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Hackensack CEO Garrett on partnerships: Ethical and cultural fit are as important as business connection

Robert C. Garrett has crafted many partnerships for Hackensack University Health Network.
Robert C. Garrett has crafted many partnerships for Hackensack University Health Network. - ()

Hackensack University Health Network officials were in discussions with CVS Health about expanding their partnership involving Minute Clinics when the moment came that assured Hackensack CEO Robert C. Garrett he had found the right partner:

CVS Health announced it was pulling all tobacco products from its stores.

“That was a real major consideration for us,” Garrett said. “If we’re going to talk the talk and walk the walk with population health and wellness and fitness and keeping the population healthy, we want to partner with an organization that really shares those beliefs.”

Garrett and Hackensack have made a number of partnerships with a variety of businesses and organizations in the past few years.

He told the audience last week at a conference in New Brunswick organized by the Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership that he looks at more than just the bottom line when picking partners.

“We look at our partners’ values, their culture to make sure there’s a consistency with what we stand for,” he said. “Strategic interest and strategic objectives are really important when you look at these types of affiliations or mergers, but I think the most important thing is cultural compatibility. It’s huge and it has to be foremost (in the discussion).”

Judy Young, the executive director of the institute, feels a cultural connection may be the most important consideration when reviewing a potential partner.

“It’s critically important when you are doing a merger and acquisition to do your due diligence beforehand,” she said. “If your values are not in synch, you are going to find that you are going to be a mismatch in every vein of business that you are trying to do with this organization. It’s critically important that you find out as much as you can about an organization’s values — not only what they have on the wall and what looks pretty, but what do they practice on a daily basis.”

When Garrett and Hackensack began talks last year about a massive merger with Meridian Health, he said the connection was evident from the start.

“From the first time we met with the Meridian leadership we knew it was a great cultural fit, we knew they shared some of our cultural beliefs, our values, such as good communication, transparency, community service,” he said.

The right fit, however, may not necessarily be evident right away.

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When Hackensack began talks with Seton Hall about their recently announced partnership to open a new medical school, Garrett said he knew there would be issues with a partnership involving a faith-based organization.

So both sides, he said, faced issues head on.

“The two organizations got together and developed a white paper that really governs us from a religious and cultural perspective,” he said. “We’re not the first secular organization that’s partnered with a faith-based organization in health care, but we did create a white paper, and the white paper basically stats that we respect each other’s traditions, we respect each other’s cultures.”

The paper is a framework for how both sides will handle issues.

“If medical students, for example, object to participating in a procedure that is contrary to their religious or ethical beliefs, we respect that,” he said. “And Seton Hall, on the other side, respects Hackensack’s traditions.

“It’s really a great model. In fact, some of the religious leaders at Seton Hall felt this white paper was so good that they would like to roll this out as a national example between a faith-based and a non-faith-based partnership.”

Garrett, whose organization has reached agreements with hospitals, physician groups, retail establishments, academic institutions and even one with the New York Giants involving a wellness center, said he believes a cultural fit was a big part in all of them.

“I think it’s huge,” he said. “It’s been said before, but culture trumps strategy every time. Think about culture; culture starts with ethics and partnerships. In business, it starts with business ethics.”

Young said more leaders need to be proactive when it comes to culture and ethics.

“(Leaders) need to check the numbers and how are they doing from a revenue standpoint, but it’s just as important to take the pulse of the cultural constantly,” she said. “We all do believe acting ethically is the right thing to do, but do we practice it on a daily basis? It’s critical.”


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