On the Job with Jackie Ryan

Jackie Ryan is a corporate executive with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

Jackie Ryan is a corporate executive with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

Jackie Ryan was already a media veteran when she began assisting Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital with its communications program in 1998.

Now a corporate executive with Southwest Georgia’s largest medical organization, Ryan is a key player in shaping the image and future direction of Phoebe Putney.

The music lover wishes she had the talent to perform professionally, but readily admits her talents are better served in the corporate world and not on stage.

Ryan sat down this week with Herald reporter Jim West for a question-and-answer session.

Q. What was your first job?

A. It was before my senior year of high school. I worked at a friend’s father’s automotive store. It was kind of like a prototype to Western Auto, with auto parts, repairs, bicycles and everything else you might find in that kind of store. I worked there for the summer and (the boss) taught me how to negotiate with customers. He had a policy that the first customer in the morning should always leave with something — you had to make a sale. I guess I learned a little bit about teamwork and cross-training because I had to fill in for the short-order cook at the lunch counter when it was his break, so I learned to flip some hamburgers and hot dogs and makes shakes and fries. They were good skills. I probably didn’t realize I had learned them until much later in life.

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

A. You know, I really don’t remember what I spent it on. It might have been clothes or going to the movies. I do remember this: That when I got the job I forgot to ask him how much the pay was.


NAME: Jackie Ryan

AGE: 64

POSITION: Vice President Corporate Strategy, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

FAMILY: Married to Paul, with adult daughter, Jessica

EDUCATION: University of Vermont, Duke University

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

A. I think you should trust them to do their jobs. You give them the authority to do their jobs. As leadership, you remove barriers and always provide that support.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why are you doing what you do?

A. A variety of things brought me here. It was a progression. I had been in the news business for a number of years, worked in information at Albany State and had my own public relations business for a while and that’s how I came to Phoebe. I love this job here because I get to use all of the things I like to do almost every day.

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

A. I have been very fortunate in that I’ve had lots of role models over the years. One in particular that stands out, that people in Albany will certainly relate to, is the late Dr. Billy Black, who was president of Albany State. He was a remarkable teacher and guide and I was really fortunate to work with him for more than 11 years.

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

A. I don’t really know that there’s been a lesson. You used to hear that we need to work smarter. Well, that’s probably true, but we also need to redesign what we do, and think about “is everything I do every day something that needs to be done? Is there something I can do better? Is there something I need to eliminate? Something that I need to add?” I think whether there are recessions or not, we should always be thinking of those things.

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. Probably none of it, because I love technology. But if I had to pick one I’d probably pick e-mail. The reason for that is I think that e-mail can be a distraction — making us always feel that we need to catch up, and therefore probably compromising some of our productivity. I think, too, that e-mail lacks tone, so when I can pick up that little black thing that has a voice on the other end and hear a conversation or be face to face with somebody, it’s an easier thing. Be that as it may, e-mail certainly serves a purpose in today’s world.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. My cell phone, because it has e-mail, for precisely that reason. Because you can keep up. To me, there’s no worse feeling than knowing you’ve been gone a few days and then you’re coming back to work and you’re going to be behind.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. I could say that I’m fairly traditional. I like all the traditions. Christmas, Thanksgiving, certainly those are favorites. I like to create traditions, as well. My sister and I have a tradition every year on our birthdays, which is on the same day, that we eat dinner at a small Italian restaurant in Atlanta called Soto Soto. We’ve been doing that for six or seven years and we do it without fail every year.

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

A. The book that I just finished is called “Peaches for Father Francis.” It’s by Joanne Harris. I enjoy her writing, regardless of story line. She’s an amazing writer. I also just finished Malcom Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw,” a collection of essays. I usually read a fiction and nonfiction at about the same time. The best book I’ve read this year was “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.

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

A. I’m not a routine person. I’m up by 6 a.m. or shortly thereafter. A couple of days a week I work out with a trainer or take a walk, if that’s a routine. I read about five or six papers online every day, just to see what’s going on, and throughout the day I keep up with the industry news that comes through — all the little alerts and summaries of news that going on in health care.

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

A. If I had to pick somebody it would be somebody from way way long time ago. It might be Saint Augustine, because his thinking fascinated me — his writings about time and memory and I always enjoyed philosophy as a sideline.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. Music, reading. That’s pretty much it.

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

A. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes, but I’m sure there is no such thing as a mistake that can’t be corrected. Unless it’s something highly grievous that maybe the law would come after you. I think that in business, making mistakes, working in a risk-free environment where you can correct your mistakes and learn from them — that would be the ideal.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. Knowing (here at Phoebe) that in everything you do, you’re touching patients. And the stories that I see every day — the individual stories of care-givers and what they do for patients. It may be just a simple thing, but getting somebody in touch with something in medicine that can change their life of help their life. That’s the most exciting thing to me about working in a health care organization.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. I don’t have a worst thing, and that’s true. That sort of sounds like when people are on an interview, they’re asked what their weaknesses are and answer “well I work too hard,” or whatever, and that’s it. There really isn’t a worst thing when you think about the perspective of why this hospital is here and what it does for the community, and what the role is of a community hospital

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

A. Maybe Probability and Logic. I say that because I ended up being a word person. I wasn’t sure that’s what I would be, but probability and logic kind of gets you thinking ahead of where you should be and gets you connecting the dots.

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

A. I would have been a musician. But you need a talent for that, so it didn’t happen.

Q. Finish this thought; “on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…

A. I don’t see myself retired. I would like to think that like most retirees, I would enjoy things. I don’t fish and I don’t hunt, but there are other things I do and it would be fun to be able to do those things. But I would think that I would be contributing in some way, somewhere, whether it’s tutoring students or working at a bookstore.

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

A. I think that’s probably the ability to support and to have vision. A good business leader needs to be able to predict what’s going to happen within their own business and to understand what their core business is. Your core is your strength. The other thing a business leader needs is optimism, and it’s what all people need. It’s what takes us through the tough times.

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

A. I can’t predict that one. If I could, we should all go out and buy lottery tickets. I think there are certainly signs of strength — not just here, but everywhere in the country there are signs of recovery and that’s a good thing.

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

A. Folk, Dave Matthews, symphony. Not any techno-rock or that kind of stuff. But you might find some real rock, like Bob Seeger.

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

A. I can’t predict that, either. No crystal ball, but here’s what I’d like to see: I’d like to see us get a very strong foundation in our education system, as I would love to see that in any community in this country. This is a great country, and education is the base foundation for everything that happens. I’d like to see us be very very strong in that arena.

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

A. I think probably the drive my husband and I took many, many years ago from Quebec City down through Montreal and through Maine and the Adirondacks in the peak of the leaf season and ending up back at our home in upstate New York.

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

A. That’s easy because health care in this country, as we know is changing dramatically, both through legislative policy and technologies that have come into being. Reimbursements are declining, costs are of concern to anybody whether you’re an employer or an individual. So health care is changing dramatically. We don’t have a national policy (but) we’re headed down that road. Here at Phoebe, just like hospitals across the nation, we’ve been looking to consolidate resources and to make things more accessible to people right where they live. And that’s important.