10 questions for The Children's Center CFO Michael Miligan

Name: Michael Milligan

Age: 29

Time with company: Started in December 2007

Education: University of Notre Dame with a B.B.A. and also earned a Masters in Accountancy from Notre Dame

Company headquarters: Bethany, Oklahoma

Revenue: About $25 million for next fiscal year

Number of employees total: 475

Number of employees the CFO oversees: 15 directly; indirectly 250

CFO's areas of responsibility: finance, budgeting, some HR... numerous other duties

About the company: The Children's Center is a private, nonprofit pediatric hospital serving children with complex medical and physical disabilities.

1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

I started in public accounting and did that for two years, during which time I also obtained my CPA license. I audited several not-for-profit entities while I was working in public accounting and that sparked my interest in that field. I was called out for a tour of The Children's Center and came out to see it and fell in love with the place and have been here ever since.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

Both Albert Gray and Carol Gray -- Albert is the CEO and Carol is the COO of The Children's Center. A lot of what they have taught me I had to learn because I had never been in a management position before and I was hesitant to take this job because of that.

One thing they taught me is what we call 'justa'. There are no just a's here -- everyone is important to the operation of the facility and everyone should be treated that way -- laundry, housekeeping, nutrition as well as nursing and the medical staff. Everyone matters.

They also taught me to be very hands-on in my management style and to jump in where help is needed, and also to be flexible. You might come in one day thinking you're going to do one thing but then everything can change. In a hospital, things come up quickly so you have to be flexible enough to change your schedule when needed.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

Being in the health-care sector, you're trying to provide the highest quality of care in the most cost-effective manner. That's becoming more and more difficult because the reimbursements you receive from Medicare or Medicaid, and also from insurance companies, are not keeping pace with medical costs. So that's a big piece.

The other part is the implementation of electronic-health records. That's a big one because some of your reimbursement from the federal government is tied to that.

And the other one is the new federal health legislation and what that means for us. There is a large amount of uncertainty surrounding the law right now, which makes it challenging to deal with. We're just trying to put ourselves in a good position and be ready to react. We do have some plans in place, but it's very difficult to make sure you're doing what you need to do to ensure the long-term success of the hospital.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

A good day for me is when I get to meet with the several teams I oversee and we work on problems they're having or try to move some roadblocks they're dealing with, and then I have the opportunity to walk through the facility, to see the caregivers in the rehab gym or in the units working with the kids.

To me, that's extremely motivating, it's uplifting, it's inspiring. To be able to help them do that work -- anything I can do to help them, that's why I'm here.

Just seeing the gains a child can make, even the small gains, and how excited the staff and the families get when they reach those milestones, to know you're a part of that is extremely fulfilling.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

Very positive, team-oriented, very much a problem solver. We want to find the best solution we can as a team. I want the different folks who are involved, the different stakeholders, to bring their opinions and feel like they are being heard.

6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?

I'm looking for people who are going to be hard working, who work well with others, who have a positive attitude and a commitment to excellence, and, especially, I look for someone who has a heart for the mission of working with the children here.

We have people who work here who really become invested and go the extra mile for the kids, and that's who we're looking for, is people who really have a heart for that.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?

There are two that I always like to ask; both are open-ended questions. The first one I like to ask is what are their interests. Everyone is going to have technical knowledge, so I want to know what they like to do in their free time, what really drives them. And then I like to ask what are some of the influential experiences and people in their lives who have influenced them.

People are sometimes caught a little off guard by that [approach to questions] and that's OK.

The answers that are red flags are when the candidate seems like they may not be very flexible. Flexibility is key. Working here you have to be willing to change and adapt to different circumstances.

We have found in the past that we don't have a lot of bad hires, but the ones that have turned out poorly are the ones who don't have a lot of flexibility. If they only have one interest, or if their interests are all focused on one thing: 'I like to read so I go to the library and that's all I do in my free time.'

So let's say we're hiring them to be a medical records worker, but we might have to pull them off that one day to help clean a unit because we have a new patient coming in, are they going to be OK doing that?

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

I think that's the easiest question for me to answer. It's the culture. It's the kids we serve, what we do on a daily basis and the work we get to do. The dedication of the staff is something that I think is not likely to exist anyplace else -- it has really just grabbed me and tugged my heart, and I hope to be here a very long time because of that.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

Going home and eating dinner with my wife and three young daughters, that's very enjoyable for me. I like to watch a ballgame if I have some time.

But sometimes just stopping at a 7-11 to get a Diet Coke is enough to unwind. It's hard to not take work home a lot of the time, so just the down time is good.

10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

If I wasn't doing this, seeing the good things that nonprofits do, I think I'd still be working at a nonprofit somewhere, probably in accounting, working at an organization that helps kids. That's important to me.

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