Carmel Valley resident plays crucial role in contributing to turnaround at Scripps Health
By Arthur Lightbourn
Vic Buzachero, (pronounced “Buzz-a-kero”) is Scripps Health’s corporate senior vice president of innovation, human resources and performance management, a hefty title, to be sure, but one that accurately describes the scope of his contribution to the remarkable turnaround of Scripps Health over the past 10 years.
Earlier this month, in recognition of his achievements, Buzachero was named to HR [Human Resource] Executive Magazine’s Honor Roll for 2011 and in an accompanying article was headlined as “The Turnaround Kid.”
He especially appreciated the ‘kid’ part, Buzachero said, “now that I’m 60.”
Also recently, Scripps Health, the San Diego-based nonprofit community health system of five acute-care hospitals and 23 outpatient clinics staffed by 13,200 employees and 2,500 affiliated physicians, was ranked by AARP as the No. 1 company in the U.S. for workers over age 50.
“We consider Scripps to be a career destination company,” Buzachero said, “therefore we design our human resources programs to appeal to all people, no matter what stage of life they may be in. Approximately 36 percent of our workforce is age 50 or older, and we work to retain them because the knowledge they pass down ultimately results in better outcomes for our patients.”
Recently, for the fourth year in a row, Fortune Magazine named Scripps Health as one of the 100 best companies in the nation to work for, and, for the seventh consecutive year, Working Mother magazine recognized it as a top employer of working moms and this year ranked it as #11 of the top 100 companies for its learning opportunities, flexible work schedules, on-site daycare and adoption benefits program.
We interviewed Buzachero in his office at Scripps Health’s headquarters in La Jolla.
He’s a tall, well-built man with slightly graying hair, who, to keep in shape for the winter snow-ski season, works out “constantly” — running, training with weights, and climbing the stairs to his second floor office several times a day rather than ride the elevator.
Talking across neatly-stacked piles of papers on his desk, Buzachero readily concedes “I’m not a clean-desk guy,” but he is an avid jotter of ideas in a little black book that invariably accompanies him wherever he goes; and on occasion — in a bow to technology — substitutes his iPad to record the continual flow of ideas and “to do’s.”
“Sometimes even the best idea is not a good idea until the timing is right,” he says.
Buzachero was recruited by Scripps Health in September 2001 at a time of crisis when the then 77-year-old Scripps was on life support and hoping to recover and restore itself under its new president and CEO Chris Van Gorder as “a workplace of choice.”
Scripps had ousted its former CEO, doctors had fled, there was a labor shortage, the company was facing significant operating losses, and the human resources department was foundering.
The company’s new leadership convinced Buzachero of their belief that Scripps’ employees were crucial to revitalizing the company’s brand and culture — it just needed someone to create a human resource department that would carry out that philosophy.
“Given that foundation,” Buzachero recalled, “I felt Scripps was the right place to be able to accomplish a turnaround.”
Before joining Scripps, Buzachero had developed an HR reputation in Alabama, Texas, Arizona and Washington for leadership development, service excellence, reductions in employee turnover and improved employee satisfaction — exactly what Scripps was looking for.
Buzachero was born, in Panama City, Florida, of Italian heritage and grew up in Alabama.
“My dad was a ‘lifer’ in the military for more than 30 years,” Buzachero said. “Initially, because he was a skier and spoke Italian, he served with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division fighting the Germans in the Italian Alps during WW II and later joined the Air Force as a commissioned officer, who when he retired went to work as a civil servant in the Space Race at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, where [Wernher] von Braun and all the German scientists were building rockets [for the U.S. Army].”
Von Braun, a former Nazi war hero and scientist, eventually was appointed director of NASA’s rocket development of the Saturn rockets that propelled American astronauts to the moon.
Buzachero earned his B.B.A. degree in industrial relations from the University of Alabama in 1974.
All through school, he had worked in fast-food restaurants. In college, he managed two restaurants and after a brief stint in sales and marketing at a radio station in Decatur, Alabama — where he met and married his wife, Nancy — he returned to restaurant management and subsequently purchased two fast-food franchises in Decatur and Birmingham with his brother-in-law.
From his experience in the fast-food business, he learned the critical importance of hiring the right people and developing an engaged team.
His first job in human resources in the health field was creating campaigns on radio, television and at colleges to recruit nurses for a hospital in Birmingham, in the late 1970s.
Subsequently, he himself was recruited by the Baptist Health System, also in Birmingham, as a compensation manager and later promoted to corporate vice president of human resources.
He then co-founded an HR health consultancy in Cincinnati.
It was successful, but it required a lot of travel, he said, and, at the time, he and his wife had two small children, so after three-and-a-half years, he opted to return to corporate HR, with Texas Health Resources in Dallas, Banner Health System in Phoenix, Arizona, and, just prior to joining Scripps, as special assistant to the CEO of the Providence Health System in Seattle, Washington.
“And because it’s rainy most of the time in Seattle I came to San Diego,” he quipped.
Over the past 10 years, Buzachero is credited with starting each fiscal year with a workforce strategic plan to define the HR plan going forward and communicating it to the staff.
He then developed a strategy to lower the company’s reliance on temporary, premium-paid registered nurses from 20 percent in 2001 to below 8 percent today, resulting in a more stable permanent staff and more than $100 million in reduced labor costs annually.
He and his staff also created a new compensation strategy for nurses that includes salary reviews every six months with merit increases and bonuses for increased patient satisfaction that has helped reduce the turnover rate of RNs from 25 percent in 2002 to 8.6 percent last year.
Also, in 2002, Buzachero launched the first, company-wide annual employee engagement survey which initially indicated that only 58 percent of its employees considered Scripps a great place to work. In 2010, that figure climbed to 88 percent.
“We don’t just survey, but we use that information to work with employees to make direct improvements in the workplace,” Buzachero said. “By staying on the cycle and coming back to the employees after first getting feed-back, talking with them, doing action plans, after a couple of years people began to trust … that we were going to do what we said we would do.”
The two questions asked in the survey are: What makes this a good place to work and what would make this a better place?
The last survey generated some 2,000 pages of comments.
“Chris [Van Gorder] and I read them. We read them all,” Buzachero said. “And we do something about them.”
Name: Victor V. Buzachero
Distinction: Vic Buzachero, Scripps Health corporate senior vice president of innovation, human resources and performance management, this month was named one of HR Executive Magazine’s Honor Roll recipients for 2011. He joined Scripps 10 years ago and is credited with helping it achieve a remarkable turnaround.
Resident of: Carmel Valley
Born: Panama City, Florida, 60 years ago
Education: B.B.A. in industrial relations, University of Alabama, 1974
Family: He and his wife, Nancy (nee Snider) have been married 35 years. They have two grown children, son, Chris, 34, manages a trading group at the Chicago Board of Trade, and younger daughter, Jessica, is attending a culinary school in San Francisco.
Interests: Working out “constantly,” running, weight training and stair-climbing to his second floor office to stay in shape winter snow-skiing.
Current readings: “Competing on Analytics,” by Thomas Davenport; and “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,” by Todd Burpo.
Favorite TV: “Burn Notice,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and sports
Favorite recent film: “50/50,” the 2011 comedy/drama based on the life of screenwriter Will Reiser
Philosophy: “Serving God and serving people.”
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