Stop, Listen, Learn and Apply… Lessons from the Life and Work of Jim Wetrich
By: Dan Nielsen
Jim Wetrich, President, U.S. Wound Care Division and General Manager of Molnlycke Health Care, United States & Latin America, and graduated number one in his class with an MBA from Emory University. Not bad for a tall redhead from Southern California known affectionately to all who know him as “Big Red.” Jim also earned a Master of Health Administration from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 1982.
This former “box boy” at Stater Bros grocery in Southern California is a whirlwind of energy and activity. Jim is a world-class networker and collaborator with an active Rolodex as thick as the largest encyclopedia. He has served in significant leadership roles with a number of successful healthcare provider and supplier organizations and is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
After months of trying, I finally succeeded in getting this very busy world traveler to sit down long enough for an interview. During the one hour recorded interview, Jim responded to a wide range of questions focused on personal and professional lessons learned, Tips for Success and Leadership Excellence.
It would take a book to adequately explore and discuss the rich, universally applicable lessons learned and the excellent perspectives and advice of this highly successful life-long learner. Below is a brief summary of several important Tips for Success from the experience, wisdom, and life of the man they call Big Red.
Deep, sincere appreciation and gratitude… for the people, Jim has worked with and for. This appreciation and gratitude drive Jim’s desire and commitment to help, serve and mentor others.
“I have absolutely been blessed with the people I have had the opportunity to work with and for. Every person I have worked for over the years, probably fifteen different people, has become a very successful President, CEO or corporate officer in either a public or private company. Each and every one of these people contributed greatly to my personal and professional development. Really, really great people and I owe them all so much.”
Diversity…. Jim has experienced a growing appreciation for the positive impact of intentional diversity throughout his life and career.
“The diversity of working with and for many very unique and wonderful people and organizations in diverse environments and diverse cultures has had an enormous positive impact on my life… no question about it! I am very much a proponent and supporter of diversity. Diversity is one of the core themes and principles I use today in terms of how I lead.”
Find meaningful work and create a value-added legacy… not just jobs or positions or money… but work for which a person truly has high interest and enduring passion.
“One example is having been in on the ground floor of helping the University Health Consortium carry out its vision through the creation of the very successful purchasing programs for pharmacy during 1985 through 1987. Tremendous learning, growth, and satisfaction came from that experience and it is still going strong. Great people to work with… truly great people! I have been richly rewarded and very much blessed being around those people.”
Carefully select and adopt personal and professional philosophies and attitudes that will take you where you want to go… Jim quoted the following, which is his credo:
“Whoever you serve, serve them with care and respect. Wherever you reach, reach beyond your grasp. Wherever you go, go as a leader. Above all, have fun.”
Count your blessings and allow them to continually reenergize you throughout your career…
“We are so blessed, as providers and suppliers, to be in healthcare… working in an industry that has a sense of purpose and an industry that is improving lives. In my current role, we launched a new product a couple of years ago that has played a major role in changing how burn patients are cared for in the US. How great is it, at the end of the day, to know that you have positively impacted the way people are being treated! What a great place to be… that is healthcare!”
“Nothing happens unless you execute! You gotta execute! You gotta make it happen.”
Develop, support, nurture and mentor others…
“I am very committed to helping people develop and I am very committed to continuous self-improvement… both for myself and for those with whom I work. I like what Tim Russert used to say… ‘the best exercise for the human heart is to bend down and pick someone else up.’ Robert Kennedy said ‘You’re happiest while you’re making the greatest contribution.’ To me, the greatest contribution is helping and supporting others as they become what they choose to be.”
Travel the world and learn from other countries, cultures, and people…
“Before I started traveling extensively, and before I had responsibilities outside the United States, I was so very naive as to how the rest of the world works… the intricacies of other countries and cultures… including the way, healthcare is delivered, purchased and paid for around the world. It has been a very enriching and rewarding experience for sure!”
Be a highly committed, highly dedicated life-long learner… Jim explained why he went back to school for a second master’s degree.
“It wasn’t about a degree. I didn’t need another degree. I am at a point in life where another degree doesn’t mean a whole lot. It was all about admitting that the world has changed dramatically since I earned my first master’s at Tulane in 1982. I wanted to go back and get exposed to the world as seen now by some of the finest academicians in the country and world. By the way Dan, I believe the last time I was number one in my class was kindergarten!
When I applied to Emory, I wrote the following in my application, ‘The human life cycle is similar to a product’s life cycle: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. My primary purpose for attending Emory is to redraw my human life cycle graph and to extend the maturity phase. I see the process as a period of renewal, re-education, and revitalization much like the Spiritual Exercises that new Jesuits undergo. Instead of an intensive process like the Jesuits, my “exercises” will be spread over a longer period of time. I expect to learn many new things, to challenge some of my current assumptions, to correct misunderstandings and frankly relearn things that I have long since forgotten.”
Integrity… I asked Jim if he could offer only one word of advice, what one word would he select and why.
“Integrity! It takes a lifetime to develop and can be lost in a nanosecond. Once it’s gone… it’s gone. Nobody can take integrity away from you. Only you can lose it or give it away. Don’t ever do anything that puts you in a situation where you feel compromised… just don’t do it.
Integrity is the currency of business.”
Jim then told me a powerful, simple, true and very interesting story about keeping one’s integrity. Summary of the story… Jim got up and walked out of a room filled with a couple hundred executives so that he would not be a part of a discussion he felt was inappropriate, if not illegal. Jim voted with his feet. He simply walked out of the room. “I am not going put myself in a situation that will put me and my company in jeopardy.”
Passion… I asked Jim for another single word he might offer as advice and why.
“If you don’t have passion, you are just not doing the right thing. Sometimes the best thing we can do for people is to help them find their passion, even though that may result in that person leaving your organization.”
Jim then told me another true story… Jim helped a colleague find his true passion. It was teaching, not sales. The colleague left Jim’s organization to pursue a teaching career. Jim couldn’t have been more supportive and delighted for all concerned.
Be engaged, or get out of the way…
Jim relayed another story regarding Karl Bays, the former CEO and chairman of American Hospital Supply. “Karl used to have a saying, ‘Would the spectators kindly leave the field?’ You need to be a part of what is going on… or you need to get out of the way. Get in and play or just get out of the way.”
Read widely and with great diversity…
“My siblings and I were not allowed to watch TV during the week. So, after completing our schoolwork, there wasn’t much to do after dark other than read. I just finished the book, On Becoming A Leader by Warren Bennis. I highly recommend that book.”
Nancy (Jim’s wife)… I asked Jim to tell me the best advice he has ever received.
“Probably when my dad followed me out to the garage one day and asked me what my intentions were with Nancy. I responded that we were having a good time dating and being together. Dad said, ‘well, what are you waiting for?’ Nancy has been a major and very positive contributor to my life… no question about it.”
Follow your instincts, step out and take risks… I asked Jim to tell me the worst advice he has ever received.
“There have been so many that I don’t know where to start.”
Jim’s point was and is… follow your instincts and go for it… who knows better what is best for you… than you?
Be a long-life student of Leadership…
“Listen, watch, read, evaluate, compare… then internalize, and most importantly, apply the very best… and your very best to whatever situation in which you find yourself. This is extremely important!”
Leadership lessons from Boy Scouts of America… I asked Jim about his very significant involvement in Boy Scouts of America.
“My dad got his Eagle Scout when he was sixteen, in 1934. I am an Eagle and my two sons are both Eagles. The great thing about Scouts is that it gives kids an opportunity to develop leadership skills. I have spent well over 100 nights with my boys outdoors. Each summer, I took a vacation and went to summer camp with my boys. The Scouting program has such rich resources. It has been an amazing experience for my dad, me, my two boys and our entire family. I was very touched and honored when I was awarded the Silver Beaver Award in 2009. This is the highest award that can be given by a Boy Scout Council. Absolutely excellent leadership training and opportunities.”
Take the time to stop and listen…
“There is so much we can learn from each other. We are just too busy. We need to take the time to stop and listen to those who are important to us. This is time well spent. We are just too busy for our own good these days. We don’t stop at all these days, not to mention listen!”
More diversity… I asked Jim what he would do differently if he could do it over again.
“More diversity in all areas of my life… whether in high school, college, graduate school or throughout my personal and professional life. Diversity adds incredible value, perspective, and applicable knowledge, both personally and professionally.”
Expense reports! I asked Jim what he least enjoys about his work.
“Expense reports!!! I hate taking time to fill out expense reports.”
Jim and I had a good laugh after this response. I also hate taking time to fill out expense reports. After the good laugh, Jim said, “Oh well… you may as well go ahead and get them completed and filed… it is what it is… and it’s not going to change.”
As we were concluding the interview, Jim reflected back on a question I had asked him early in the interview. “I had a very, very good friend in high school. His name was Marcus Forcinelli. He was a couple of grades behind me but we were really good friends. When each of us graduated from high school, we went to different universities. When I was in my first year of grad school at Tulane, Marcus lost his one year battle with leukemia.” At this point, Jim was breaking up and could barely talk. When he regained his composure he continued, “Marcus’ death had a tremendous impact on my life. I named his first son after Marcus. When you have something like that happens at such a young age, you realize just how fragile life is… you take a different approach to your work and your life. I think about Marcus every day… each and every day. This devastating loss has helped me to not take myself or life too seriously.”
What a powerful way to end an interview! What a powerful, beautiful and memorable way to summarize what Big Red is all about… and what successful working, contributing, serving and living is all about.
Big Red… a man worthy of your time to stop, listen, learn and apply!