Atul Gawande seems like a pretty busy guy. He’s a surgeon and holds two Harvard professorships. He founded and helps to run a non-profit organization aimed at improving medical care. He’s a staff writer at The New Yorker, which apparently does not give him enough column inches, because he’s also the author of four books, one of which he helped turn into a documentary. He is, in the words of our sister publication, “prolific.”
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. along with Amazon.com Inc., and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have appointed surgeon Atul Gawande as chief executive of their partnership to address rising U.S. employee health-care costs….
In addition to running the new venture, Dr. Gawande—also a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine—will continue to practice surgery and keep his position as a professor at Harvard, as well as retaining a role at Ariadne Labs as chairman, according to Ariadne Labs.
Sounds easy. Here’s the thing: While Gawande has done some thinking about the target of the ABC venture—soaring healthcare costs—in between appearances on Comedy Central, some have noted that he doesn’t have a ton of experience actually doing anything about it, or running the kind of gigantic operation that will likely be required to reduce healthcare costs for three giant companies and their 1.3 million employees and which will hopefully serve as a model to deal with the nightmarish pricetag and complexity of the rest of the U.S. healthcare system. No matter: Dude knows how to make a compelling case in person and on paper, and that’s what Buffett lieutenant and ABC search committee chief Todd Combs was looking for.
Berkshire’s Todd Combs did initial interviews with CEO candidates by phone in February, according to people familiar with the discussions. Candidates later were asked to deliver a white paper on how they would create a model for the way employers buy health benefits, what team the CEO would need to execute that strategy and how the new enterprise would use data analytics, the people said.
Executives from the three companies were interested in Dr. Gawande based on his experience at Ariadne Labs, a person familiar with the matter said. The executives also believe with Dr. Gawande’s experience as a surgeon he has seen many successes and failures of the medical system, this person added….
“He’s a really interesting and compelling choice,” said Jim Winkler, a senior vice president at consulting firm Aon PLC. “The biggest challenge he will face is, he doesn’t have a large-scale operational background…he has to build a company.” He suggested that Dr. Gawande would need to quickly hire a team with operations experience.