Deal Makers Interview Series: Jack Tillman
In the Deal Makers Series, we interview leaders, experts, and innovators in the Merger & Acquisition and the Private Equity space about how they get successful deals done. The series highlights perspectives of investors, corporate development executives, and buy and sell-side advisors working across industries and geographies.
For the second installment, we interview Jack Tillman the Head of Corporate Development for a leading network of community hospitals in Georgia.
What is your current role and tell us a little of how you got there?
I’m the Chief Real Estate and Corporate Development Officer for the largest health system in Georgia.
I consider myself a generalist. Over the years I’ve had many different roles from consultant and executive to foundation and a university administrator. But, what has been the running theme of my career is an interest in humanity that’s lead me to work within large non-profits across the education, healthcare, and research sectors.
What were some of the biggest building blocks to helping you achieve your leadership position and personal perception of what is good leadership?
I’ve had a commitment to the truth and being a direct and honest communicator since I was very young. Those were values taught in the Catholic school where I was educated and also by my stepfather who was CFO of a major private corporation. He really educated me on the ways the world, especially the business world, actually works, with a focus on common sense and hard work.
Over the years, I’ve built relationships and mentorships with people who also deeply value truthfulness. My current boss who is a mentor of mine, and a former partner, also a former boss, is a great example. We have a high level of candor with each other and that makes both of us better at our jobs. If you are diligent, thoughtful, honest, and back up opinions with data, you may not know the answer right away, but these values will help you get to the best business outcomes in the long run. Those values, and being a person of consistently high character, enable you to have a straightforward reputation that others will gravitate towards.
You’ve worked on a variety of deals and acquisitions. What are some of the factors that you think contribute to a successful acquisition?
Diligence is super important. It’s important to be thoughtful and honest about what you’re really looking for and develop an opinion early on about what will make a good deal. Then you lay out the spectrum of all the different ways a deal might go, a series of options, from the situation where we don’t act on a deal to the one where we overpay for the acquisition. You then carefully consider all these options and scenarios and make plans from there. There are a million different ways a transaction can go, but the key is to be specific about your assumptions and then try to predict how you expect the people to act. You then do the math and base your decisions on your understanding of all the possible outcomes. I’ve learned a lot of these skills from bankers and lawyers involved in transactions, but I think they are also just a good way to approach business in general.
Having a solid deal team in place is also essential. You can’t see everything and we all have blind spots, so having a partner to point out what you’ve missed and who can help observe all the small details and dynamics going on is important.
Beyond the bankers, lawyers, accountants, experts, you need trusted partners who have your back as you make a deal. Deal teams that take this approach, they get consistently good outcomes.
You’ve always worked for mission-driven organizations where culture plays an important role. How important do you think leadership and culture are in creating value?
They are sort of everything to me personally. I won’t work for people or cultures that I don’t align and harmonize with.
Certainly you can make a lot of money and there are plenty of successful businesses out there that don’t care about those things, but success is fleeting if you don’t have the right leadership and culture in place.
In my work, I regularly meet with the many CEOs of hospitals in our network. It’s a great opportunity to see how different leaders and culture do the same work but in different ways. All our hospitals are focused on quality, safety and service. I’ve found that the highest quality leaders who develop high performing cultures are also the stewards of best financial results, at least in our system. Our best performing assets are those with solid leaders with good business acumen who get the very best performance from their team.
What are those leadership traits that get the best performance? Where exactly do you see the effects of leadership on business outcomes?
Better leadership results in consistent and predicable strong financial returns. These leaders and their organizations still of course have ups and downs, but over time, they provide us predictable and reliable returns. These are the leaders who have a clear understanding of their performance and why it is the way it is. They can explain here is what’s happening, here are the steps I’ll take to address the current situation, and here is the expected result.
These really good leaders are also the ones surrounded by really great people, they are magnetic. Good leadership attracts high performing employees. Good people come in clumps in my experience, they are clumpy. The best leaders unlock the capacity of their teams to perform their best. It feeds on itself.
I also often say that you know who a really good owner is because they can hire bad consultants and experts but still get good outcomes. Weak owners on the other hand may be surrounded by the best consultants and experts, yet their outcomes will continue to suffer. If a leader doesn’t know what they’re doing and does not have good reasons for doing something, then they won’t get the outcomes. Good owners and good leaders drive strong cultures and raise the performance of their teams, internally and externally.
Do you have a way of evaluating the leadership and culture fit of a potential acquisition?
I’m not in the day-to-day of those decisions and evaluations, but for instance we are in the middle of two ten-figure acquisitions and our CEO and EVP are out there interviewing hospital executives. They’re focused on figuring out how real are these people? Will these people follow through what they say they are going to do? Are they going to execute consistently?
I think a great measure of if someone is “real” is if they are willing to admit they don’t know something. They should absolutely have predictions and opinions and they should be clear about their assumptions, but the best admit the limits to their knowledge. Anyone who says they know everything isn’t very honest, and the people around them respond to that.
When we evaluate leaders, we are also looking a lots of body language and observing how people treat others around them. What are the team dynamics? How engaged and present are they? Do they know the names and stories of their colleagues? By observing people and their behavior, what they are doing and what they are not doing, it becomes pretty obvious who the real people are.
As you think about the next few years, what are you most excited about?
Our company’s plate is full. We have multiple acquisitions being finalized, so I’ll be laser focused on integration work for the next year and half or so. I oversee that work and am highly involved at the executive level. We have enough economic risk that we engage heavily in overseeing the details of an integration. Of course, I love deal making, so while it won’t be my focus, there may be some restructuring or small acquisitions we make. We also have a JV urgent care business that has been knocking it out of the park, so continuing to grow that will be fun.
Our focus for the near future is to execute well. We are going from 11 to 18 hospitals and we are dedicated to ensuring that every one of the community hospitals in our system is performing at the highest levels of quality, safety, and service. We aim to provide high quality outcomes with a cost-efficient platform. •
We’re so grateful to Jack for sharing his expertise and insights on M&A. Check back here for more future installments of the Deal Makers Series.
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Based in Washington, D.C., Conscient Strategies is comprised of a talented group of consultants, executive coaches, strategists, and account executives. The team has worked with organizations of all sizes in the private, federal, and non-profit sectors across the United States and Internationally.
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