TulsaPeople Q&A: Jake Henry Jr.

President and CEO, Saint Francis Health System; 2013 chairman, Tulsa Regional Chamber



Photo courtesy of Shane Bevel / Saint Francis Health System

Jake Henry Jr. joined Saint Francis Health System more than a decade ago. Previously, he served as the head of various hospitals and health systems in Texas and California. This year, he takes over leadership of the Tulsa Regional Chamber Board of Directors.

TulsaPeople caught up with Henry at Saint Francis Hospital, where he shared thoughts on his focus as chamber board chairman, including the opportunities and challenges facing Tulsa’s business community.

What will be your focus as chamber chairman?

I think continuing the strategies and initiatives that we have already begun that are designed to promote regional economic growth. I’ll also work on garnering greater public support for those elements such as river development and quality-of-life projects.

We need to emphasize those aspects of Tulsa that are the positives, and one is … the river. How can we make it better, and also how do we better publicize the low cost of living and the educational attainment of this community, which is quite high? Being an advocate and lead spokesman for this business community is extraordinarily important.

What about Tulsa encouraged you to take this position?

I see a much more progressive sense of moving ahead in this community notwithstanding what occurred in the last election.

I think about Tulsa’s generosity, all the amenities that are offered here in terms of culture, the can-do attitude of the business community and the pretty straightforward dialogue that occurs.

I think you can do whatever you’re big enough to do in this town. So, if you have a vision as to what something can be and you’re willing to work, there are very few entrenched interests in this town that will keep you from doing it.

How do you see your role as Tulsa Regional Chamber chairman?

Well, I’m very direct and I do business that way. I’m a big believer in planning and I’m a big believer in long-term focus. I don’t like doing things for a quick shot. You’ve got to take the long view and don’t go with things that result in instant gratification. You do things that have strong underpinnings where the infrastructure is there, and you make the hard decisions that you’ve got to make, and you don’t sugarcoat things.

I think you’ve got to lead by example. If you’re not the real thing, you might fool some people for a while, but there will come a time when you won’t be able to.

We all have to give account as leaders for things that we promulgate, those things that we nurture and for those things that we bring off the stove. There’s a biblical verse that says, “By their works you shall know them,” and I believe that to be true.

What is your take on Tulsa’s business environment? How would you like to see it improve?

No. 1, I would say generally our business environment is better than most. We’ve got a low unemployment rate, but there are a number of issues out there on the horizon that have the potential of slowing things down, not the least of which is the fiscal cliff and the impact these discussions may have on taxes, job retention and job growth.

There’s the issue of the American Airlines bankruptcy proceedings and how those might influence the company’s plans with respect to the maintenance operation that’s here. That’s a huge economic impact and I can’t really speculate on what might occur, but it’s a significant issue that is going to have a dramatic impact on our economic trajectory. So, from my perspective, it’s unfortunate that we didn’t fix that in the election.   

No. 2, I think the mantra that we need to embrace is that growth locally contributes to growth regionally. So, what’s good for Jenks is good for Broken Arrow, is good for Owasso and has the potential of benefiting the entire region. Achievement of these goals means we need to nurture and promote efforts that underpin our economic development as a region.

With President Obama’s re-election, what impact do you think the Affordable Care Act will have on the health care industry and the business climate in general?

I think the law will stand. It’s a big document, and I’ve not read the whole thing, but I certainly understand those parts that apply to organizations like Saint Francis, and there are many organizations that are impacted that are not hospitals. 

I do think the Affordable Care Act is correct in that we can take lots of waste out of the system, and if we take the waste out maybe we can really impede and even stop the growth of costs that are associated with the American health care system. Health care reform has been so divisive in our country and it’s unfortunate to me that health care, which is a good thing, has become that way.

People understand that we are going to have to do some things because we can’t continue on the trajectory we’re on. Health care costs continue to outpace workers’ earnings at a rate of about 3-to-1; it’s about 18 percent of the GDP, and those are trends that can’t be ignored.

What are you passionate about when it comes to civic engagement?

I just like learning things. It’s fun. The United Way was a great board to serve on and really taught me about the giving spirit of this city.

The chamber is teaching me a lot about politics, and that’s not something I’ve ever been terribly involved in except as it relates to health care, so understanding the inner workings of state politics is a heck of an education.

You always want to take things to the next level and not be satisfied with the status quo.

How do you spend your spare time?

I’m an awful golfer. I’ve never shot below 100. As a matter of fact, I’m not much of a jock, period. I always kind of wished I was, but I was from a poor family and I had to go to work the summer after sixth grade, and most of what I’ve done in my life is work.

But I got lucky. I’ve been married for 43 years to my one and only wife. I have a daughter in Dallas and two grandchildren, and I love to spend time with them. I’m also a big, big reader. I’ve got about 15 mysteries going simultaneously, and I probably have everything John le Carré ever wrote. The truth is I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I’ve gotten to be in the profession I’ve wanted to be in for 37 years, and I’ve actually been a part of making very positive change in almost every situation I’ve been in … that is enormously gratifying.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

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