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On the Job with Robert LaGesse

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

"On the Job with ..." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series, spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Robert LaGesse, senior VP of physician practices Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Health System.

Q. What was your first job?

A. My first job was selling newspapers on a street corner for two cents a paper when I was 10 years old. My father was a strong believer that you needed to learn the value of a dollar. My first job as an adult after the military was as director of quality for a small healthcare company in San Antonio, Texas.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?

A. I believe in both my boyhood job and my first job out of the military I saved my first paycheck. My goal in both cases was to buy a car.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found during the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Being honest with them about what needs to be accomplished, giving them the opportunity to take responsibility for new projects and then getting out of their way.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. Coming out of the Air Force, I had a number of role models. But my greatest role model was my father. He and my mother raised eight of us during a very difficult time. He showed through his example what honest work can accomplish. I can still remember him saying, "If you don't have time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over."

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. The primary lesson I learned was to make sure you focus on what is important -- people. Sometimes as managers, we focus too much on the short term and forget that making long-term investments can pay much greater dividends in the future. Making sure we have the right people doing the right things at the right times for the right reasons, that will get us through the difficult times.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology - examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. - what would you most like to see go away?

A. All of these technologies are both a blessing and a curse. I don't know that I would want to see any of them go away. However, it would be nice if we could learn to use them properly.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. My smart phone. I use frequently for calls, email, and instant messages.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. Our family Christmas. My wife and I spend it every year with our kids and grandkids.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I have three books going at any given time. I love to read. I am currently reading "Jesus as a CEO," just finished retracing "Sun Zu" and I am reading a new spy novel by Brad Thro called "Blow Back."

Q. I'm up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. Up by 5:45 a.m. I usually get up and have a cup of coffee then either walk with friends, run, or work out.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?

A. Abraham Lincoln. He is a person I have studied -- his life and the trials and challenges he faced. I would love to ask his advice on a number of issues I face every day in dealing with people.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. Gardening, reading, history and fishing. I don't fish enough, but I really love doing it.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. My father always told me that a decision is always better than no decision. Once you make a decision, don't look back. I live with this philosophy. I wonder if I took back a decision if things would not be as good.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. The sense of teamwork. I also love the autonomy and trust the organization has the team to get the right things done the right way.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. Don't really have anything that I would classify as the worst thing about my job. I guess the only thing I would like is a little more time to interact with patients that visit our clinics.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Group Dynamics.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I am in my dream job. No really, I am. When I was in the Air Force and in college, I dreamed of being at a senior level in a very successful organization that is making a real difference. That's what I have in my current position.

Q. Finish this thought: "On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ...

A. Traveling with my wife to visit some of the places we lived over seas when we were in the Air Force.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Honesty and the tact to be able to reflect that honesty in a way that gets the job done.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. I am optimistic and believe the current recovery is under way. Here in Albany we need to recognize that we have the opportunity to create our own recovery. We just need to look at what our strengths and resources are and start looking for ways to use them to highlight this region.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. Country and classical.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. We have resources that other parts of the country needs, most notably water. We have the educational facilities to turn out the technical leaders we need to help us figure out how to best use this resource to our advantage. If we start thinking the way George Washington Carver did and look for ways to use the resources we have in new and different ways I think this region will see significant growth. If we sit back and wait for some company to choose us as a location, we will stay pretty much the way we are.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken?

A. I recently took a trip with my wife visiting every civil war battlefield between Charleston and Washington D.C. I got to see where the war started, Fort Sumter, and where it ended, Appomattox. I love history and, in particular, the Civil War.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business during the past few years?

A. The integration of health care. In the past we have tried to manage health care costs. In recent years, we are seeing an increased emphasis on reducing the cost of health care by improving the quality of the care provided.