BY Johnny Birdsong, Your Southern Gentleman
Phillip J. Mazzuca, D.Sc., FACHE, Phil for short, is the Chief Executive Officer at Williamson Medical Center (WMC) and felt like a wonderful choice for our Southern Gentleman interview this month, paired with our WMC YOUR Community Partner feature for this month’s Kindness Matters issue. Although Phil is a busy man, especially with all the new happenings at WMC, I was thrilled to pick his brain and learn how he ended up in Williamson County! Enjoy!
How long have you lived in Williamson County, and what brought you here?
My wife, Janice, our daughter, Samantha and I first moved to Williamson County in 2001, right after 9/11. I had worked for IASIS Healthcare (headquartered in Williamson County) at a hospital in Tampa, Florida, since 1999 and was offered a Corporate Division President role in Williamson County. Then, in 2006, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to work at MedCath as Chief Operating Officer. I spent two years with MedCath, then returned to Williamson County in 2008 as the CEO of Brim Healthcare.
In 2010, I became the Chief Operating Officer of IASIS Healthcare which owned twenty hospitals in seven states and, at the time, was the largest privately held hospital company in the United States, with approximately four billion annual revenue. In 2017, I left and joined Community Health Systems as regional president for three years with responsibility for hospitals in seven states until accepting the position of CEO of Williamson Medical Center in March of 2021.
In case you lost count, I was here for five years and, since returning, an additional fourteen years, totaling nineteen years and counting!
How would you describe Williamson County to someone who has never been here before?
The first time we lived in Williamson County, we knew it was the most incredible and unique place. We loved the small-town feel even though it was a growing market. Although Williamson County has fantastic southern charm, it also offers diversity. We have seen companies from other states moving their headquarters to Williamson County. We have experienced a dramatic change in culinary offerings and cultural opportunities, as well as dramatic growth in population, but it has not lost its hometown feel. Williamson County has one of the best school systems in the country while maintaining low tax levels and a fiscally responsible budget. I know that many will debate whether growth is always good, but I believe Williamson County is still the most incredible place in the entire United States and the word is out!
What made you want to go into Hospital Management?
I enrolled at Valparaiso University as a pre-med major to attend medical school. However, I took organic chemistry, which most pre-med majors will tell you is the make-or-break course in pre-med. Thus, I began to debate my choice of becoming a physician. This led to a conversation in my fraternity house with a friend who was also pre-med. I told him I would graduate with a biochemistry degree, but I do not think I want to be a doctor. My friend told me his brother’s friend attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for a master’s degree in Hospital and Health Care Administration. At the time, I had no other options or aspirations, so I was putting all my eggs in one basket because of a single conversation with a friend. I didn’t know that conversation would change my life, but it has led to the most incredible career I could have ever imagined.
After graduating in 1981, I applied, interviewed and was accepted to UAB’s MHA program. I was the youngest and least experienced person in my class and was also one of two individuals who were not raised in the South. I did my residency at Coral Gables Hospital, and by age twenty-four, I was promoted to CEO of the 285-bed hospital and was the youngest hospital CEO in the country at the time. Two years later, I was promoted again to a regional position in the San Francisco Bay area.
I spent thirty-nine years in the investor-owned side of health care, responsible for over 200 hospitals in half of the United States. In the last twenty years, I have been in corporate roles as Regional President, Division President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer of investor-owned private and publicly traded companies. For most of that time, I have been a road warrior in support of our hospitals and medical groups.
I have always been a hands-on leader. I believe you can’t ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. The only way you can understand your operations is to see them yourself. That is why I flew to every market to get to know our teams, medical staff and communities. And, when there were major issues in one of my markets, I wanted to be on the ground supporting our teams. I believed that if I asked my team to be selfless for others, I would be there with them.
What has motivated you to get to where you are now in your career?
Early in my career, it was the pursuit of personal career advancement. My goal was to lead a company in a multi-facility, investor-owned environment. I loved the investor-owned sector because it was fast-paced and nimble in decision-making. There was great support from a corporate standpoint, and it was a high-risk and high-reward environment.
I had a great mentor, David R. White. In his early career, he was the CEO of Williamson County Hospital and a corporate VP responsible for my first hospital. David, along with Edward M. Goldberg, the CEO at Coral Gables Hospital, were the two key mentors in my career. I learned about the details of hospital operations and efficiency from David. From Ed, I learned the value of building strong relationships in the health care environment with team members, physicians, vendors and our community, as well as service line growth and development.
Today, I find motivation through mentoring our next generation of leaders! I work daily to do something transformational for health care in Williamson County – my home community – that will not only meet the health care needs of Williamson County today but for years to come. First, I want to provide exceptional quality and customer satisfaction while continuing to enhance our services while remaining the low-cost provider in the region. Second, I want our community to always be proud of the health care we provide in a safe, comfortable, state-of-the-art environment. Finally, I want Williamson Medical Center to grow with the community so our community can stay close to home for their health care services.
What advice would you tell your younger self today?
Find your passion and pursue it to the fullest. You may not know what it is, but you will find it. The cues you receive may be subtle. It may be a casual conversation that changes your life or a burning desire that is with you from the start. Next, find your soulmate and enjoy life’s journey together. Lastly, be an exceptional listener and be open to learning no matter how old or experienced you may be. It will make you a better person as you navigate life’s journey.
What does being a Gentleman mean to you? What are some of the qualities you believe a SOUTHERN Gentleman exudes?
A gentleman is an individual that is trustworthy and hard-working as well as fiercely loyal and protective of loved ones and friends. A gentleman is an attentive listener and is interested in understanding the perspectives of others. He is a life-long learner. A gentleman is well-mannered and confident but never arrogant or elitist. A gentleman is a man of high integrity and a man of his word. He follows through on his commitments. A gentleman is selfless and prioritizes others before himself, standing up for others when necessary. A gentleman is always on time. I believe that if I am late to an appointment, meeting, etc., the message it sends is “my time is more important than yours.” A true gentleman will always be early. A gentleman is calm and has incredible self-control even under challenging situations. Lastly, a gentleman is generous with his time and resources.
Now, a Southern Gentleman is deeply rooted in tradition. He always looks to make others feel comfortable and welcome. He is extremely well mannered and is always well dressed. He demonstrates all gentleman attributes but takes it to a higher level. A Southern Gentleman expresses politeness and respect with terms like yes ma’am and yes sir. Southern Gentlemen treat women with the utmost dignity and respect. Chivalry is alive in the South. Southern Gentlemen do simple things like open doors and offer their seat or jacket. When my wife orders food at a restaurant, I will find myself ordering something for myself that I know she will like, just in case she does not like what she ordered. She will ask if I ordered my entrée for her. I say no, but she knows it is true.
How has being a Gentleman helped shape your career in the healthcare industry?
We always have our patients at the center of everything we do. In order to build a cohesive and well-coordinated team, you must have a culture where, regardless of title, every staff member is respected for who they are and what they do. Regardless of position, I have asked staff members who is the most important person in our organization. Often they would respond with a physician, nurse or the CEO. My response is that “you are.” Our nursing staff is critical in providing front-line care for our patients. But what about the housekeeper? If we did not have great housekeepers, our infections would increase. If we did not have a great dietary staff, patients would not receive nourishment. If we did not have great supply chain staff, the clinical team would not have supplies to take care of our patients. One of a gentleman’s qualities is treating everyone with dignity and respect and as equals. Everyone, regardless of position, can help us learn and do better for our patients. Whether they are on the front line or behind the scenes, they have the best viewpoint of the entire process of providing safe, high quality and compassionate care.
Finally, we must be empathetic to our patients and their loved ones who fear the unknown. We need to ensure that our patients are comfortable and know we are working hard on their behalf to help them. We must always put ourselves in our patient’s shoes to better understand their personal and emotional needs. We must be selfless in ensuring our patients receive the best care possible daily.