“I think you need to go fly”: An Interview with Ben Carter

Benjamin Carter, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Trinity Health, was a speaker at a recent Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC) conference that I attended. I was looking forward to meeting him because a colleague, Mary Kay Plona, spoke so highly of him and the influence he had been in her career and life. Unfortunately, stepping out to take an urgent call, I not only missed the session, I missed meeting him. Dang!

Mary Kay was kind enough, and Ben generous enough, to set up a recent BOLD leader conversation, for which I’m very grateful.

BOLD is an acronym for rare individuals that possess the combination of skills and abilities to change the fortunes of the organizations they serve, for the better. They do this because they Believe – in possibilities beyond today, are Open – to new ideas, Learn – their way to better answers, and Do – get their hands dirty as they actively work to realize a positive change.

In minutes it was clear, Ben is definitely a BOLD leader. He has the curiosity, confidence, empathy and trusting nature it takes to be BOLD. We discussed many things, but the most pervasive theme in our conversation was Ben’s insatiable appetite for learning and doing.

Flying is an example of how far Ben will go to master anything to which he puts his mind. Not satisfied with a private pilot license, he earned credentials at several levels along the way to earning his instrument rating, multi-engine rating, and commercial license and continues as an instructor. Why? Simply because he loves to fly. It energizes him. It provides free space and a change of perspective for him.

“I think you need to go fly” came up when I asked Ben what he does to clear his head and refocus when facing a difficult challenge. Ben quoted his wife several times in the interview. Clearly, he listens to and values her suggestions. She knows that flying provides the inspiration he needs to look beyond the status quo.

Flying was a theme, but not unique in Ben’s desire to learn. He has an eternal intellectual appetite and mentioned reading all the time from many sources. And, so, of course, he had read BOLD by the time we spoke for the first time and had clearly absorbed the content.   So I asked him if he viewed himself in this same perspective.

“I really do. It is probably why a lot of what you talk about in the book struck a chord with me. I am very passionate about the work I do, the organization I work for, and the opportunity to work with so many smart people.”

“I sometimes get accused of getting too deep. I want to know. I want to understand. What makes it work? How does it work? How can we do this together? How can we make it better?” He went on, “I was the guy growing up that tore everything apart to understand how it works.”

But learning – even deeply – and thinking about challenges is not enough for Ben. “I’ve known a lot of ‘thinkers’ who don’t get anything done. That drives me crazy! I’m the doer, and I can be the translator for the organization. In my role today, I’m also the fix-it person.” Often this means tearing down a situation to diagnose it, repair or rebuild it, and get it working better.

Ben knows he needs to engage and empower others and with them create and execute on a strategy. As he says, “It is really hard work. Really tough decisions need to be made and then acted upon.” And like other BOLD leaders I have interviewed, his inner circle – those he deeply trusts – is made up of a very select few.

Identifying talent, working with them to build their own capabilities, and guiding them are critical to driving change. Ben had several examples of doing this successfully. He also talked about how sometimes you have to face a mistake in your talent assessment and make a change. In his role he is often the one leading the integration of an acquisition. Ben noted that “as you start gathering evidence, you have to be open to recognize problems or mistakes in judgment and make course corrections.” Ben gave a couple examples. In one acquisition, after getting in and understanding the full situation, he had to remove all the executive leadership team and the Board and replace them with new leaders to turn the organization around. In another scenario, he thought he had the right person for the job. The person said all the right things but couldn’t translate their ideas into action and results. (A thinker, not a doer!) He had to recognize his misjudgment and make a change.

He also told several stories of his own development and of several important, influential bosses and mentors throughout his career who provided this very service for him. They saw his potential and helped him develop into the leader he is today. “I learned something valuable from every boss that I have ever worked for. Sometimes what not to do, as well as what to do. I’ve told my four adult children, you can learn as much from a bad boss as a good one – just pay attention to what you are learning!”

Coming full circle to his own needs in times of difficult decision making and actions, Ben turns to the advice of his wife as he says, “I go fly. It is where I relax the most. It has a way of calming me.” Flying gives him a 360-degree view – and from his experiences has taught him to “Take it all in. Think about where you’re at, what the circumstances are, where you can pivot, and what adjustments you need to make. You always have to make adjustments based on what is happening at the time.” True of flying and certainly true in any transformational situation!

When you need a 360 view, a change of perspective, space to open ideas and possibilities, what do you do? We’d love to hear your stories, too.

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.