Trevor Fetter retooled Tenet Healthcare to counteract a growth slump

“It’s imperative to understand your overall business environment from the customers’ perspective,” Fetter says. “There’s no point of view more valuable than your customers’ point of view.”

To reach that point, Tenet’s leaders had to accept that the company’s customers were dissatisfied with both the high prices and the low quality of the services they were receiving and then put together an action plan to deal with that blunt realization.

“Our strategy for addressing that was to institute major improvements in quality and to attack our costs aggressively so that we could provide a cost and quality advantage relative to our competitors,” Fetter says. “That’s applicable in any business. You have to understand the customers’ point of view, understand what your competitive advantages and disadvantages are, and design strategies in order to build competitive advantage.” ●

The Fetter File:

Name: Trevor Fetter
Title: President and CEO
Company: Tenet Healthcare Corp.

Born: San Diego, Calif.

Education: MBA, Harvard University; bachelor’s degree in economics, Stanford University

Looking back at your years in school, can you identify a business leadership lesson you learned there that you use today?

The most important thing that applied to business and to my work is fact-based analysis — the importance of seeking the facts and trying to make decisions based at least partially on factual analysis. In the end, it doesn’t mean that every decision can be reduced to something analytical and quantitative, but you ought to have the best possible fact-based information you can get before you make an important decision.

What was your first job, and what business lessons did you learn from it?

My first job out of college was as an analyst in an investment banking firm inNew York. Among the lessons I learned, and this sometimes drives some of my colleagues crazy, is the importance of making a great presentation and having it be accurate and delivering it on time. When you’re in a customer service business, presenting your ideas in a coherent, persuasive and high-quality way is really important.

Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?

I think it’s embodied in the values we have at Tenet, which are very transparent: The patient comes first; having integrity in everything we do; and the fact that we don’t mind being measured. We are eager to provide quality data to every legitimate organization that wants to measure it. We welcome that degree of examination and transparency.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

One pithy bit of advice came from a gentleman early in my career, a wise investment banker whose name I can’t remember. He said, “A perfectly good way to answer to a question is, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’ ”