ThedaCare CEO Dean Gruner to Retire; What’s Next for ThedaCare?


A few weeks ago, I saw this announcement about Dean Gruner, MD, the second CEO to lead ThedaCare during their Lean journey:

Dr. Dean Gruner, ThedaCare President and CEO, Announces Retirement

“Dean Gruner, MD, president and CEO of ThedaCare since April 2008, today announced his plans to retire. Dr. Gruner began in healthcare 40 years ago, has served this community for 33 years, and has served as President and CEO of ThedaCare since April 2008.”

Congratulations and best wishes to Dean on his retirement! He has been a great leader and advocate for healthcare improvement.

Gruner was previously Chief Medical Officer at ThedaCare, when he succeeded John Toussaint, MD as CEO of the system. It was Toussaint who started their Lean journey.

2018 Update: What's Going on at ThedaCare?

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What comes next? As Toussaint wrote about in chapter 9 of his first book On the Mend, succession planning is one of the most important things a health system's leaders, including its board can do.

It reads, in part:


And he continued:


There is great risk during these executive transitions when an organization is relatively new to Lean, as I wrote about earlier this year when a new CEO basically killed a different health systems's Lean program:

I wouldn't expect the same thing to happen at ThedaCare, where they've been on this journey for about 14 years and they've had great results.

Gruner's Article on Succession

Dean recently wrote an article on this topic:

A Leader's Most Important Role

He writes:

“I'm also confident in the process that will guide ThedaCare to its next leader.

Why? Because we made succession planning a priority almost immediately after my appointment as CEO.

From speakers and leadership books over the years, I've noticed the best leaders start succession planning right out of the gates. So, I decided early on to set aside one executive committee meeting a year dedicated to succession planning.”

They've had short-term (aka emergency or sudden need) succession plans and long-term plans that would be used in planned succession moments like this.

It's great to hear (and not surprising) that ThedaCare has plans and a process for replacing Gruner. I hope the ThedaCare board still places the same priority in finding somebody who is a Lean leader, to continue and further improve upon their approach. Gruner was promoted as an internal candidate (as had been Toussaint when he was also promoted from CMO to CEO).

Some Podcasts with Dean Gruner

Here are two podcasts that I did with Dean a few years ago:

And you might also want to check out this blog post I wrote about his view on safety:

Again, best wishes to Dean and everybody at ThedaCare for the future!

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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