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A Chat with St. Joseph's New CIO Larry Stofko, Part I

February 20, 2008
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After seven years in a supporting role, Stofko is now leading the IT team at his 14-hospital health system.

In October, Larry Stofko took the IT helm at St. Joseph Health System. Stofko — promoted into the senior vice president and CIO position at the 14-hospital, $3.7 billion not-for-profit Catholic health system — had been with the organization for seven years. Most recently, he served as vice president, IT strategy and innovation. So what’s it like to go from a supporting role to a true leadership position? Recently, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra chatted with Stofko about his new role, and what it takes to be a successful CIO in today’s environment.

AG: Do you get around to the 14 hospitals in your health system very often?

LS: Yes, it’s 14, but they’re broken down into eight management teams with local focus. So it’s really eight executive teams at the hospital level. Then I float between them, as well as working with the executive team here.

AG: When did you start the new position?

LS: I started on Oct. 22, but I had been serving as acting CIO since April — through the entire search process.

AG: So you took over for Ben Williams? And I don’t know if you know but I interviewed him last week. Was it strange being involved with the search for his replacement when you were also trying to get the job?

LS: It was very interesting. When I spoke with the search firm, which was Korn/Ferry, they acknowledged up front that I had two roles during the process. One role was to actually help shape the job description and what type of candidate we needed. So I was kind of the “right-hand man” if you will, here at the health system, and then the other role was as a candidate. Yes, I made it known early on that I was interested in it and the executive team here was very supportive and encouraged me to apply as well.

AG: What are some of the initiatives you were able to put into place once you got the position? Did your approach change once you were in charge?

LS: I have kept my strategic role, but can now move into more of an authoritative execution dynamic. So instead of just saying, ‘I need an idea from the guy who brings the planning ideas to the table,’ it’s more authoritative. I know that these certain strategic items are tightly linked to where our business is going and to where the industry as a whole is going, so to be able to move those into executions as an organizational priority is great.

AG: Did you feel it was important to tread lightly during your interim CIO phase?

LS: A lot of folks that I’ve known throughout the years have said it’s important to act as if. But you do have to balance that with some business acumen as well because you’re going through a process and you can’t completely ostracize or upset people during that process too. I don’t think that serves you very well.

AG: How could you ostracize someone by acting as if?

LS: Well if you come in very definitive, you know, if you come out of the gate too hard. I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make is that you don’t want to swing the pendulum. You don’t want to say just because I have this acting title, I have to move from being the strategy guy that really is supportive and bringing things to the table, to the opposite end of the table and say, “This is the strategy and this is how we’re going to do it.” You just have to make you don’t swing too far the other way. I did think you have to lean more towards the execution.