His story is the classic American story – strong Midwestern values in a strong family who regards hard work and education as a means of getting ahead, and holds a firm conviction that overcoming challenges is what makes life meaningful. And challenges were aplenty for him.
Elger’s career spans almost 40 years of service in medical education and health care services. He joined UTMB in March 2009 as the executive vice president and chief business and finance officer. Yet, don’t let the business title fool you into thinking he’s merely all about decimal points and dollar signs. He cares just as much about the talents and contributions of those around him in creating a high performing organization.
Determined and strong-willed by nature, he looks at what motivates and inspires people. When he first arrived at UTMB, he reached out to key individuals by going door-to-door to understand the diverse perspectives about our organization. It’s all part of his master plan. He already has a framework in mind of how he will make his vision a reality; he’s merely looking for ways that people will contribute to reaching that goal.
And don’t ever make the mistake of telling him that something can’t be done. That quiet, unassuming nature hides a strong will that defies reason, if he feels his vision won’t be reached. He simply won’t be deterred, and he readily embraces any critic who says, “this is the old way of doing things, or we don’t do things that way.” To Bill, those are fightin’ words. What he wants most is to make a difference in this world. He sets the bar high for himself and everyday he challenges himself to do a better job. It’s what drives him.
His chief communications officer, Sheila Lidstone will tell you that Bill sets high standards not only for himself, but for those who work for him. “He is extraordinarily sharp, good to the core and genuinely passionate about making a difference. Bill is a great leader and a terrific boss.”
We sat down with Bill and asked him a few questions about his life in and out of the organization.
1). What does the road ahead look like for UTMB?
UTMB’s immediate future looks exciting yet challenging. We must accomplish three major tasks at the same time: fix our damaged facilities, run our daily operations effectively and grow our institution for the future. The work will be intense and hard, and it will take time. It will also require us to move away from our “silos” of operation into a more cohesive model that hinges on collaboration between patient care, research, education and all support services.
In my 9 months on the job, I see an organization, here at UTMB, with all the ingredients not only to be successful, but also to reinvent the business model for academic health science centers for the future. We are starting to see some signs that our financial and operational initiatives to “turn this ship around” are working. For example, UTMB finished the first quarter of this fiscal year (FY10) in the black for the first time in several years. We are not out of the woods yet—that might be a few years away. It appears, however that we have all climbed into the same boat and are rowing in the same direction. How we have done things in the past needs to change. It is the only way UTMB will survive…and thrive.
2). Even though you have only been living in Texas for about nine months, what do you like best so far? Do you own any cowboy boots yet?
Yes, I own a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat that I brought with me from Arizona. I came to Texas well prepared.
What impresses my wife, Kathy, and me the most about Texas is how welcoming and helpful everyone is. We moved 1,200 miles away from our children, grandchildren and home in the Midwest, and it was a difficult move to make. Yet, there’s been no shortage of people offering to show us around, introduce us and welcome us, and we are very grateful for that. We recently bought a home on the island.
3). What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
I adopted, some time ago, the slogan “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” While some might say the grammar is not quite correct, I think the sentiment is clear and inspiring: “Should we be doing things differently?”
4). Do you have a favorite book?
I read a great deal. Right before the holidays, I finished The Starfish and the Spider – The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, written by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. It’s easy and quick to read but also insightful and thought-provoking.
5). Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Our family vacations together each August in a little town called Sawyer, Michigan. It is an old church camp with grounds near Lake Michigan. We started going to Sawyer more than 40 years ago when my wife and I were dating. We have continued the tradition with our kids and grandkids all these years.
6). What do you like to do in your leisure time away from the office?
Most of our vacation time is devoted to visiting the kids and grandkids so we don’t travel as much as we’d like to. But Kathy and I like to explore. We are known to hop in the car and take off for the day or weekend, with no real destination or plan. We prefer to get off the main highway, take the back roads and see what’s there.
7). Do you have an iPhone? If so, what is your favorite app (application)?
I have not had much time to explore the apps on my iphone, but the one I use most often provides information on nearby restaurants, and it seems fairly accurate.
8). What is the one thing most people would be surprised to learn about you?
People are surprised by my sense of humor. I apparently project a rather serious, even stern, demeanor, but there’s a whole other side to me.