Bob Sutton has begun his tenure as Avera's new President and CEO, succeeding John Porter, who is retiring after 44 years of leadership to the organization.
Sutton's appointment followed a rigorous, national search process. "Bob brings important experience from both health care and non-health care leadership. His visionary leadership skills will continue Avera's growth and strategic development as one of the nation's most sophisticated health systems delivering rural health care," said Sr. Mary Kay Panowicz, Avera System Member and Chair of the CEO Search Committee.
"Mission is the foundational, fundamental core of our organization, and I aspire to lead with vision and courage as we set a clear direction for growth and future strengthening of our organization," Sutton said.
A lifelong South Dakotan, Sutton was born at McKennan Hospital and graduated from Hill City High School. He holds a Master's of Public Administration degree from The University of South Dakota in Vermillion, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, also from USD. He and his wife, Lori, have two grown children, Madison and Matthew.
Sutton has 25+ years of professional leadership experience, most recently as Avera Executive Vice President of Human Resources. He has been with Avera since 2013 and has served in roles that include Regional President and CEO of Avera St. Mary's Hospital in Pierre and Senior Vice President of Community Relations. Sutton also recently served as President of the South Dakota Board of Regents.
His wealth of professional and executive experience includes positions as President of the South Dakota Community Foundation, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for Citibank of South Dakota, Executive Vice President for the South Dakota Bankers Association, Executive Director of both the South Dakota Petroleum Council and South Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association, and Executive Director of the South Dakota Association of County Officials.
"Getting my first job as executive director of the South Dakota Association of County Officials was really a matter of being in the right place at the right time. As I developed professionally I encountered opportunities to serve in varied executive roles before coming to Avera," Sutton said. "That's why I always encourage people that if you're given an opportunity and you're not sure you can do it – try it anyway! You never know where it might lead you."
During his 10 years as the President of the South Dakota Community Foundation, he estimates he drove about 65,000 miles a year around the state.
"During those years of driving around the state, it was driven home to me just how strong the commitment to quality health care is in rural South Dakota," he said. "And no other organization makes that commitment like Avera." Avera facilities have the highest percentage of hospital discharges across the state, at 40.8 percent.
His new role at Avera is a culmination in his career, Sutton says. "All my experience and all my life really have prepared me for this role that I'm now assuming. My goal is to be transformational and lead proactive change."
Growth and momentum are certainly part of the picture. "Yet growth must be strategic and it must be in directions in which we are called to go," Sutton said.
"We have some key projects underway right now that are progressive, but also very strategic," Sutton said. Late September marks the opening of the Helmsley Center in Pierre that will be home to the sixth Avera Cancer Institute location. "We already offered cancer care in Pierre, but this is the first time that radiation oncology is offered there. In the past, patients and families have had to drive hundreds of miles for this level of care."
In Sioux Falls, the Avera on Louise Health Campus includes three major developments – a surgical hospital and medical office building that emphasizes orthopedics and gastroenterology, the Avera Addiction Care Center, and the Avera Human Performance Center. "Sioux Falls is growing and we're striving to stay ahead of the curve with new facilities that will increase access to convenient, patient-centered care."
Under Sutton's leadership, Avera Health will be conducting strategic planning over the next six months, and he sees this as an opportunity to create achievable benchmarks. "Our goals must be easy to understand, attainable, measurable, and such that every employee at every level knows how their work is contributing to that goal," he said.
"I am honored that the Sisters who lead Avera have placed their confidence in me as President and CEO, and at the same time I'm humbled to follow those who have provided such tremendous leadership in the past. I'm excited to work together with the Sisters and my Avera colleagues to continue to meet the challenges of our time and move Avera forward as a leading health care organization," Sutton said.