The Carpenter file Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

Born: Omaha, Neb.

Education: Undergraduate and master’s degrees, industrial engineering, Stanford University; master’s degree, health services administration, Harvard University

First job: Watering lawns when I was 7 or 8 years old; that was back in the days before sprinkler systems.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

There is no substitute for an absolute, total commitment to constant improvement in operations. With the way the industry changes, you have to be prepared to drive improvement and performance all the time. For us, it’s just the nature of the health care business. There isn’t a comfort zone, and you have to get comfortable with that fact.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

The most important skill is listening. The telling is easy. The listening is what can make the difference.

What are some universal truths you’ve learned about leading a business?

It’s the people, stupid — people, in our case, being employees, physicians and members. As a group, we’re most responsible to the members, followed by physicians, employees and shareholders. We really have to simultaneously serve those groups.

Carpenter on finding management-level candidates: They need to have a combination of relevant experience — that is, do they have the know-how background for the job? — and a passion for the work. Do they have the motor to run at this high of a level? Do they embrace the management process? Do they like working in a high-growth, rapidly changing environment? Not everybody is and not everybody wants to do that.