As a new hospital CEO in San Marcos, Texas at age 32, Ken Bacon already knew one of the secrets to success. “I had to hire really good people and trust them,” he said.
With a background in finance and previous experience as a CFO, Ken knew how to perform jobs in the financial arena. But he wasn’t familiar with how to work as a clinician or in another essential health care role. He trusted his staff to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities—and trusted God to guide his team as they grew in their careers together.
Early in his role as CEO, Ken was tasked with hiring chief nursing officers, quality directors, human resources staff and physicians—jobs he had never done before. “This is when I fully appreciated the essential need for a great team,” he said.
Today, as he approaches his one-year anniversary as president and CEO of Shawnee Mission Medical Center in suburban Kansas City, Ken’s leadership philosophy hasn’t changed. His confidence in both his leadership team and his faith have allowed him to take on numerous challenging career opportunities, such as building Parker Adventist Hospital in Colorado from the ground up in 2002.
As he was growing up in a small northern Minnesota town, Ken’s parents instilled the value of hard work in him and his siblings, whether they liked it or not. “My dad owned the local car dealership, and this meant I was constantly scrubbing, washing and oiling,” he said. “There was no silver spoon at my house. I made $2 per hour. My dad would say, ‘Ken makes $10 per hour, but he’s charged $8 an hour for his training.’”
As a business owner, Ken’s dad taught him that employees come from all walks of life with different backgrounds, but teamwork is still essential for success.
“My parents were very intentional about teaching my siblings and me how to be accepting of people who were different than us,” he said. “Not everyone thinks like we do and we need to consider their opinions.”
These lessons have proven their value as Ken has traveled throughout the Midwest serving as CEO of four hospitals. “People come to us for care when they are the most vulnerable. They are often scared and nervous about the unknown,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to show God to our patients and their loved ones, and bring His comfort to them—many times in their context, not ours.”
In his short time at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Ken has already gained the trust and respect of the hospital’s nearly 3,000 associates with his personal and Christian-focused leadership style.
“Leadership is a serious business and my decisions impact people’s lives,” he said. “Early on in my career, I really didn’t understand that. I thought the higher you moved in an organization, the more people you had with a responsibility to you. But in reality, the higher you move in an organization, the more people you are responsible for. When I make a wrong decision or put someone in the wrong position, I’ve done them a disservice. I’m responsible for the consequences.”
Building a great team, however, doesn’t always come easy. Ken says that if he’s learned anything from his mentors—some of whom include Pete Weber, Kevin Lang and Doug Goetz—it’s his obligation to identify future talented leaders and develop them for their next opportunity, even if it means elsewhere.
“I’ve worked for some really talented and gifted people, and on occasion they gave me opportunities that I didn’t necessarily have the resume for,” Ken said. “They helped me be successful and taught me that it’s my responsibility to help others be successful, too.”
Thinking back to the days of working at his dad’s car dealership, Ken equates a portion of his CEO position to that of a sales job. “A leader has to sell their organization’s mission and strategies to their staff—which includes leading by example—so that together they can serve their community in the most Christ-centered manner possible.”
This article was written by Shannon Cates, manager of Marketing and Communications at Shawnee Mission Medical Center.