When Catherine Jacobson, now president and CEO of Wauwatosa-based Froedtert Well being, graduated from a small liberal arts faculty in Peoria, Illinois, with a level in accounting, she by no means imagined she would possibly someday lead one of many largest well being care techniques in Wisconsin.
Enthusiastic about finance, the Bradley College graduate aspired to someday land a job as a comptroller or chief accountant. That was her brass ring.
Jacobson is the 2023 BizTimes Media Girl Government of the Yr. Her accomplishments embrace serving to to triple the scale of the Froedtert & the Medical Faculty of Wisconsin well being community, reaching an settlement to merge Froedtert with Neenah-based well being system ThedaCare, and being the primary lady to function chair of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Affiliation of Commerce.
Wanting again at her decades-long profession in well being care, Jacobson says it took a little bit of windfall, and quite a lot of nudges from mentors to point out her that she had the data and abilities to pursue larger roles.
Touchdown a job at an enormous accounting agency after commencement helped broaden her perspective, Jacobson mentioned, exposing her to quite a lot of the “whys” behind the financials.
When Jacobson did find yourself working instantly for a consumer early in her profession, it occurred to be a medical insurance firm. She was working a claims division after which working an enrollment division, giving her perception into operations and an opportunity to study the enterprise.
“Considered one of my mentors alongside the way in which taught me that your function in finance isn’t simply to report retrospective numbers, after which inform individuals they’re doing a nasty job if they’re blowing their finances. Your job is to make use of your data to make the enterprise higher,” Jacobson mentioned. “If you end up CFO, you possibly can’t simply be a inexperienced eye-shade accountant.”
It was that perspective, and an eagerness to study that Jacobson says regularly helped her acquire the data and expertise to pursue jobs exterior of accounting. In 1996, after serving in key monetary management roles at Rush Prudential Well being Plans, she started working for Rush College Medical Heart itself, the place she finally turned the senior vp of strategic planning and finance, chief monetary officer and treasurer. In 2010, she joined Froedtert as government vp of finance and technique, chief monetary officer and chief technique officer. In 2012, she grow to be CEO.
Regardless of the success she has had in these management roles, Jacobson says she by no means had a fireplace in her stomach to be a CEO, till someone advised her that she might.
“After I was at Rush, my boss on the time was the CEO, and the board, like each good board, was telling him to begin taking a look at his workforce to see if he had any inner successors. They began to determine individuals (who might take over for him) and I used to be a type of individuals,” she mentioned. “He began to speak to me about it, and it was like a swap flipped in my thoughts. I used to be shut sufficient to the function to suppose, ‘Wow, I feel I might know methods to do the job and do it otherwise. After which, finally, I had the chance to tackle a task like that exterior of Rush. So, someone needed to inform me – I feel you’ll be good at this, after which my thoughts simply kicked into gear 100%.”
Jacobson credit these moments – those when somebody observed she was mastering one talent and able to transfer onto the subsequent one – for giving her the boldness to tackle larger roles.
“I’m very lucky. There are very pivotal moments in my profession, the place someone tapped me on the shoulder and mentioned, ‘You must do that,’ the place I didn’t suppose I might do it. And someone mentioned, ‘After all you are able to do it,’” Jacobson, 60, mentioned. “I can take into consideration 5 – 6 completely different occasions in my profession the place (that occurred).’”
Though having good mentors is essential to any profession, Jacobson agreed that it was maybe much more vital for a girl to obtain such encouragement.
“I feel it’s nonetheless an vital factor to do with girls. I’ve been at this for over 35 years, and it was actually vital within the late Eighties to have somebody do this for me,” she mentioned. “I wouldn’t say that each one my feminine leaders want that nudge – a few of them are superb at advocating for themselves – however I feel, by and enormous, quite a lot of feminine leaders who’ve the expertise for an even bigger function received’t push for it until they really feel overprepared to do it.”
That’s why Jacobson has tried to mentor the individuals she has labored with through the years and push them to take that subsequent step. It’s one thing she hopes to proceed doing as she prepares at hand over Froedtert’s operations baton to another person following the ThedaCare merger.
“Simply with my background, I sort of discover when somebody is mastering issues and prepared for that subsequent stage,” Jacobson mentioned.
Jacobson plans to retire six months after the 2 establishments have formally mixed. ThedaCare president and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi will grow to be the group’s president and CEO.