A high school aged Norm Mitry, then an aspiring drummer, learned an early lesson in finance from his father.
"My dad made it real simple for me. He sat me down at the kitchen table and said 'Son, Duquesne for music, you pay. Robert Morris, I pay."
Robert Morris it was -- a degree in business administration from Robert Morris University, and later a master's degree in public management from Carnegie Mellon University. Today, Mr. Mitry is the CEO of the Heritage Valley Health System, a two-hospital network with seven express care clinics and more than 500 doctors.
His path to leadership, like many, wasn't a straight line. He left a larger hospital, the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, after nine years to work for what was then known as The Medical Center in Beaver as its chief financial officer.
It was good move. Six years later, CEO Larry Crowell resigned, leaving the world of health care to take up seminary studies. Mr. Mitry took his place.
What has he picked up along the path? "The list is long," he said. "You learn as you go. Sometimes I feel life is backwards -- once you learn enough of it, it's time to retire."
He's learned enough by now, though, that he's come up with a few rules to live by. No. 1: Don't do anything that would have embarrassed his late parents. No. 2: Lead by example.
"Never ask anyone to do something if you won't do it yourself," he said. He's speaking somewhat figuratively, and he points to a major information technology upgrade that took place at the hospital in early March as an example. It was a round-the-clock conversion, and while Mr. Mitry naturally didn't execute the upgrades himself, he worked late when his employees worked late, he said.
"It means a lot when they see you walking around," he said, greeting employees by name or returning out-of-place wheelchairs to their proper storage areas.
"You can't do it yourself," he said. To be a good leader, "You need a good team, good mentors."
Often, good leaders are created by circumstance -- a test of crisis, an unexpected retirement or a push from those around you. If his dad hadn't sat him down at the kitchen table four decades ago, for example, who knows what would have happened?
The Norm Mitry Big Band, maybe?
"Ethnic fight songs, rock bands, society music -- it was fun," he said.
-- Bill Toland: email@example.com or 412-263-2625