Hospitals are the biggest employers in most of North Carolina’s largest cities including Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Nearly 400,000 jobs at hospitals and related industries are supported by health systems, according to a 2017 study by the N.C. Healthcare Association. It’s natural, then, that health system leaders rank among the state’s most influential executives. A consolidation wave is boosting the size of the largest organizations.
president, CEO | Novant Health
Armato, 56, joined Novant in 2008 and became CEO in 2012. The University of Southwestern Louisiana graduate earned an MBA from Vermont’s Norwich University. He oversaw the four-state system’s $5.3 billion acquisition of New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington earlier this year.Read More
North Carolina’s challenge: Creating economic mobility and addressing racial justice need to be priorities to improve the quality of life for all. They directly tie to our efforts to address social determinants of health and improve health equity. Seeing the person behind the patient is more important than ever. Where people live, whether they hold multiple jobs, what kind of family support they have and even what they eat influences their health.
Best advice: When I worked for General Health System in Louisiana, a recruiter interviewed me for a job as a controller at a trucking company. My dad said taking the opportunity would be a mistake. “Son, I don’t know how to tell you this because you can’t see it yet,” he said. “But you’re going to run something big one day, and I don’t think it’s in trucking.”
CEO | North Carolina Medical Society
Baggett in September became head of the association that represents 10,000 physicians and other medical professionals, succeeding longtime leader Robert Seligson. He joined the group as a legislative representative in 2007. He has a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and a law degree from N.C. Central University.
EDWARD BROWN III
chairman | Atrium Health System
The Georgia Tech graduate was a 32-year Bank of America executive before joining Hendrick Automotive Group in 2010. Named CEO in 2011, he aided owner Rick Hendrick at the $10 billion auto-dealership group before retiring last year. He’s chaired the biggest N.C. health care system for many years, playing a key role in its expansion.
CEO | UNC Health Care
The internationally recognized pediatric allergy expert was named CEO of the 11-hospital system in 2018. Burks, 66, came to UNC in 2011 and later was named physician-in-chief at UNC Children’s Hospital and dean of the medical school. He had worked at Duke University for the previous eight years. He’s a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.Read More
Employer’s distinction: What distinguishes us is the empathy and expertise of our 35,000 co-workers in accomplishing our mission of promoting the health and well-being of North Carolinians. Our values of “One Great Team, Carolina Care, Leading the Way and It Starts With Me” set the tone for our unique culture.
Proud family accomplishment: Our three children. They have developed supportive and caring relationships beyond what we could have imagined.
Favorite recent books: My two favorite books over the [past] year were about individuals who lived 100 years apart, Abraham Lincoln and John Lewis. Their impact has been and will be felt for generations to come.
MARY JO CAGLE
incoming regional president | Cone Health
Cagle, 61, joined Cone in 2013 as chief medical officer, becoming chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2018.
She is stepping into the five-hospital system’s
top spot after its merger with Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare is approved. The University of Alabama graduate is succeeding Terry Akin, CEO since 2014.
First job: Sears catalog girl
Employer’s distinction: Our culture is caring for each other, our patients and our community.
Proud family accomplishment: My 37-year marriage with my husband, Randy, and raising two fine sons, Robert and Joseph
Favorite passion: University of Alabama football
Person you admire: My grandmother, Mary Ada Sammons, who was born in Appalachian Kentucky in the early 1900s. Her small community sent her to Kentucky Teachers’ College. When she returned, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse, providing education for the entire county. She taught me the value of education and the difference it can make it in your life. She was always gracious, elegant, firm and proud of her beginnings.
Favorite recent book: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Favorite music: Southern rock and gospel
CEO | OrthoCarolina
Cohen has led the independent orthopedics network since 2016 while also keeping his own practice. It is one of the nation’s largest with 300-plus providers, seeing more than 1 million patients annually. He is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Medical College of Georgia.
president | UNC Health Care Network Hospitals
Ellington has been president since 2008 after working for health care systems in four other states. He has an accounting degree from Clemson University and a University of Phoenix MBA. The 14-hospital system signed a contract to manage Southeastern Health in Lumberton in December.
CEO | Pinehurst Medical Clinic
Enfinger, 40, heads Pinehurst Medical Clinic, which has more than 100 doctors and 19 locations in four counties. He has a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University and a Gardner-Webb University MBA.[Read More
First job: Drive-in restaurant cook
North Carolina’s challenge: We must utilize all available avenues to enable timely access to the approved COVID vaccines.
Proud family accomplishment: My wife and children for focusing on education despite the pandemic’s distractions
Person you admire: My dad for his work ethic
Favorite recent book: Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
CEO | FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Foster, 49, is a graduate of East Carolina University and Central Michigan University. He oversees more than 5,000 employees in 15 counties in the mid-Carolinas.Read More
First job: Busboy
Employer’s distinction: A health system in rural North Carolina, FirstHealth boasts awards that rival many larger medical centers. It is the state’s only hospital to have received the Outstanding Patient Experience designation from Healthgrades for eight years in a row, 13 times overall. It also was named a Top Rural Hospital by Leapfrog.
North Carolina’s challenge: Ensuring infrastructure supports the needs of communities as the state’s population continues to grow
Proud family accomplishment: My wife and I are most proud of our daughter, who is a sophomore at East Carolina University’s Honors College. She is pursuing her dream to work in the medical field. We are proud of her dedication, drive and work ethic.
Favorite passion: East Carolina University Pirate football. I love going to games and tailgating with friends. I’ve been a season-ticket holder for more than 20 years.
Person you admire: Retired Cone Health CEO Tim Rice. I worked for him for many years. He taught me how to run a hospital effectively and efficiently and instilled the importance of employee engagement.
Favorite music: Country, especially Luke Combs
Something surprising: I have a bucket list. I’ve been very blessed to travel and experience many different events.
JULIE A. FREISCHLAG
CEO | Wake Forest Baptist Health
With her titles — CEO, medical school dean, Atrium Health Enterprise chief academic officer — it’s surprising that Freischlag, 66, has time to continue practicing as a top vascular surgeon. A University of Illinois and Rush University graduate, she added responsibilities when Wake and Atrium agreed to partner last year, creating a behemoth with $11 billion in revenue and more than 40 hospitals that serve 7 million people.Read More
First job: Grocery bagger
Employer’s distinction: We employ more than 20,000 faculty and staff as well as trainees in medicine and nursing.
North Carolina’s challenge: Getting past COVID and Medicaid expansion
Best advice: When I was 6 and just skipped first grade, my grandfather said that they will tell you that you cannot do things, but you are going to tell them that you can.
Proud family accomplishment: Everyone has jobs that they enjoy, and they have their own families, who are growing and happy.
Person you admire: Queen Elizabeth, who has been a force for decades and wears great hats
Favorite recent book: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
Something surprising: I craft — sewing, painting and needlework — making gifts.
DONALD R. GINTZIG
president, CEO | WakeMed Health & Hospitals
Gintzig, 62, landed as WakeMed’s interim chief in 2013 and CEO in 2014. The retired rear admiral and George Washington University graduate took control in rough waters after the previous CEO resigned in a Medicare billing scandal. WakeMed competes effectively against the Duke and UNC hospital systems in Wake County. Annual revenue exceeded expenses by an average $63 million between 2018 and 2020.Read More
Employer’s distinction: WakeMed is of the community, by the community and for all of the community.
Best advice: “Never mistake kindness for weakness.” (my dad)
Proud family accomplishment: A legacy of humbly serving others
executive vice president, chief business development officer | Novant Health
Gizdic, 51, came to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in 2005 and was named CEO in 2017. He helped negotiate last year’s merger with Novant Health. He has an undergraduate degree from Penn State University and MBA and master’s of health administration from Pfeiffer University.Read More
Employer’s distinction: For many years, New Hanover Regional Medical Center was a rarity — a thriving public nonprofit hospital that received no direct public financial support. In 2019, we explored a partnership to advance our mission and meet the future health care needs of our growing region. We are now part of the Novant Health family, and we look forward to all we can do together to care for our community.
North Carolina’s challenge: Efficiently and equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines
Favorite passion: Fitness and working out, for the personal challenge, focus on wellness and camaraderie. I compete in triathlon relays with friends.
CEO | Wilmington Health
A Marine veteran, James has been CEO of the physician-owned multispecialty clinic with 22 sites since 2008. A national speaker on health care finance and accountable care organizations intended to curb medical costs, he holds two degrees from Eastern Illinois University.
president, CEO | North Carolina Healthcare Association
Lawler, 61, has led the hospital industry group since 2017 after serving as a Vidant Health executive and in the U.S. Army’s medical service corps. He is a Citadel graduate with an MBA from Georgia Southern University.Read More
First job: Farm worker
North Carolina’s challenge: Providing high-quality, equitable, accessible health care
Person you admire: President George H.W. Bush
Best advice: “You don’t have to be in charge to be important.” (an Army platoon sergeant)
Favorite passion: My wonderful family
Favorite recent book: The Book of Joy by 14th Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams
director | Robert J. Margolis Center for Health Policy
With degrees from the University of Texas, Harvard University and MIT, McClellan is a health care industry thought leader. He led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 2002 through 2004 then became the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator until 2006. He joined Duke University in 2016.
JOHN “SANDY” MCNEILL JR.
CEO | Liberty Healthcare and Rehabilitation
Forefathers founded a Shallotte pharmacy in 1875. McNeill and his brother Ronnie lead a company that includes about 20 nursing homes that employ an estimated 2,500 and offer skilled nursing, rehab, therapy, hospice and other services, plus a pharmacy and medical supply sales business. He is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate. The McNeills invested in Wilmington’s fledgling Pharmaceutical Product Development Corp. in 1989 with founder Fred Eshelman, retaining half interest for many years. In 2011, Eshelman sold PPD to an investment group for nearly $4 billion.
CEO | Cape Fear Valley Health
Nagowski has led the state’s eighth-largest health care system, which has 7,100 employees, since 2008. The not-for-profit’s flagship, which opened in 1956, is Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. Cape Fear has nearly doubled its revenue during his tenure. He has a St. Bonaventure University MBA.
CEO | EmergeOrtho-Triangle Region
Overbey was named CEO in 2020, arriving from Proliance Surgeons of Seattle to administer the system’s 18 locations in 10 counties. He got his undergraduate degree at N.C. State University and MBA at Pfeiffer University.
CEO | Tryon Medical Partners
Owen, 61, and 90 other Atrium Health doctors shook up Queen City medicine by forming the region’s biggest private practice with more than 150,000 patients in September 2018. The cardiologist is a UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University School of Medicine graduate.Read More
Employer’s distinction: We’re the nation’s first significant multispecialty physician group to leave a hospital system.
Best advice: Leadership is having the conviction to do as Martin Luther King Jr. stated: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Favorite passion: Evergreen trees — studying, growing, planting and saving them
president, CEO | CaroMont Health
Peek, 50, grew up in the community served by the system he leads. A Gaston College and UNC Charlotte graduate with an MBA from Amberton University in Texas, he leads one of the state’s largest remaining independent systems with about 4,000 employees and $650 million in annual revenue. His route to CaroMont’s top job in 2017 included stops at a large Salvation Army system and assistant county manager in Mecklenburg County. CaroMont’s quality rankings often top many bigger rivals in Business North Carolina’s annual rankings. It’s working on a $350 million expansion that includes a new hospital in Belmont.Read More
Employer’s distinction: The most powerful aspect of health and healing isn’t technology or treatments. It’s the people who use those tools to help change and save lives.
North Carolina’s challenge: Reconcile the polarization and ever-widening chasm between differing ideologies. Collaboration and compromise, as well as a commitment to individual accountability, are the only ways we move forward.
Best advice: “If someone else can do it, you can do it, too. You might have to work harder and longer, but you can do it.” (my dad)
People you admire: Our health care professionals
CEO | U.S. Radiology Specialists
The pandemic cut his company’s revenue sharply early last year before recovering. But the DePauw University graduate, who earned an MBA at Northwestern University, is undeterred. The 3,000-employee business does more than 6 million radiology studies a year. He joined the company in 2018 after serving as CEO of United Kingdom-based Bio Products Laboratory.Read More
First job: Working at a hot dog factory
Employer’s distinction: We provide our patients the highest level of quality, value and service at our 150 outpatient imaging centers and more than 60 hospitals in 14 states. In the past three years, we have increased our revenue to $900 million from $140 million.
Best advice: “John, there is no doubt you are in a race, but there is no one ahead of you, and there is no one behind you. You are the only one in the race, and you are racing against yourself.” (my executive coach)
Favorite recent books: Educated by Tara Westover, Building a Life Worth Living by Marsha Linehan, The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis and The Body by Bill Bryson
Favorite music: Coldplay
Something surprising: I have moved 13 times.
CEO | Vidant Health
Closely tied to East Carolina University and Brody School of Medicine, Vidant’s nine hospitals and 12,000 employees serve a region of more than 1.5 million residents. Waldrum, 59, was named CEO in 2015. He previously was president of the University of Arizona Health Network and spent 17 years as a University of Alabama School of Medicine professor. He has a medical degree from the University of Alabama and a University of Michigan MBA.Read More
First job: Night shift orderly
Employer’s distinction: We’re eastern North Carolina’s largest employer and were formed to advance the health of the region.
North Carolina’s challenge: Economic recovery from the pandemic including our rural communities
Best advice: Always learn and be open to new experiences.
Proud family accomplishment: Our four children and five grandchildren
Favorite passion: Golf
Person you admire: My father for his steadfast commitment to providing for his family
Decision you would change: Riding my bike too fast. Ouch!
Favorite recent book: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Favorite music: Rock ‘n’ roll
Something surprising: I play the guitar but not well.
A. EUGENE WASHINGTON
president, CEO | Duke University Health System
Washington arrived in Durham in 2015 after leading the UCLA Health System. A women’s health policy expert, he has a medical degree from the University of California at San Francisco. Duke’s system employs 19,000 and has nearly $4 billion in annual revenue.
managing director | Rex Health Ventures
Watkins, 48, has headed the venture fund affiliated with UNC Rex Healthcare since 2012, helping foster innovation in early- and mid-stage companies in services, information technology and biopharma. She is a graduate of N.C. State University and has master’s and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill.Read More
First jobs: Babysitting, mowing grass, bagging groceries, waiting tables and working at a record store
Employer’s distinction: We invest in the discovery and development of new treatments, tools, products and services that foster innovation and positively impact health care. Every team we support will improve the human condition and people’s health and welfare.
Best advice: Stay within the area I can see, take on the things where I can make a difference, and listen first. (Erskine Bowles, my best mentor)
Favorite passions: Community service, cooking, reading and outdoor activities
president, CEO | Atrium Health
Woods, 56, has led the 42-hospital system since 2016 and led its combination with Wake Forest Baptist Health to establish Charlotte’s first medical school. The Penn State University graduate chaired the American Hospital Association and is an outspoken proponent of diversity and inclusion.Read More
Best advice: “Don’t believe your press clippings — good or bad.”
Proud family accomplishment: My two boys, who have big hearts, a strong work ethic and are pursuing their dreams
Favorite passion: Playing guitar and recording original music
Favorite recent book: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight