By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
MANDEVILLE – Many successful people in the business world look back at a parent or relative who gave them great advice, and directed them to the right career path.
For Bret Kolman, he remembers an uncle who led him to a career “I hated.”
While the current CEO of Lakeview Regional Medical Center in Mandeville laughs about his story, which involved an uncle in the banking business advising him to major in accounting at college, the path actually did lead Kolman to an incredible record of success and achievement in the health care industry that is his life today.
Kolman grew up in a small Kansas town of only 3,800.
“You had to drive an hour to get to a McDonald’s or Wal-Mart,” he said.
His father was the principal of a school and his mother stayed home to raise four children in the family.
“We weren’t poor,” he said. “But my parents knew we had to live on a budget with one income, so we didn’t have a lot of extras.”
Whether it was the frugal upbringing or not, Kolman was in his senior year of high school and had an uncle who owned a local bank. Kolman said the idea of “owning a bank” that seemed to be a way to big success so he listened intently to his uncles advice.
“He told me to work five or six years at the FDIC, then I would get a chance to buy a troubled bank,” he said. “And when I started college, he told me I needed to get an accounting degree.”
Kolman followed the advice, hoping it would lead to the promised land of the banking industry. He came out of college a highly recruited accountant as a student who passed all parts of the CPA test in one sitting—something only 10 percent of students achieve—and was sought by the nationally-known Arthur Anderson auditing firm. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to a job he liked very much.
“First of all, you would be surprised how much a firm like Arthur Anderson recruited people like me and others who finished in the top of the class,” he said. “So I went to work for them and immediately hated the job. I was never a detail guy, and audits are all about detailed numbers.”
Even though Kolman didn’t love his job with the Anderson firm, which lasted two years, he was good at what he did, and was offered a job to work for Health Midwest in Lexington, Mo. as a financial analyst. In only three years, health care powerhouse HCA purchased the company for over $1.1 billion, and Kolman found himself working for a company with many new job opportunities.
In 1995, he was promoted to chief financial officer of the Lafayette Regional Health Center in Lexington and named CEO of the hospital in 2003.
His record of achievement at Lafayette Health Center was impressive, to say the least. The hospital went from losing a million dollars a year to nine years of profit growth for the next nine years, achieving a $4.2 million profit in 2012 before being hired in Feb., 2013 at Lakeview Regional in Mandeville.
During his time at Lafayette Regional, the hospital was ranked number one in patient satisfaction out of the 170 hospitals owned by the HCA group. They were also ranked number one in customer satisfaction, physician satisfaction and employee satisfaction during his time there.
In 2011 and 2012, the hospital was ranked among the top national performing hospitals in the nation, one of only 244 hospitals recognized in both years.
“Getting into health care was something which fit me so much better,” he said. “There are so many issues to make decisions about, and ways to improve the performance of a hospital.”
Kolman pointed out several key areas a hospital CEO has to address, including capital decisions, the high cost of labor, supply lines that can constantly change, and the payment situation in the area of patient collections.
“It truly is a complex industry, but I found that I liked working in that field much more than being an accountant,” he said. “When I worked for Anderson, I was never liked much when I was the auditor showing up to review the books. You usually got a small room in the back of the building and you were always the bad guy. It wasn’t something I loved.”
Kolman and his wife, Susan, have been married for 22 years and have two children, a daughter who is a freshman at Evangeline University in Springfield, Mo., and a son who is a junior at Mandeville High.