Earlier this year I was in an Uber headed from Manhattan to Bushwick, Brooklyn. The driver heard me talking about my latest book, World Class: A Story of Adversity, Transformation, and Success at NYU Langone Health. When he heard me mention NYU Langone he jumped in and said, “I need that book.”

“You do?” I replied.

“Absolutely —- my grandmother, my mother, my brother, and I are all patients at NYU Langone.” When I asked why they were so loyal to the hospital he told me more about his story. He and his family were Syrian and some people in his family, including his grandmother, only spoke Arabic. They were patients at NYU Langone – Brooklyn, which used to be the old Lutheran Hospital in Brooklyn. The first time they went to the hospital after NYU Langone took over, they were amazed.

“Wonder of wonders,” he said. “They brought in a tablet with Arabic on it so my grandmother could check in. The doctor in the emergency ward saw my grandmother and saw me and then brought in an Arabic translator for her. Anything we needed, everyone on staff tried to provide it to us.”

That is a culture that prioritizes the patient above all else. But that wasn’t always the culture of NYU Langone. Twenty years ago, a culture of complacency permeated the NYU Medical Center (later renamed NYU Langone Health). That was before Robert I Grossman took over as Dean and CEO in 2007. When he was appointed, Grossman was an unusual choice with none of the credentials expected of one who would lead an academic medical center. He had no prior business experience. He had never been trained or mentored as a manager or as an executive. He did not sit on any outside boards of directors. In fact, he had never managed anything larger than a radiology department.

In one of my discussions with Grossman as part of the research for my book, he himself acknowledged that he did not fit the mold. “I had not come up the normal way. I had never been to business school. I didn’t know what a board was. I had never worked with a board of directors… [but] I felt pretty confident, and probably delusional, that I could turn it around.”

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Originally Published on Forbes (August 28, 2019)