One good thing about the pandemic is that it paved the way for giving more importance to health care services for families and communities. In this episode, Douglas Nelson interviews the CEO of Surrey Hospitals FoundationTM, Jane Adams. Jane has been named one of Canada’s most influential CEOs, and she’s been a great builder of organizations throughout her career. Today, she shares her leadership journey and the process of establishing the center with help from other professionals. Join Douglas and Jane to learn about her strategy and vision in managing the foundation.
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Surrey Hospitals Foundation With Jane Adams
Our guest is Jane Adams. She’s the CEO of Surrey Hospitals Foundation. She’s been named one of Canada’s most powerful CEOs. She’s been a great builder of organizations throughout her career. We’re thrilled to have her on the show. Welcome, Jane.
Thank you very much, Doug. I’m glad to be here.
Jane, tell us a little bit about Surrey Hospitals Foundation and the evolution your organization’s been through over the last couple of years.
Surrey Hospitals Foundation is the largest non-governmental funder of healthcare in the City of Surrey and possibly South of the Fraser in the Lower Mainland. We look after the Surrey Memorial Hospital, which is a 630-bed acute care hospital, Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre, which is the largest outpatient center in Western Canada. We own a 72-bed Alzheimer’s facility called Czorny Alzheimer Facility. It’s located in Surrey. It’s under a 45-year lease with Fraser Health. We have also learned from the government of British Columbia that we will be the fundraising organization for a new Surrey hospital scheduled to be open in several years in a neighborhood of Surrey called Cloverdale.
There is a lot going on now. I want to go back to the beginning of your career. You and I have done our careers in reverse. You started in fundraising consulting. I’m curious to hear you describe that journey and how it led to the leadership positions that followed. What got you into consulting in the first place?
They wanted me as a simple answer. I’m old enough that I worked on the breakthrough campaign at the University of Toronto early in my career. I started on the annual fund. The breakthrough campaign was being led by a gentleman by the name of Gordon Cressy, who came out of United Way in Ontario. At that time, it was $100 million campaign. It was the largest campaign that had ever run in Canada. I moved from the annual side to the capital side. I ran concurrently under that umbrella $5 million campaigns to $5 million campaigns for the faculties of engineering and medicine concurrently. That was an interesting exercise. Both faculties achieved their goal. Through that exercise, I realized that individuals based on profession and many other factors approach giving very differently. It was a good learning experience.
Nonetheless, when the campaign ended, I had the opportunity to stay with a team, but not a lot of people in Canada had formal capital campaign experience. Ketchum Canada, which is a national consulting firm was looking for campaign directors as they called us in those days to work with clients across Canada. Because I had capital campaign experience and I was prepared to uproot myself and move wherever the client was, I was hired. It was a wonderful experience. They were a great organization. There were some real titans of fundraising, leading the organization and working in the organization. They still, in those days, had an affiliation with their American parent.
They subsequently became an independent Canadian operation. It’s because of the connection with the US parent, I had access as a young fundraiser to orientations and professional development on the broader North American scale, not just Canadian and Americans have always approached philanthropy on a larger scale than Canada. That was an interesting orientation and education for me. I worked with a variety of clients, everybody from social services in St. Catharines to the University of Victoria in British Columbia to the Kingston Hospital in Ontario. I had a good fortune relatively early in my career to work in many different types of organizations, boards, and development operations. From that, I could see what interested me the most and what most aligned with my values and my management style. It very much was healthcare.
How long were you with Ketchum?
I was with Ketchum. I joined St. Paul’s and I have been working in the healthcare space ever since.
It’s an interesting run in healthcare too. When you went to St. Paul’s, it was barely finding its feet when it came to fundraising, if I recall?
People forget this now, but St. Paul’s was one of the very first hospital foundations to have had a lottery. It wasn’t a home lottery as we know them now where you’d raffle off large homes both here and in places like Whistler. They used to raffle off a condo in the Downtown Vancouver core. It was the mainstay of their revenue-generating activity. At that point, when I joined, the big home lotteries had come on the market and had eclipsed the condo lottery. It wasn’t quite losing money, but it was on the decline.Individuals, based on profession and many other factors, approach giving very differently. Click To Tweet
In many of the places I’ve joined, they have, if not been in crisis, they were at a real juncture where some of the programs that had brought in a lot of their revenue for a variety of reasons were no longer generating the revenue required. The good news about that is it’s often easier to focus your team’s attention and your board’s attention on solutions that could be quite radical in terms of the nature of what you’re doing. That was the case with St. Paul’s when I went there.
We had to rethink our approach because we had been reliant on lottery, perhaps our relationships internally with physicians around grateful patients. It wasn’t quite where it could be. Because the urgency of identifying and shifting to new sources of revenue and new programs drove us there, we got there faster than ordinarily we may have. I had the good fortune to work with an amazing team, not just in the foundation, but the hospital, the administration, the medical leadership.
When I left, I’m pleased to say it was a viable organization with an incredibly solid annual program, centered around Lights of Hope, which has become an iconic Vancouver, Christmas season event with solid major gift routes and raising money for both clinical and quite a sizable research enterprise. I was lucky in terms of the timing when I arrived at St. Paul’s, but also the team that I got to work with, they were exceptional at what they did. They were very effective at building cases that were compelling. It made our jobs in the foundation office that much easier.
I want to go back to something you said that leadership at the juncture where the organization is at that moment of inflection where something has to change. It can’t keep going as it is. We see this a lot in the sector where organizations get to a point where something needs to change at that moment of inflection. Even when there is a willingness to do it or an understanding of it, as a new leader coming in, were there people you need to convince? Were there challenges you still need to overcome to say, “We can’t do it this way anymore?”
Yes. It’s easier to maintain the status quo. It’s dangerous, but in the short-term, it can be easier. As a senior manager, it was my role to put together the business case. Gather the information and working with different committees and boards, and the people who were vested in the former way of doing things to show them very concrete terms how we would achieve our collective interests, which was to make St. Paul’s an outstanding medical institution, how we could and should do that by transforming ourselves. There were people who thought in governance role, who thought perhaps that we should carry on in the way we had, and maybe there were economies to be had or greater revenue we had untapped. I was blessed with an insightful and business-oriented board. Once you could show them and do the projections, they were very much onside and supportive of the direction.
When the organization started to make that change, was there a moment, is there a story that you can share when you realized, “This change is starting to take hold. It’s starting to work?”
There are two moments. They typified things. When I first arrived, because the organization that had been dependent on lottery revenue, perhaps some of the relationship building, particularly with clinical caregivers and developing grateful patient programs, it wasn’t as mature as perhaps one would have assumed the revenue hadn’t been coming from gaming or lotteries. I can remember I was on the job a short period of time. I was sitting in my office. In my office bursts a physician in a leadership role who became quite a great advocate for the foundation, but he was furious with me.
He was furious with me because something the foundation was doing had blocked his parking space and justifiably, he had to see patients and he was held up, etc. He was very angry. I could tell from his comments about the foundation that he didn’t understand the value that the foundation could bring to him and his clinical group, other physicians and patients. He regarded us a bit of as an inconvenience. For me, it was a bit of a bellwether, I thought, “This is our starting point.”
Fast forward, it was about 8 or 9 months later, another physician who had been recruited from a top center in the United States came into the office and he stood there. He was a diminutive fellow and he was in his white coat. He was an outstanding fellowship-trained micro surgeon who had come to Canada. He was a Canadian. He repatriated back to Canada. He and his wife who was also a physician had come back. They arrived at St. Paul’s. He realized they didn’t have the equipment that he needed to do quite complex surgery at the base of the brain.
He comes into the office and he asked for me. I go out and I’m talking to him and he said, “I’m here.” He told me the story of the situation. He said, “I spoke to some people. They said I should talk to the foundation because foundations are solution-oriented people and they can help me.” To me, those were the polar opposites. One represented when relationships are not good and how a foundation can be seen. After you develop relationships, bring value and work towards a collective outcome of what it can be.
That physician, we worked very successfully with him. He was a wonderful bridge to his grateful patient community. We ended up buying all of his equipment. He’s been featured. He’s still a surgeon there and still quite beloved by his patients. We did lots of media. I would say his faith in us and our ability to respond because it was such a great story to tell to donors, that launched our major gift program. I’m grateful for the day he came into my office.
Those are two very different door opening experiences. You build a great platform there at St. Paul’s and then you moved to what was then the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation, but now Surrey Hospitals Foundation. What was that transition like, not just in terms of geography, but the culture of the hospital, the culture of the community?
I didn’t grow up in the Lower Mainland. When I moved here, I’m married and I lived in Tsawwassen and commuted into Vancouver. I didn’t know much of the Lower Mainland at all. I didn’t know Surrey, other than when we drove through it, the interior was expansive. It was this huge piece of geography. I had been reading a lot about its growth and that’s what excited me. I was coming from an organization that had a great history. When I looked at Surrey, I thought this is an organization with a brilliant future because if you looked and still is the case, Surrey grows by 1,200 people a month. The city was growing. It had a very young population, 1 in 3 residents of Surrey is under the age of nineteen.
That brings with it its own vibrancy, etc., but because Surrey and the surrounding communities had grown quickly, the infrastructure, whether that’s roads or in this case, hospitals had not grown to keep up. At that point, Surrey had close to 500,000 people and 400 hospital beds. That was it. They were struggling with unprecedented congestion in the emergencies. Everything you would expect when you have far too many people for one relatively small hospital.
I came out and I visited it. People were wonderful. It still had a small-town vibe. I remember I sat in the lobby. The auxiliary ladies were there selling tickets. There was a little coffee shop and you could see there was collegiality among the medical staff that were coming out and grabbing coffees, etc. I thought, “This is an organization that has a great culture, lots and lots of stresses and strains, but at its core, it has a great culture.” There were some similarities to St. Paul’s because St. Paul’s also was a smaller hospital relative to the larger Vancouver hospital.
It had a can-do attitude and that was very much the case at Surrey. There were some similarities there. Unfortunately, when I started, the government had made some decisions or was at the crux of making some decisions about expanding, not only here, but building the outpatient center. I had the good fortune to work with the community on building the Critical Care Tower, which has turned out to be such an important part of our health ecosystem, particularly, during a pandemic. It’s one of the most advanced acute care hospitals certainly in Western Canada, if not in Canada, in terms of infectious disease.
The building of that tower set us up well in terms of being prepared for something like a pandemic. They added the outpatient center. They looked at whether they wanted to create a new foundation, but we presented a case to say, “Rather than creating different smaller foundations, why don’t you consolidate your Surrey assets under one foundation?” They did that at the outpatient center and they did it subsequently with the new Cloverdale hospital.
We went in a decade from having 400 beds to growing quite significantly and adding more facilities. There’s still more room for growth for sure, given our population, but it’s been an exciting time because in Canada, our health or healthcare is publicly funded largely with the help of philanthropy. Infrastructure development happens relatively slowly. To be in a city that’s growing very fast and to be involved with two such large capital projects and soon a third, it’s a highlight. It’s quite exciting.
One of the things that you’re known for and well respected for is this challenge that you took on at Surrey Hospitals Foundation was about making philanthropy a part of the health ecosystem in that community because historically that hadn’t been the case. You’ve had the experience of building at St. Paul’s. You moved to Surrey Memorial Hospital. You’ve got some ambition and some aspirations. What were your initial conversations with the donor community like when you’re trying to get a sense of what might be possible there?
Another parallel between Surrey and St. Paul’s is, Surrey was with Royal Columbian, for those of your readers who may be familiar with Royal Columbian as well. We were the very first foundations that get into home lotteries in a big way. It was a cash cow back in the day. No question. When I arrived, our lottery didn’t lose money, some went on to lose significant amounts after we pulled out, but it was compelling. We needed to get out of the lottery business. It was a time of huge transformation. We went from being largely lottery dependent to a capital campaign, which was underway when I started and building more relationships in the community.
I was fortunate the situation was compelling enough that the board understood, “We need to get out of this business and we need to do some things completely different.” We kickstarted an annual campaign, as well as continued to build on the capital campaign. What were my first conversations like? It’s quite interesting. Surrey is different than any other large urban area I’ve raised money in. Where the demographic of major donors, a lot of them, were individuals who, by the time they were giving to the organizations I was associated with, even if they were privately held organizations, they had perhaps stepped back from the leadership of those organizations. Often their gifts had a big stock component. They weren’t outright cash gifts, typically. They were complex.
Most people had a Judeo-Christian background. There was a similarity. Even though many of the cities I worked in were quite different. I came to Surrey. A couple of things were apparent. One was that it’s a young city, not only in the age of the people, which I referenced, but the city wasn’t that old. It was a community where people were young. They were still accumulating their wealth and/or the older people they owned. Most of them were still operating their own businesses. Many very successful businesses, employing lots of people, generating lots of wealth, but they were still on a daily basis going in and running these businesses. When you were talking to them about making an investment and philanthropy, they were comparing that against investing it in a rapidly growing business that could be generating more jobs and bringing benefits to the community in a different way. The dialogue with donors was different because of that.
Making that transition from a gift of resources to a gift of assets instead of writing it out of the checking account, giving out of the investment account hadn’t been done before.
They were generating a lot of value for the organization in terms of good jobs, etc., through the growth of their business, as opposed to thinking about giving the money to somebody else who would generate value through charitable activities. It was a different perspective. In terms of communities I’d worked in, this community had more residents who didn’t grow up through the Judeo-Christian background and their approach to giving. For instance, we have one of the largest Sikh communities, outside of India, here in Surrey on a per capita basis. The way that people of the Sikh faith approach giving and seva as they call it is very different than how people coming through a Christian tradition might approach giving. There’s a lot more collective giving.Growth is always exciting. It brings with it an energy that's quite unique. Click To Tweet
It was a good education for me to understand the underlying spirituality and values that led this community and how they give. From a statistical point of view, new Canadians give away more money than other Canadians statistically, according to Revenue Canada. I mentioned the difference between physicians and engineers, if you look at the Sikh community in Canada, from the research I’ve looked at and some we’ve done on a per capita basis, they are amongst some of the most generous in the country.
I realized that to continue to approach a community that has a very different history and spirituality in the way that I would have approached it in a Catholic community in Vancouver or Kingston was not wise. I learned a lot from the community and people were generous with their time, wisdom and advice, not just the Sikh community but other communities. The time that community leaders, residents took and the pride they had in their own community, as well as the Surrey community and the time they invested to help me and consequently my team understand how we should be engaging them. I’m forever grateful for that. As a result, we’ve done some amazing things out here together to help build the health infrastructure, which was lagging on a per capita basis.
Jane, how did what you learn impact the way you’ve built the team at Surrey Hospital’s Foundation to reflect the giving culture of the community that you serve?
For me, it’s all about a fit. The fit with your culture as an organization as well as the culture of the community you’re in. Cultural is just not from an ethno-cultural, but how they approach life in general. I built a team that was less technically chosen rather than for fit. I was also very fortunate. Full disclosure, many of the people that I am fortunate to have on my team now are people that I worked with in other jurisdictions. When I came out here and I was enamored with the community and the hospitals, I reached out and recruited them here. Many have been here for several years. I’m fortunate I have longevity in the team.
They’re very strong generalists, relational skills, and they have a passion for the place. Back to the fit, it was important to have the fit. We needed diversity and we needed language skills as well. First and foremost, it was about the fit. The other comment I would make about this community, more than other communities I’ve worked in, and it reflects back to people here who are running successful businesses. There are a lot of successful businesses here. The Fraser that has done extremely well in the last several years and lead up to the pandemic, there are people who are operating their business.
They very much respect efficiencies. I would say this is a community that puts a stronger lens on admin expenses, operating expenses, any perception of waste, things that could have been done in other jurisdictions that would never even try here. People would perceive them as, “I don’t have those kinds of supports or whatever in my business. I’m running a profitable business. Why do you need it when you’re spending my after-tax discretionary dollars on your operations?” We have always run lean. That suits my preference management style. The people I hire also have to be comfortable running lean. There would be virtually no tolerance in this community to do otherwise. It had to be a good fit. When I’m hiring people, it has to be very clear.
One of the questions I have for you, and I’ve been wanting to ask you is, when you moved to the role you’re in now, were you aware that there was this big lift of changing the story of philanthropy South of the Fraser in Surrey as a community that gives back to support the services that exist there? By reputation, it hasn’t been a place where there’s been a lot of community giving and you’ve changed that story in some significant ways in healthcare.
The simple answer is no. I hadn’t paid as much attention perhaps as I should have. The organizations in the Lower Mainland, St. Paul’s and then prior to that, starting the BC Women’s Foundation, not many of our donors came from South of the Fraser. I hadn’t given a lot of thought or looked at much research into what was happening out here. When I arrived, it became clear looking at the numbers here. There was a disconnect between the incredible affection for the organization that I saw and witnessed every day when I was in the community and the need. There were two big things on one side of the equation and the size of the gifts that had been made to date. I should add that when I did arrive, Ketchum was here on contract and a woman, Genesa was the Ketchum Canada representative here. She’s now running the BC Women’s Foundation. She was doing an outstanding job in terms of engaging the community. Although historically, the gift giving had been low when I arrived as some of her early work, there were some big gifts coming. The possibility became very apparent to me. That became our job as a foundation to connect those dots, the need the great affection in the community.
I go back to lotteries can bring in revenue. When they are a major source of revenue and they reduce the number of relationships that you have with philanthropists and your community, it does have a disabling effect. Once the lottery was gone and we also had a big phone program here, which I closed as well, when that program closed, and it was essential to engage the community. A lot of affection, a great need, that’s a fundraiser stream. Connect those two and philanthropy will follow. Some of our other sister foundations in Fraser Health are doing outstanding work to both North of the river and South of the river. We’re seeing some exceptional generosity here now. It’s been a wonderful journey and I’ve been pleased to be on it with a lot of my colleagues.
We’ve had a bit of a pause on everybody’s strategic plan as a result of the pandemic. In your role, looking ahead to the capitol building in Cloverdale, what is it that you’re most excited about as you look ahead over the next couple of years?
Growth is always exciting. It brings with an energy that’s quite unique. That excites me. Solidifying with the new hospital, Surrey Memorial’s role, we talked about the health ecosystem. A little digression, I’ve been very fortunate over the last several months during the pandemic with the support of the board, we rebranded. We’ve been investing more in digital, our platforms and things to communicate with a broader audience. One thing became apparent to us at the outset of the pandemic. Surrey when I came here was a 430-bed hospital. It was a community hospital. There were lots of great community hospitals in Fraser Health. In fact, there are eleven of them.
I started on this journey here. I would say that there was a great affection, but people saw Surrey like they saw other community hospitals. Surrey has become a regional hub, a big presence of UBC, SFU, has been maturing into a regional tertiary center. It always takes a bit of time for perception to catch up with reality. One of the things that, as a foundation, we’ve been working hard on to coincide with the growth was the role differentiation of Surrey and our value proposition in a large health authority.
It became evident to us early on from the support we received, where it was coming from and the feedback that we were receiving that it was clearer than we had thought. We perform a different role in the health authority than a community hospital. We thought, “If our brand doesn’t align with that perception, we need to change our brand and we did.” A resounding success, both within the organizations we raised money for and externally.
I’m very excited with the new brand to see not only in the growth of new facilities, but how through philanthropy we are going to carry through this identity to all of our programs and research. What we’re going to be doing within our existing facilities and how we are going to maintain and grow revenue for three distinct facilities while carry on a significant capital campaign for a fourth. Those things keep me up at night, but I look forward to them.
It sounds like you’ve got a brand to match your ambition. It looks good on the organization for sure. Jane, I want to thank you so much for sharing your leadership journey with us and being a guest on the show.
Thank you for everything you do in our space, being a leader and all of the people who may be reading for what they’re contributing.