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Do healthcare CEOs actually need a background in healthcare

Do you need a background in the business of healthcare to be a successful healthcare CEO? Orpea clearly thinks not given its latest appointment – and it is not alone in this view.

The under-fire French nursing home giant’s new boss will be Laurent Guillot, and it’s his first role in the elderly care sector. Currently, he’s CEO of listed French multinational construction materials company Saint Gobain, where he has worked for the past 19 years. He is also an independent director at French aerospace and defence company Safran, and began his career in the civil service, working across multiple French ministries. His management skills may be beyond question, but he’ll surely have a steep learning curve in a new sector?

There is precedent, however. Sophie Boissard, CEO of French rival Korian, came from the rail sector, and is generally lauded as keeping the company on track – not least because she reshuffled the management team when she started in 2016.

Yrjö Närhinen is another universally well regarded high flier, and while he chaired pan-European dental platform Curaeos and was at the helm of Finland-based Terveystalo when it went public, he previously worked in the brewing industry.

And Närhinen’s replacement at Terveystalo was an actual high flier who spent 18 years at a Finnish airline. Ville Iho had no prior experience in healthcare and came straight from six months as CEO at Nurminen Logistics, and was deputy CEO of Finnair between 2013-2016, moving to senior VP for 12 months thereafter. “There are many similarities in the airline and healthcare business. Both are safety-critical processes produced by professionals,” he told Finnish press at the time.

Clearly then, you do not need a background in the business of healthcare to be a successful healthcare CEO. Cross industry CEO’s are on the rise, not just because skills are transferable, but because of the evolution and innovation of industries. Knowledge of logistics, or AI, or workflow can be a huge boon for today’s savvy healthcare CEO. And the flip side of the coin is that for every handful of successful CEOs with a background in healthcare, there is one who may be falling short of the mark, and no – we’re not naming names. We would recommend simply picking the best woman – or man – for the job, without being frightened to cast a net further afield than the shallow pool of current healthcare CEOs swimming in the market.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to David Farbrother or call 0207 183 3779.