ThinkFest Recap: 3 Takeaways From Madeline Bell on CHOP’s Future

The CHOP president and CEO also shared some pointers on leadership.
Madeline Bell and Lucinda Duncalfe in discussion at ThinkFest 2016.

Madeline Bell and Lucinda Duncalfe in discussion at ThinkFest 2016.

Before Madeline Bell became president and CEO of CHOP, she was the hospital’s chief operating officer for eight years — and before ever getting into a leadership role, she was a pediatric nurse working the night shift.

“Careers are not linear,” Bell told the audience at ThinkFest on Tuesday in an interview with Monetate CEO Luncinda Duncalfe. Her nontraditional path to the leadership of one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals — CHOP, with 50 locations and 14,000 employees, brings in about $2.5 billion a year — is one for the books. Few organizations in the region have women at the helm, let alone women on their boards or in other top executive positions.

Bell’s career has been about taking chances and taking on opportunities that fell outside of her comfort zone. Over time she’s come to champion the elevator pitch as an effective tool for highlighting accomplishments women tend to downplay for fear of coming off as “self-promoting.”

As CHOP’s president and CEO for more than a year now, Bell identified her top priorities as CEO and where she sees CHOP in the next 20 years.

Creating pathways for innovation. One of Bell’s favorite things to do at CHOP is to spend time with the scientists who are making breakthroughs in pediatrics. A lot of people forget that CHOP is also a large pediatric institute with scientists who are focused on discoveries for children every day, Bell said, and the hospital’s innovation tournaments allow everyone to get involved with innovation, because the best ideas come from the people doing the work every day. The startup Diagnostic Driving is one such example born out of CHOP’s desire to improve child passenger safety. The startup has developed a simulator to determine how safe drivers are. Bell recognizes differences in the way millennials interact with healthcare, so CHOP’s mission over the next few years is to raise the bar with research discoveries in digital health to continue to meet the needs of the children they serve.

Spending time on the front lines. As a CEO, it’s important to spend time on the front lines with patients, Bell said. What Bell calls “situation awareness” allows her to come face to face with the challenges patients and their families, as well as her colleagues, deal with. “I’m not sitting in a corner office,” Bell said. Visiting the research labs to ask researchers about what they’re working on is another way Bell bridges her role with the work of her counterparts. She also spends a lot of nights and weekends at charity engagements, raising money and putting awareness in the community about what CHOP is up to.

Honing the talent acquisition process. “I’ll only be successful if I surround myself with talented people,” Bell told the audience. Diversity and inclusion practices have been integral to her platform as a strategic advantage. And because talent for highly specialized positions is scarce, Bell says it’s more than just attracting the right talent, but also about putting in the work to retain them.

Watch Bell’s discussion with Duncalfe on Facebook livestream below.

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