Mark Slyter | Christ Follower & Leader in Healthcare

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by Marilyn Tinnin

Mark Slyter, the 43 year old President of Baptist Medical Center and CEO of Baptist Health Systems, learned early on that whatever the task, his job is to prepare and to leave the outcome in the capable hands of God. Such a modus operandi has served him well and has resulted in a notable and unusual mix of humility and confidence. He credits his mother with a great understanding of child psychology. She raised her four children to be leaders by consistently telling them how well they did everything! Mark jokes that she was basically “brainwashing” them, but actually this was her way of encouraging them to maximize the gifts God had given them.

He adds in a self-deprecating way that his father was a great balance. His mother may have believed her offspring were close to perfect, but it was Ray, his dad, who provided a healthy dose of down-to-earth reality. There was always room for improvement and one never sat back and rested on his laurels – or believed he or she was quite as wonderful as their mom said!

Mark came to Baptist in 2009 as COO and took over as CEO in September, 2011, with the retirement of Kurt Metzner. He arrived with an impressive resume and much experience under his belt for one so young. His first hospital administrator position literally fell in his lap at the age of 26 when he was asked to serve on an interim basis while doing a fellowship at a five hospital system in Greenville, South Carolina. He carried out that temporary job so well that the CEO came to him after six months and suggested he just accept it as permanent!

“That was kind of the launching ground that got me on a quick start with my career,” he says. “I was just very blessed because when I think about it over time, I realize how God just leads you on a path,” he says. “God put me with the right people who were very supportive and who gave me a chance. There is really no doubt who is guiding my life.”

However, hospital administration was not on Mark’s radar when he chose a college major. He majored in Exercise Science with an eye toward medical school, but when he had the opportunity to do an internship in the early 1990’s with a hospital administrator in Topeka, he stumbled into a field for which he discovered great passion and gifts. As part of his school project, he was one member of a collaborative team whose assignment was to formulate a healthcare reform plan. This was 1993 during the Clinton administration and the first attempt at reform through “Hillary-care.” Mark found himself quite caught up in the debate.

The administrator who had become something of a mentor for Mark suggested to him that he look into hospital administration instead of medical school. Even though he had already taken the MCAT, had been accepted and was poised to enter his first year, he took to heart that suggestion.

He discovered a lot to like about the healthcare administration program at the University of Kansas. And as they say, the rest is history.

Beginnings

Augusta, Kansas, is a small All American town – today’s population 9000 – about twenty miles east of Wichita. The third of four children born to Ray and Hazel Slyter, Mark had an older brother and sister and a younger sister. Church and school were the backbone of the community and the Slyter family had prominent roles in both.

Ray Slyter taught woodworking and coached football in the local middle school. He passed both of those skills to his son who is also quite a craftsman. Hazel Slyter, the quintessential mom, was a math, computer science and home economics teacher as well as the pianist at the local Baptist Church. The Slyter children, therefore, spent the majority of their formative years at either school or church! If the church doors opened, the Slyter family was there.

But Ray and Hazel lived their faith day in and day out before their children. “Cradle Christian” is a pretty applicable description of Mark, who says he came to know Jesus Christ at a young age and never doubted his dependence or need.

In high school, Mark played saxophone in band, was voted “Best Legs” and participated in every sport. With his characteristic excellence, a hallmark of the Slyter family, he won the Kansas high school wrestling championship in his senior year. Football, however, was his first love and he went on to play Division One football at the University of Kansas.

Mark says he learned much about depending on God during his high school athletic competitions.  It was after he won the wrestling championship that it dawned on him that the outcome had been completely a “God thing,” and that outcomes were always in God’s hands. His job was to prepare to the very best of his ability and to be ready to give the task his all.

“That taught me something,” he says. “That helped me have the confidence when I was moving to South Carolina for the fellowship.” Even though he was hardly a world traveler at the time and had spent his entire life close to Augusta, he embraced the adventure of moving from Kansas to South Carolina where he had no connections or friends…or a cheerleader like his mother! He knew God was guiding his steps and saying, “Trust me.”

When he was offered the position of administrator after being there only five months, Mark says it was as though God was saying to him, “See. I’m proving to you that I brought you here.”

Greenville, South Carolina, was home to Mark for eight years. The tenacity and work ethic that his parents had instilled in him provided the foundation for success. He was eventually asked to serve as administrator of a second hospital in that system.

Still single and open to adventure, Mark was approached in 2001 about a hospital system in Jacksonville, Florida that needed a vice president of operations. He decided to give it a try, and once again he marvels at God’s way of saying, “See. I’m proving to you I brought you here.”

This time it was the unexpected blessing of meeting his future wife Lisa.

Marriage

Lisa Hennings Slyter, an LSU graduate and  Baton Rouge native, received her post-graduate degree in physical therapy from the University of St. Augustine. Her passion is children, and she worked in the Jacksonville schools with special needs children for ten years.

Pretty, outgoing, and a sports enthusiast like Mark, Lisa was involved in another relationship when the two met through a mutual friend soon after Mark moved to Jacksonville. Six months later they met a second time through another mutual friend. This time Lisa was unattached, and the two began to see each other often.

Besides their love for sports, they share a love for travel. In fact, it was during a scuba diving trip in the Bahamas that Mark pulled a ring from his swimming trunks and popped the will-you –marry- me question! A camera crew from their cruise ship caught it all on tape, and every passenger on the cruise got to watch the footage that evening at dinner.

They married in 2007 and have since added Catherine (age 3) and Emma (age 15 months) to their family. When the offer came in 2009 to take the COO position at Baptist Health Systems in Jackson, they jumped at the chance to get closer to Lisa’s family in Baton Rouge. It has been a good move for the family and a good move for Baptist.

Just as Mark’s perception of God’s leading the way took him first to his profession, then to Lisa, he recognizes God’s hand in bringing them to Mississippi. “He shows us every day that He brought us here and we are blessed to be here,” he says.

Being CEO

The demands for the CEO of a healthcare organization the size of Baptist are massive, and only someone who is truly called and gifted for the task could approach it the way Mark does.

Baptist Health Systems is the umbrella which includes not only the hospital Baptist Medical Center, but 18 other hospitals around the state, two Healthplexes in Clinton and Jackson, 15 specialty clinics, five primary care clinics, the Baptist Health Foundation, the MS Hospital for Restorative Care, and Baptist Adult Day Services. There are approximately 450 physicians on staff, and when there is a problem or a complaint, Mark will get a call.

Dr. Charles O’Mara, vascular surgeon who practices with Baptist Cardiovascular Associates, praises Mark’s leadership and his approach to healthcare administration. “He’s a good problem solver. He knows how to listen and is great at assimilating the information and making his decision based on all the facts,” Dr. O’Mara says. “He also hit the ground off and running from the first day. He has had a lot on his plate from the beginning.”

Dr. O’Mara adds, “He also has a commitment to the Christian faith-based mission of Baptist Medical Center and that is just as important as everything else he brings to the job.”

Bill Eubank, chairman of Baptist Health Systems Board of Trustees agrees. “Mark’s obvious leadership skills are enhanced by his core Christian values that have been evident from the first time I met him. He has a passion for healthcare, but it is a passion that is grounded in the recognition of who the Great Physician is and the need to rely upon His wisdom and guidance.  Mark wants Baptist to be the best in delivering quality care and delivering it in the context of being “followers in faith.” In addition, he shares a burden from helping those within our community that are unable to help themselves. His constant encouragement to the employees and staff to go the second and third mile in caring for the patients entrusted to them is a real inspiration to me personally. Mark is a believer who believes that this Christian healing ministry can make a difference in two worlds…and he lives it.”

Mark admits that he intentionally strives for balance in his approach to his personal life and his career demands. “Overall, my style is focused on wanting the best for the organization and every individual associated with it. That takes focus and that takes every now and then getting into the details. We’re an organization that is guided by faith in Christ and so when you have an organization you’re working with that’s so alive with the values of who you are it just makes it so much easier to deliver, to manage and it is a much more rewarding environment to work in.”

Lisa reiterates her husband’s ability to balance…or maybe juggle with such precision his many roles. His days are often long, and most of them start early and end late, but his energy level is constant and he is a master at focus and giving his full attention to work at work and home at home. He manages to get in his daily fitness work-outs, guard his family time on weekends, and thoroughly enjoy the company of Lisa and their “two giggly little girls” who get so excited when Daddy comes home.