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Dr. Paul Klotman's first week as head of Baylor College of Medicine

Tuesday, November 9, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kerri McCabe
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Baylor Med's issues keeping chief awake
His mission: restore the school to fiscal stability and elite status
(From: Houston Chronicle: By TODD ACKERMAN)


Brett Coomer Chronicle

Dr. Paul Klotman, new president at Baylor College of Medicine,

says that in his third week on the job, "I didn't sleep."



As he describes it, Dr. Paul Klotman's first week as head of Baylor College of Medicine was a grand time, full of hand-shaking, well-wishing and the kind of optimism that typically greets a new president.

In the second week, he began to tackle the issues that have vexed the Houston college for the past five years, namely shaky finances involving tens of millions of dollars in annual deficits, hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and administrative bloat whose reduction would be his first order of business.

 "In the third week," says Klotman, "I didn't sleep."

Klotman figures to have plenty to keep him awake as Baylor's fifth president. A seasoned fiscal troubleshooter who faced similar challenges as a top administrator at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City in the 2000s, he is now being asked to return Baylor to the elite status it held before its recent financial problems stained its reputation.

 Last week, nearly two months into the job, Klotman wrapped up the first order of business, cutting administrative staffing by 15 percent.The layoffs may not have been Klotman's ideal icebreaker, but they are expected to help the struggling school break even by June and move on to more mission-oriented priorities.

 Klotman brings a formidable résumé to the new job: steeped in academia; former chief of two laboratories at the National Institutes of Health; leading expert on kidney diseases associated with HIV-AIDS; huge success story at Mount Sinai; some roots in Houston.


Brett Coomer Chronicle
Dr. Paul Klotman, right, new president at Baylor College of Medicine, greets Dr. Kenneth Mattox. While Klotman's first week on the job was full of hand-shaking, the weeks since have been more full of hand-wringing over the school's finances.

 A winner
Klotman, 60, also brings what one former colleague describes as "the charisma of a streetfighter," a regular guy who demands excellence and doesn't tolerate ingratiators. It is perhaps the quality Klotman alludes to when he describes himself as a Midwesterner even though he looks and sounds like a New Yorker.

To Baylor's leadership search committee, it was all a winning formula.

 "He made a strong initial impression on the search committee, and the more we talked to him, the more convinced we became he was the perfect person for the job," says Marc Shapiro, chairman of Baylor's board of trustees. "He showed good leadership qualities and good business instincts and concisely communicated a vision about how to maintain and enhance Baylor."

It probably helped that Klotman has heard abut Baylor his entire life, partly, he says, because its academic strengths were so well-known at institutions where he worked, but also because of his Houston-based cousin who worked with legendary heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey.

Klotman grew up in Cleveland, athletic as much as bookish. He played baseball until, at 13, he realized he couldn't hit the curve ball, then became a competitive tennis player. But he also played the violin beginning at age 4, pushed by his father. Growing up, Klotman came to Houston every summer, visiting his grandparents.

He became a young pool shark when his traveling salesman grandfather would take him on his sweltering routes through black, rural areas south of the city, then leave him with a roll of quarters at a bar whose main attraction was a pool table. Despite that rich background, Klotman seems fated to have become an academic. His father was a music teacher who brought the Suzuki violin method to the United States. His mother was a Milton scholar turned African-American studies professor. His sister teaches film.

 'Streetfighter's charisma'
They're all "very liberal arts," concedes Klotman. "They view me as right of Attila politically because I became a physician," says Klotman, smiling.

 At the University of Michigan, Klotman thought he'd become an entomologist — he studied dragonfly larvae - before turning instead to medicine. He trained at Duke as a nephrologist, then made key discoveries in his NIH laboratory about blacks' genetic susceptibility to kidney disease and the role of HIV as a trigger.

But it was at Mount Sinai that Klotman's star most ascended. Hired as chief of nephrology in 1994, he went on to serve as chairman of medicine from 2001 to 2010, a tenure during which department funding grew from $37.8 million to $74.8 million. He recruited six new division chiefs, implemented a new faculty compensation plan and grew clinical revenue by 15 percent each year.

 During the tenure, he also implemented "administrative right-sizing," the same process just finished at Baylor.

All the steps were crucial to Mount Sinai's recovery from its difficult times. The school had foundered in the late 1990s, running deficits of $80 million or more a year and unable to pull off a merger with New York University. The turnaround now complete, Mount Sinai is considered one of the nation's fast-rising medical schools.

 "Paul makes it all work because of that streetfighter's charisma," says Dr. Nathan Kase, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at Mount Sinai. "He's sarcastic, honest, tough, without pretension. In a business in which people are quick to hew to their boss's expectations, that's very refreshing."

For now, Klotman is still settling into Houston, discovering the region's charms, hoping to track down some of the haunts of his youth, attending professional sports events.

Klotman is a big fan of the sports teams where he lives, he says, jokingly taking credit for the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup when he lived there and for the Texans' early success this season. Citing the important role teams play in civic pride, he says he has no problem switching allegiances.

Inspired by staff
Klotman says he's impressed with Houston, and not just because it's air-conditioned now.

He describes it as a blend of the primary attributes he found in the other cities where he worked - the political influence Washington is about, the money and power New York is about and the academic trappings the Duke area is about.

At Baylor, Klotman's immediate goal is for the school to get back to what it does best - "teaching, research and patient care."

He says it'll probably be 12 to 18 months before a decision is reached on what to do about a private adult hospital for its doctors but adds that plans are in the works to add more joint programs with Rice University and does not rule out the possibility merger talks could resurface sometime down the road. Most of all, he says, he's inspired by his new co-workers that Baylor will turn things around. "

One night I wasn't sleeping, I sent an e-mail at 3:15 a.m. to our HR director consoling her about the difficult thing I was putting on her," says Klotman, referring to the layoffs. "I got a response at 3:16 saying, 'Don't worry, we'll pull through this.' "

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