Meet a Local Leader: Gary Collins

Gary Collins, chief executive officer of Crescent Community Health Center

Gary Collins grew up in northeast Ohio as the middle son of three to hardworking parents. He attended Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in accounting and business with a minor in political science. He attained his Master of Business Administration at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio.

Collins is enjoying his “encore career” now as a health care leader after a corporate finance track that led him abroad for expat assignments to Belgium, Italy and China. His 25-year finance career included Emerson Electric, General Electric and Lincoln Electric.

His health care career started in Ohio before he moved out to the West Coast (Sonoma County) where he led activities at two health centers. He met his fiancé, Clay, in Sacramento and moved to Dubuque in 2019. Clay followed in January 2020. Gary and Clay appreciate working in their yard, doing small projects around the house and exploring the tri-states. They also enjoy bike riding and pretty much any outdoor activity.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

Mr. David Farr was the president of Ridge Tool (an Emerson division) when I was manager of financial planning and analysis. His leadership style was to encourage leaders to focus on “making an impact.” He was a man of his word in that he allowed me to make an impact in our European operations as one of the youngest leaders at Emerson. When I later asked him why he wanted me to do the project, which took around 18 months, he explained it was “because I raised my hand to do it when nobody else would.” That has really been ingrained in my actions throughout my career that has led me to incredible opportunities. Mr. Farr is now the CEO of Emerson and remains one of my mentors. I have found the following to be true with most things in life – you must ask for opportunities and remain passionate about your work.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? Every decision a leader makes will have an impact on a person, process or the organization. Leaders must make the best decisions daily with the information they have to ensure the finest outcome(s). Probably the most important decisions I make will impact workforce or our patients, so I make every effort to consider all actions.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? Fortunately for Crescent Community Health Center, our volunteer board creates a wonderful governance structure that ensures we stay on track with our mission, vision and values with the actions we take as a healthcare leader. I will also add that our strategic planning process and the work around the completion of the objectives sparks inspiration and provides renewed focus on what our priorities are for our future.

Which is more important to your organization — mission, core values or vision? At Crescent Community Health Center, I am grounded by our mission and the vision keeps me moving forward. Our values ensure we stay on our path and are the tools with which we lead. It is hard to move forward without all three. Depending on the life cycle and vitality of the organization, one might “lean into” one of the three with more pressure at any given point in time.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Unyielding integrity is a universal characteristic that should guide leaders in their journeys. My maternal grandmother was the role model and spent a significant amount of time with my brothers and me growing up in northeast Ohio. She was industrious and taught us to respect others, work hard and lived by example a life of great joy balanced with pride in her family.

What advice to you have for future leaders? Listen more and do not assume you know everything because you do not. It is humbling to realize you will never know enough to have every answer and be 100% successful all the time. What that does for a future leader is to remind them that each day is an opportunity to learn something new that will aid in continuous improvement of the leadership skillset. It also reminds us of the importance of teams and enabling the skills of everyone.

What lessons can leaders take away from the current pandemic? Have a plan B, remain transparent, communicate openly, partner with other stakeholders and show appreciation.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? Making an impact, teaching others, working with teams toward a common set of goals.