Michael Ugwueke rises to become Methodist LeBonheur’s next CEO

Michael Ugwueke is Chief Operating Officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

Michael Ugwueke rises to become Methodist LeBonheur’s next CEO

Every once in a while, when you are good at what you do, your talent will make room for you – even in the most unlikely and unfriendly of places and in the hardest of circumstances, and this is exactly what happened to Michael Ugwueke – a native of Enugu who left Nigeria at the age of 21 and rose in the world of healthcare and hospital administration to being next in line to assume the role of become the Chief Executive Officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis.
Michael Ugwueke is Chief Operating Officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. (Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal)

According to Commercial Appeal, Michael Ugwueke arrived in the United States with $4000 and a dream to earn a degree in medicine. This dream was fuelled by personal loss – he had lost a younger brother during the Biafra strife – and he merely wanted to get his degree and return home to Nigeria to practise.

Finding that he did not have enough money for medical school, however, the relentless young man turned to hospital administration as the next best option, earning a bachelor’s in biology at Shaw University, a master’s of public health at Emory University and becoming a doctor of health administration and leadership at Medical University of South Carolina, funding his education with every job available from being a pizza delivery man to working a convenience store.

Dreams to return home after attaining all these qualifications were quashed by news of a political coup, so he concentrated on his career ladder instead.

He finally got into his dream career and once he started, he simply did not stop; implementing tactics used in world class companies like FedEx and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. to turn around the once-struggling Methodist South Hospital.

Currently the Chief Operating Officer at Methodist Hospital, at 57, Michael Ugwueke will, next Jan. 1st,  assume the chief executive’s post for the seven-hospital, 12,000-employee health care system, succeeding Methodist’s CEO since 2001, Gary Shorb.

At 65, Shorb announced last month that he will step down at the end of this year and serve as a senior adviser to Ugwueke through April 2017.

“Michael is an outstanding strategic thinker,” Shorb said.

“One, he knows hospital operations really well. Two, he does a lot through data and measuring results. Three, he thinks strategically about positioning the organization, whether it’s an individual hospital, as he did at South and then North, and now he’s doing it for the whole system,” Shorb said.

One of Ugwueke’s mentors, Michael Covert, chief executive of CHI St. Luke’s Health in Houston, Texas, echoed the praise.

“His background, experience and appreciation for the myriad changes taking place in our field makes him a strong choice for the position,” Covert said by email. “He is recognized nationally for his acumen and strategic thinking while still being a ‘man of the people.”

Speaking for himself, Ugwueke says:

“I don’t give up easily. I have faced all kinds of adversities that you can think of – coming here 21 years old, not knowing anybody else and putting myself through college, graduate school, working every job that you can think of ranging from construction, production line, restaurant, delivering pizza, working at a convenience store. Just name it, I’ve done everything that you could to survive.”

If this ain’t a message to go out and grab the bulls by the horns,  don’t know what is. We can all be great, we can all make a difference, we can all leave a legacy behind. Congratulations, Mr Ugwueke.

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