approachand who had skied since childhood. able is a key element of “I was way over my head his management style. when I started,” he says. Those are traits he wasn’t always known for as a physician. ■■■■ Boynton, Crouse’s CFO, Kronenberg has been somewhat of a says Kronenberg struck her reluctant leader throughout his career. as being “standoffish” beBefore he was recruited by Crouse, fore be became CEO. Kronenberg served as president of his Once she started workformer practice, Internist Associates. He ing with him, Boynton says also served as president of the Crouse she was surprised to discovPhysician Organization and the Crouse er how amiable he is. Physician Hospital Organization. He was “You can talk to him chief of medicine at Crouse for 20 years. about anything,” she says. Kronenberg says he did not “He’s my mentor and friend.” seek any of these positions. He encourages employees to give “Any areas of responsibility I’ve had, him feedback. At a recent employee it wasn’t because I said, ‘OK. I’m going meeting, members of the housekeepto be the leader of the organization,’” he ing staff suggested the hospital change says. “It was more a case of people saythe way supplies are stored so rooms ing, ‘You should be the leader of the orcan be cleaned more quickly when paganization because you are analytical.’” tients are discharged. Kronenberg Kronenberg says applying the liked the idea so much he invited the analytical skills he honed prachousekeepers to present their idea at ticing medicine to running a hosa monthly management meeting. “He pital has been challenging. gave them recognition for being innovaA physician identifies what’s tive and thinking,” Suehs says. “Some-

“He has the ability to put people at ease … and then gain their trust.”

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CNY BUSINESS EXCHANGE | february• March 2012

times people ask your thoughts just to be nice. He really values your input.” Kronenberg also is open to criticism, according to Suehs. “You can go to him and say, ‘Dr. Kronenberg, I think you are making a mistake,” Suehs says. Kronenberg welcomes the feedback, even if he does not agree, and does not hold grudges, Suehs adds. “It’s a trait I rarely see in leaders,” Suehs says. Kronenberg likes to take a collab-


Kronenberg visits with nurse manager Joann Featherstone

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in the hospital’s medical surgical unit.

orative approach to making decisions. “My management style is to involve the team I depend on to help make decisions and then lead them to the right decision,” he says. “I’d rather engage people in the process than be dictatorial.” Kronenberg believes it’s important for the top executive to be visible. “As a leader you need to be out there with the people doing the work,” he says. “You can’t just be in the office reading documents and sending out emails.” Kronenberg also believes work should be fun. He and eight other male Crouse

employees donned red dresses in 2009 as part of an American Heart Association “Go Red for Women” fundraiser. He said it’s important for CEOs to remember that their organizations are only as good as their employees. “An organization does not become successful by the efforts of one or two people,” he says. “You must engage employees and focus them on the business you are in.” Good communication is also important, he says. “You have to make sure people understand the relevance of what they are doing and the

needs of the organization,” he says. As CEO, Kronenberg has discovered delivering good patient care in a hospital is much more complicated than it seemed when he was walking the halls in a white coat. Hiring, retention, employee morale, financing and many other functions — from nursing to housekeeping — all depend on each other and determine how well the hospital operates, he says. “Every day I’ve been on this job I learn more,” Kronenberg says. “You’re never done learning.” CNY BUSINESS EXCHANGE | february• March 2012

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