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May 31, 2018
Bob Sutton is the new president and CEO of Avera Health.
He has been with Avera since 2013, most recently as executive vice president of human resources, and replaces John Porter, who is retiring after 44 years.
Sutton, 49, also served as regional president and CEO of Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre and senior vice president of community relations for Avera.
He becomes CEO on June 18.
“There are so many reasons to want this job. This is a strong organization that has values that resonate with me,” he said.
“There are so many good things to build on. Under John’s leadership and the sisters’ vision and ministry, we have established an organization that is cutting edge from a technology standpoint that delivers quality care in every arena we’re working in and for the people we serve. Our patients and our residents and their families recognize that. They know they will get quality, compassionate care when they come to an Avera facility.”
Avera did a national search for Porter’s replacement.
“We narrowed the field down to several outstanding candidates, from both inside and outside of Avera. Bob was set apart by his enthusiasm and commitment to the Avera mission; his vast knowledge of South Dakota, its communities and surrounding states; and his compassion as a servant leader,” said Sister Mary Kay Panowicz, Avera system members chair and CEO search committee chair.
“Bob brings important experience from both health care and non-health care leadership. His visionary leadership skills will continue Avera’s growth and strategic development as one of the nation’s most sophisticated health systems delivering rural health care.”
Sutton was one of five finalists for the job. After a two-hour interview that he describes as the most engaging conversation of his career, he was offered the position a day later.
Porter, who supervises Sutton, calls his successor a servant-leader who came to the organization without HR experience but quickly grew into the role and connected with people.
Sutton was born at Avera McKennan Hospital, spent his first 10 years in Sioux Falls and graduated from high school in Hill City. He spent much of his adult life in Pierre.
“One of the things that really attracted us when we talked to Bob about going into our organization in community relations was I don’t think there’s one of our 60 or 70 South Dakota communities you could go into where he wouldn’t know somebody,” Porter said.
As CEOs, the two will be similar and different, both said.
“The values, I would hope, are identical,” Porter said. “I think we’re both very team-oriented. We like to gather the right people on the bus and collectively determine where the bus is going. I think the sisters did a tremendous job in extending the offer, and I have a lot of appreciation of Bob stepping up for that.”
Both are political science majors. Porter, who also is an attorney, is detail-oriented and provides exceptional feedback, Sutton said.
“Not that I’m not detailed, but those are things that set us apart. I really like working to lay out a vision with my colleagues and people throughout the organization, and putting that vision in play, communicating it and stepping aside and talking about where we want to be 10 years beyond that,” Sutton said.
Avera is 20 years old as an organization, and its predecessor organizations date back more than a century with the founding of hospitals such as Avera St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls and Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton, among others. Following Porter, Sutton is the second president and CEO of the Avera system.
Avera has 300 locations in 100 communities in five states, offering a full range of hospitals, clinics, long-term care centers, retirement communities, home care, hospice, sports and fitness centers, home medical equipment outlets and health insurance. Additionally, Avera’s virtual health care provides services in 17 states.
Sutton’s HR experience has given him a strong connection with Avera’s 17,500 employees, Panowicz said.
“He has a true calling to be a part of Avera’s health care ministry,” she said. “He will provide new perspectives, yet bring with him a great deal of continuity from his former Avera roles. Both aspects will be important in taking Avera to the next level in the complex and rapidly evolving health care marketplace.”
In the next few months, Sutton said he plans to start an organizationwide strategic planning process, involving board members, leadership, physicians and staff.
He said the goal is that every employee “feels they are engaged in a strategic vision, a strategic plan, so they can relate what they do day-to-day to what we do as an organization.”
Sutton also has served as president of the South Dakota Community Foundation, vice president of government and public affairs for Citibank South Dakota, executive vice president of the South Dakota Bankers Association, executive director of both the South Dakota Petroleum Council and the South Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association, and executive director of the South Dakota Association of County Officials.
Sutton is president of the South Dakota Board of Regents, completing a term that ends in 2019
He holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of South Dakota, and a bachelor of arts in political science, also from USD. He and his wife, Lori, have two grown children, Madison and Matthew. He is a member of Holy Spirit Church in Sioux Falls.
Becoming CEO is the fourth best day of his life after his wedding and the birth of his children, he said.
“Thanks to John’s leadership and the leadership of my colleagues around the senior management table, this is an organization that’s in really, really good shape, and I think there are great things yet to happen for Avera as we go forward with this health care ministry. There are opportunities for growth. We go where we’re called, and we’re called to do a lot of work in a rural footprint that is geographically expansive and demographically challenged. We have access challenges, challenges from an affordability standpoint, and those are things we address, bringing health care through our providers, through e-care and through other means as close to the people as we possibly can.”
Bob Sutton is the new CEO of Avera Health.