Chapter 24: Thoughts about Serving as President

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Chapter 24: Thoughts about Serving as President

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In this chapter, Dr. Hicks traces the shift in his thinking about possibly serving as permanent president of the institution. He reports on conversations he had with Dr. Raymond S. Greenberg, University of Texas System’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs: both he and Dr. Greenberg were concerned that looking ahead to permanent presidency would raise questions about decisions Dr. Hicks made as interim president. On the other hand, he says, he was energized by the thought of taking on the challenge of the permanent presidency and building a team-based culture for the institution. He notes that he received a lot of encouragement to apply and reflects on the challenges that a high profile, public role presents to an introvert, such as himself. He notes that he put in an application, which only went as far as the first round of interviews. At the end of the session, Dr. Hick talks about the challenges a leader can face that make you “lose a part of yourself.”

Identifier

HicksM_06_20181120_C24

Publication Date

11-20-2018

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Overview; Leadership; On Leadership; Ethics; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Had the process of searching for the new president already begun at this point?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I think it was yes. They had just formed the committee and the committee was, I think—yes the committee had met. They were going to start interviews, I think in July, so they moved pretty quickly, they moved very quickly. But yeah, the search process had been started. We didn’t know how quickly they were going to move. They were anticipating that it would be probably early calendar year before they would get somebody in, and they ended up getting somebody in sooner, obviously. As it often happens with that level, whoever is coming here probably wants to get out of their organization pretty quickly too.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Had you entertained thoughts of applying for the permanent presidency?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Well initially, initially, when I talked to Greenberg about it, first of all I didn’t know if I’d like it. I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it and I didn’t know what it was about. Really, it’s a big role. You don’t know if it’s something that is appealing. When I got into the role and realized that it’s a lot about the same things with leadership at any level, and a lot of it is around people and processes, I did have thoughts about it at the time. At the time initially, I think Greenberg was concerned, and I was too, that any decision you would make or anything that would happen would be perceived as being done out of my interests as opposed to the interests of the organization. I think they just didn’t want to have that be an issue.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. So was that --you just decided not to pursue for that reason yourself, or were you counseled not to?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

This was the initial conversation before I even accepted. Greenberg and I were just talking and he said, “It’s probably better that you’re not a declared candidate because then people will perceive it potentially or you’re going to be focused on that and not on helping the organization.” That made sense. It all happened very quickly, as we’ve discussed, in a matter of a few days, so it wasn’t like that was a major thing for me. It was more did I think I could offer anything to help in the interim, and did I think I could do a good enough job to accept it and so forth. So I was really focusing on that and whether it was the right thing for the organization and not as much on any of the other things around it.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure. But I could imagine, like with any initiative of this kind, I mean you talked about that profound sense of commitment that you and the individuals on the Shared Governance Committee felt when suddenly you realized wow, we’re really involved here, in saving the institution. You have a real investment, and I can imagine that you would had a sense, said yeah I want to go further with this, see it through. So I could imagine there is some momentum that comes with that.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Yeah, and even though that wasn’t … When I got into the role and realized that I’ve always liked challenges, I’ve never really shied away from making tough decisions in a role like that. It energizes me to be able to feel like I’m contributing to the institution improving. Initially, obviously it wasn’t about making any tough decisions about individuals. It was about making tough decisions for the institution, about what do we need to do to get out of this crisis. And then I realized that you see a different world, but it’s just different levels of risk primarily and different things for the organization. It’s managing. It’s pulling a team together and just doing the same things that I had done at every other level, but it had to be a team. That was the first thing I told the group: is that we’re going to be a team and that’s my expectation. That was the first meeting we had and then that was one of the things we laid out at the forum that first week as well. We were striving to develop a team-based culture because that’s how successful organizations function. So as I got into it and realized that —and I got a lot of positive feedback. I got a lot of encouragement actually, to consider it, but I don’t think you ever know. If anything, being in that role in an interim capacity can be a blessing in that sense because you don’t have to commit to it: to find out what it’s really all about and to discover whether it’s something. The concerns that Greenberg and I talked about, because he knew this, is I’m an introvert and you have to be “on.” I had just read the book Quiet. I don’t know if we talked about that. That helped me prepare my day and my schedule and my team to --what sort of cadence works for me, so that I can make sure that I can be on when I need to be on, and then I can recharge when I need to recharge. Actually, I’ve enjoyed the interactions. Enjoyed even the public speaking and the events that you do, as long as I’m prepared. But a certain amount of that job is being in the unprepared moment too, so you had to be willing to accept that. But if you can be prepared 90 percent of the time for stuff, then as an introvert, I can deal with that. I can work with that. But if you’re in an interview or in a situation like that, where it’s a little less controlled, with the media or something, then you have to be prepared to be unprepared. But for most of the speaking and engagements and the ceremonies and different things like that, as long as you’re prepared and know what your responsibilities are and what you’re going to say, it becomes enjoyable at that point because you’re representing a wonderful institution and meeting really neat people and caring people, so that part, I mean—

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So you never put in an application for the presidency.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I did.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, you did put in.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I ultimately did. I talked to Greenberg late. It was pretty late in the process, but he had come over for another reason and I said, you know I struggled with this, because I actually had more than a couple of the Board of Visitors Kitchen Cabinet actually tell me that they—encouraged me. Now this was before the change with Tom and Ethan, so that may have affected some things. But they actually encouraged me to, and I had people out in the organization encouraging me to. The concern was that—and even when I talked to the Board of Regents, a couple of Board of Regents, about totally unrelated things and they’d say, ‘What’s going on down there,” there was an expression that we really needed to get somebody from within, who knows the organization and understands the organization. Because their perception was that somebody coming from outside, like with Ron, could repeat the same sort of issues that we didn’t understand. So at the time, there wasn’t any obvious connection that there was somebody out there that could come in, like Peter [Pisters], who had been here long enough. Part of it was well, if I’m being encouraged and there’s support for having an internal candidate, I’ll put my name in and see. I made it to the finals and interviewed but that was with the first round of interviews. But the reality was, I didn’t have a track record very long at that time, it was three months, four months or whatever, in that role.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

There are other people like Peter, who had been doing it two years, three years, or something like that, and others. So it was nice of people to think of me and encourage me, but the expectation wasn’t high, I guess on it. My biggest concern was whether or not somebody who came in here needed to really understand the organization or we could potentially repeat some of the issues that led to problems in the past.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Shall we leave it there for today?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Sure.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

It’s five after five.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Oh, okay, yeah.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, yeah. Well thank you.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Yeah, thank you.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

This was a tough period to reflect on.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I actually called one of the Board of Visitors, Don Evans, who was I guess the president the next year, because he had been somebody encouraging me and I had a lot of respect for him. I called him before I talked to Greenberg, because I said my concern is that even on the Board of Visitors, that people would now perceive anything that I did --and he reassured me and he said yeah that’s a potential. But he says, “People, know you and they know that that’s not the way you operate.” That was my biggest fear, real or perceive it doesn’t matter, right?

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I didn’t want to lose my ability to be viewed as doing the best thing for the organization and the confidence that people had in that. That was a tough decision, to do that. If I hadn’t had a lot of individuals like him encouraging me, I wouldn’t have done it. The reality is, it gets into committees and boards and all these sort of things that are outside of the organization, and I don’t think they always know the insides of the organization, so they can’t really understand some of those concerns. Certainly Don did, from knowing the culture of the organization and different pieces. It’s interesting, how those processes that organizations go through in selecting new leaders, that oftentimes, they’re focused on other things and not things that some people within the organization are more focused about and there’s just that disconnect.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Absolutely. Someone I interviewed quite early in my involvement with the project said that MD Anderson has always had the president it needed for the historical moment. I think I mentioned, in one of the sessions we had, that when I saw you at the first forum, after you had accepted the interim presidency, I thought oh yeah, this makes perfect sense. Because you have that internal reputation as a person who could be trusted, a person who was always a straight shooter, very team-based, a complete opposite from what Ronald DePinho had. So you were the antidote, you know? It made sense.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

That’s interesting, yeah.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

It made perfect sense. And the confidence and calmness, and I think that instilled in people, it’s really, really important. So I completely understand, when you’re thinking about well, if I put my hat in the ring for this, is that going to be compromised. Is this real reputation that I have going to be compromised and affect my ability to act? So all of these things, you know, you have no control over that stuff.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

You have no control. Somebody else told me that—it was Leon Leach [oral history interview] actually, a former EVP, said—you know he had encouraged me. He said but you have to decide are you—if you don’t get it, are you going to be more disappointed than you would be regretful if you didn’t put your name in? I ultimately decided what will happen will happen, and I don’t want to have any regrets about doing it --other than I think if I had known that in retrospect, there’s a part of me that says it probably would have been better not to because when you’re going through a time like that and you’re making tough decisions, there is no way you come through that without feeling like you’ve lost a part of yourself. You come through with a heavy heart because of all the things that the organization is going through. You feel like it’s probably better just to stay focused on that, and just do your job, and get through it and move on, as opposed to entertaining any thoughts about that or being involved in any of that discussion. There will be things that happen and you really can’t let yourself be distracted, if that’s the word, because you never know what’s going to happen or what you’re going to be asked to do; and if it did come out that you were a candidate, that it would be perceived in ways that are not good for the organization, even though it’s a confidential process supposedly and all that. It’s like that was always the biggest risk and I didn’t want to be compromising it. But more so because I think you come through it and just feel like it was an exhausting time. You have things that happen to you and decisions you’re making that may be best not complicated by considering something like that. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Well I’m grateful to you sharing these thoughts, because I think the experience of leadership is so complicated and something that most people never have the opportunity to take part in, so they don’t understand it. I think some of the confusion is maybe there isn’t a lot of language for these things, and repressions.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I’m sure every situation is unique and this one was no different. Even the situation where we got into when we made the changes was --the reactions were kind of all over the map with it. Somewhat unpredictable in certain corners that maybe you didn’t predict it would be that way. You leave a piece of yourself with all these decisions, and you’re right. I think sometimes it’s the role that it’s the right leader for the right moment. McChrystal’s new book is about that.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh really? Oh, interesting, huh.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

You know not every—if you put Winston Churchill at a different time in history, it might have just been really not good. Certain people have strengths for certain times and I think --I’m anxious to read, he sent me a copy and I’m anxious to read it. But I think he looks at different leaders through history and has come to that conclusion, and I think it’s no different for an organization like us, than it is any other leadership role.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Well thank you for your time today.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Yeah, good to see you, thanks.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Good to see you too. For the record, I’m saying that I’m turning off the recorder at about twelve minutes after five.

Chapter 24: Thoughts about Serving as President

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