Farah M. Walters, President & CEO
Farah M. Walters, President & CEO, QualHealth LLC
(Until retirement in 2002, Walters was the President and CEO of University Hospitals Health System, Inc. and University Hospitals of Cleveland.)
Undergraduate Degree and Major:
B.S. in Medical Dietetics, School of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Graduate School(s) / Degree(s) / Year(s):
M.S. in Nutrition Science, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, 1975
Executive M.B.A., Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, 1984
What are your responsibilities at work and how does your degree help you achieve them?
Presently, whether acting as a consultant or serving on corporate boards of publicly held companies, my responsibilities are to use my training and experience to offer the best advice and counsel to the top management of the companies with whom I am associated.
My Weatherhead MBA and the experience that grew from that degree have been extremely useful in applying good business judgment to a wide variety of business problems and challenges. These include helping to develop strategic planning and positioning for the company, assessing the recommendations of top management, and advocating a customer-centered, quality-driven culture.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I have served as a corporate director of several Fortune 500 companies over the years, and I presently am a director of two NYSE-listed global companies. The impact that my fellow directors and I can have on determining the future success of a company by strategic positioning of that company to compete well in an often turbulent global economy is very satisfying.
During my tenure as the CEO of a very large health system and academic medical center, the most enjoyable aspect was developing a strategic vision to progress from a single academic medical center into a multi-site, integrated healthcare delivery system, while strengthening the core mission of patient care, education, and research. I was most pleased by the increased focus on and improvement in the quality of patient care.
What do you enjoy least about what you do?
The most unpleasant task always has been dealing with individuals who consistently put their own interests and agenda ahead of the interests of patients (customers) and of the organization.
Why did you choose this career?
I originally chose a career in health care sciences because of my interest in entering a field committed to helping people.
As I assumed progressively higher positions of management/leadership, ultimately becoming the CEO, I was able to promote a culture of high-quality, patient-centered care at an organizational level.
Why did you choose to get an MBA?
Regardless of how much managerial skill one thinks that she or he has developed on the job at positions of increasing responsibility, the full understanding of the broader and more nuanced issues of management and leadership require the benefit of learning in an academic setting with a highly accomplished faculty and the give and take among one’s peers from a wide variety of industries.
What was your first job post-MBA?
I moved to University Hospitals of Cleveland from another academic medical center, running and reorganizing the same type of department that I had headed previously, but also with additional management responsibilities in areas that had nothing to do with that department. I had accepted that first post-MBA position on the condition that I be given the chance to show how my leadership/managerial skills translated to settings different from anything I had experienced previously.
What traits should someone have to be successful in your career?
To be successful in a leadership role in health care, one must have a deep sense of, and respect for, the mission and values inherent in the business. As a leader, one must be able to articulate a vision for the organization and bring about consensus on what the direction and priorities should be.
Listening to different points of view and building a common vision of positive change without sacrificing the core principles and traditions of the organization is critical.
Last, but perhaps most importantly, the person charged to lead a health care organization must possess and exhibit the highest measure of professional and personal integrity and ethics.
Traits to be successful in an MBA program:
Intellectual curiosity is the most valuable trait, and part of that curiosity is the willingness to ask questions and to learn from others. In the small study groups, one learns the value of differing points of view and experiences.
What advice would you give someone considering an MBA?
Obtaining an MBA degree gives you the appropriate set of skills and tools, but, more importantly, the process of pursuing an MBA develops in graduates a different way of looking at a business and assessing its challenges and opportunities. You learn how to spot the “A ha!” moments and how to exploit those moments to drive the organization forward.
When considering MBA programs, what do you suggest prospective students look for?
Prospective students should look for a university that has a top-flight faculty and for a program that assures that the students will interact with that faculty—not with teaching assistants or the like—on a regular basis. I found that Weatherhead provided both important features. The person looking at MBA programs also should look for one in which the students come from diverse backgrounds, and one that has a track record of accomplishment by alumni.