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University Health Network is a health care and medical research organization in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The scope of research and complexity of cases at UHN has made us a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care.
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Midway into a free-flowing discussion about his ambitious vision as UHN's new EVP and Chief Business Officer, Larry Baldachin considers the wisdom of moving into healthcare after a successful career as a senior executive at top tier private corporations in communications, technology and retail.
He pauses. He smiles. He delivers.
"Every night, I go home and think to myself, 'Oh my gosh, what have I got myself into?' It was so much easier to sell cellphones and computers than do what I'm doing today. And, I got tickets to go see the Raptors and the Leafs and Rihanna whenever I wanted."
But seriously folks. While Larry is the first to acknowledge his absence of experience among those in healthcare's "front office" – clinicians, researchers, educators, frontline staff – he's convinced the team he leads can benefit the entire UHN community with its focus on the vital yet often lower profile things – infrastructure, more efficient procurement and financial systems, maximizing commercial activities.
"It's about bringing our back office up to the same level of proficiency as our front office," he says. "And, it's got everything to do with the patient because at the end of the day, our group, even though we don't touch patients directly, enable the clinicians, researchers and educators to be their absolute best.
"We need to have that mindset and take that into account in everything we're doing."
Still settling into the role he began at the start of June, Larry is quick to offer a broad range of examples. Some involve increasing commercialization and tapping new revenue sources. Others are about streamlining the process for building new infrastructure that helps attract and retain top talent, reducing UHN's leased space and aligning financial reporting so donors know better how their funds are being used.
Opportunities for commercial growth
Larry recognizes these are foreign concepts to some people, not just at UHN and other hospitals, but across the public sector. Historically, growth and boundaries have been set by the province and donors.
"Hospitals now have to generate sources of income outside of a traditional public model," says Larry, a longtime Toronto-based technology company executive whose resume includes overseeing large divisions at retailer Canadian Tire Corp. and computer giant Dell Inc. and its Canadian subsidiary, as well as running the $2-billion-a-year Enterprise Business Unit at Rogers Communications Inc.
He sees an opportunity to "invest in and grow" Altum Health, which focuses on the delivery of healthcare to injured workers, by moving beyond core rehabilitation services for the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to include the auto sector, other insurers and international clients.
Larry's group is also looking to work with the UHN office of Technology Development & Commercialization to develop a process that accelerates the transformation of research innovation. And, he says, all other commercial operations, from retail space to parking, present opportunities.
"We've got all these different activities that collectively are generating over a quarter of a billion dollars a year for UHN," he says. "How do we take that and make it $350 million, $400 million?
"And, the more successful we are, the more money we've got, the more capital we've got, to go back and invest in our own plant and into research and into education and into clinical services.
"That's the vision and that's what's so exciting about the job."
Dynamic, exciting, rewarding environment
In addition to improving the state of repair in parts of UHN buildings he describes as "special, old and needy," Larry also envisions a retail renaissance. He says there's a need to invest in spaces that excite people – staff, patients, caregivers, visitors and the public – and points to the PATH, Toronto's underground pedestrian walkway, as an example of how vibrant and dynamic a shopping area could be.
"We shouldn't sacrifice any of our aspirations or dull any of our dreams because we're in the public sector," he says. "People who come to work at UHN don't necessarily come here because it pays a huge amount of money, they come here because they love it and they believe in what we're doing.
"I want to ensure that we have the most dynamic, most exciting, most rewarding environment for all of our staff, volunteers, consultants and partners across the city and around the world."
Larry admits one of his biggest challenges will be to "temper my enthusiasm and deliver progress at a pace UHN can ingest and digest," not always a key consideration in his previous positions.
"You can drive change rapidly in an environment that's innovative by its very nature, like telco or technology," he says. "Driving change here, and particularly that it's an academic institution, is going to be different and will take a different tonality and that's what I have to learn."
Learning is what Larry's early days at UHN have been about. Developing an understanding of the place, the sector and its funding model, the corporate businesses and the key opportunities, are enlightening and thrilling to a guy who jokes that he's got fewer letters after his name than virtually everyone here.
"I never ever imagined, in a million years, that there would be a job at this hospital that would match the skills and experience that I have and that would attract me to come here," he says. "The last business card that I ever imagined I would have is a UHN business card.
"It's such a big change. But I love it. It's fascinating. There's never a day that's the same.
"There's never a day that I didn't feel that I made a difference."