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Leadership

Here’s What You Missed from Our B-School Featuring Steve Edwards

We hosted CoxHealth’s leader and our Person of the Year to hear his plan for 2021 and get an update about a COVID vaccine.

By Jenna deJong

Dec 10 2020 at 3 p.m.

Logan Aguirre and Steve Edwards at B-School
Photo by Lauren SilvaCoxHealth's Steve Edwards and Biz 417's Logan Aguirre chat at B-School on December 10 at the Hilton Garden Inn.

It’s fitting that if Steve Edwards’ were to write a book, he’d call it “Relaxing is Not Relaxing.” The president and CEO of CoxHealth is our 2020 Person of the Year because of his candid and humble leadership and his ability to steer a major health system during one of the most turbulent years in recent history. We spoke to Edwards at our last B-School of the year to get a glimpse of his leadership style, hear how he manages both a crisis and forward-facing projects, and to get an update on the status of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Facing Forward

One of Edwards’ biggest announcements came toward the end of the webinar: CoxHealth will receive its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccinations on December 17 and will likely begin distributing those to staff on December 21. Edwards said CoxHealth will receive the Moderna vaccine and Mercy will be receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

Edwards compared the vaccine to the likes of a little card that sends messages to a computer that tells the machine how to fight off a virus. The vaccine is not an attenuated vaccine, meaning it is not a diluted version of COVID-19. Edwards said no health system will guarantee the safety of any vaccination and that it’s a risk like any other, with its own set of pros and cons.

Fighting COVID-19 

So how does Edwards, the leader of a major regional health system, manage a crisis while also maintaining future projects? He says there’s always room for opportunity. While some departments are tackling the local impact of the pandemic head-on, others are facing forward and working on developments that will carry CoxHealth forward once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.

Edwards and his staff also look for ways to fill the gaps, even when the solution is out of the norm. Case in point: When Dr. Terrence Coulter, a pulmonologist at CoxHealth, told Edwards about the defeat some frontline nurses were experiencing, Edwards looped in the marketing department to “plant” metal tulips for every recovered COVID-19 patient. He also enlisted staff members to get the needed approval to play The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” every time a COVID-19 patient is discharged or taken off a ventilator.

He was Built for This

“I think so many people in health care are drawn to a crisis circumstance,” Edwards says. “They are wired that way. They are prepared for it.” Edwards is a planner, so much so that before he was 20 years old he had outlined a detailed spreadsheet that documented both his professional and personal goals. Some of these—like serving on Drury University’s Board of Trustees and becoming the leader of CoxHealth—he’s already achieved. Others—like owning a fishing cabin and learning to play the bagpipes—he’s set aside for now. 

Overall, Edwards works well with structure. He’s always thinking of the endgame and the next step that will take him to where he wants to be, which is a part of what makes him so successful. During the webinar, Edwards said this mindset was ingrained in him at a young age. He said when he played sports growing up, he was usually the smallest kid on the team. During practices and various workouts, he remembered his fellow teammates would “fake it” or wouldn’t push through. “I had this mindset [that] ‘I’m going to always pretend that the coach is looking,’” Edwards said. “Because maybe there’s that one day where he sees you are working hard.” 

When asked to share a “failed it” moment, Edwards rejected the idea, instead saying that failures are “just things that haven’t happened yet.” It’s the things he hasn’t done yet, the goals not yet marked off on his spreadsheet, that he regrets the most. 

Save the date for our next B-School on April 8, 2021. 


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