Frank Cracolici: A Guiding Hand for Hospitals in Need of Direction

Frank Cracolici thrives on being an interim hospital CEO. After a distinguished career in which he began as an R.N., transitioned to roles as a nurse executive, COO and eventually a hospital CEO, Cracolici believes he has abundant wisdom to offer hospitals in need of impactful leadership. He’s seen a bit of everything through the years – “I’ve been through four major nursing shortages,” he says – and helped lead hospitals through challenges ranging from treating survivors of 9/11 to maintaining operations through Superstorm Sandy. He yearns to give back to the industry that has given him decades of opportunity and reward.

As an interim CEO, Cracolici is more than just a seasoned veteran presence for an organization. He brings fresh ideas, an objective lens and in many cases much-needed leadership stability. Interim chief executives frequently enter situations in which there has been a sudden or unexpected vacancy at the top of a hospital or health system; the leadership team and staff seek reassurance and a guiding hand. In providing experience and expertise, Cracolici serves as a bridge to the organization’s future.

Hospital A: Changing a Culture

In one recent engagement, Cracolici served as interim CEO for an academic hospital within a larger system in what ended up being a 15-month assignment. The hospital – call it “Hospital A” – was gearing up for the recruitment of a permanent CEO.

Cracolici was brought in to allow time for the hospital to conduct a comprehensive CEO search, but more so to engender much-needed culture change throughout the facility. “The hospital was run in an autocratic, top-down manner,” he explains. “That’s not my style at all; I’m collaborative and participatory.” Cracolici worked with the leadership team to create opportunities for more organization-wide idea sharing and general collegiality among staff. When his new colleagues were exposed to a different leadership style, they embraced it. Morale improved in short order. Cracolici’s tenure coincided with the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, in which his calm demeanor and crisis management skills were a godsend.

Cracolici was able to address other “thorny issues” at Hospital A that would have challenged a sitting CEO. One was the unenviable responsibility of implementing leadership changes. Such changes carry significant risk for a permanent CEO, as the moves are often unpopular with staff. An interim CEO is less constrained by organizational politics, Cracolici says.

“The interim can’t be cavalier,” he adds. “I will be evenhanded. I will only do what I feel is right for the organization; if I strongly disagree, I’m not going to do it.”

For Hospital A, Cracolici was “the right person for the right time,” according to the system CEO, helping the organization ride out the worst of the pandemic while driving strategic and cultural improvements.

Hospital B: The Savvy Mentor

At another hospital (“Hospital B”), Cracolici was brought in to mentor and counsel a newly hired CEO who was occupying the corner office for the first time. The chief executive was a natural leader, Cracolici says, and just needed coaching on the technical aspects of being a hospital CEO – such as physician recruitment, opening an ambulatory care center, and learning to partner with the board.

A one-on-one mentorship of this kind won’t work if both individuals involved aren’t committed to it, Cracolici cautions. “I said at the start that I’ll only do this if I have a good interview with the new CEO and I believe to the core that they want me there,” he relates. “After our first Zoom interview, it was clear to me we were totally on the same page. In the end, our personalities worked very well together.” Cracolici’s five months as mentor help set the table for what has become a highly successful tenure for the Hospital B CEO.

A Desire to Lead

There’s always a healthy skepticism on the part of incumbent leadership and staff when an interim CEO enters the picture, Cracolici admits. They wonder, does this “interim” (i.e., not permanent) executive have the best interests of the organization at heart? Is he ready to get his hands dirty? Does he care about us? Cracolici counters this skepticism with communication, transparency and trust-building. As a nurse by training, he has a particular knack for connecting with clinicians though he now carries the interim executive tag.

Nearing 70, Cracolici’s friends tell him he should retire. After all, it’s tough work. “I read an article recently that suggested that no one wants to be a hospital CEO anymore,” he says. “That’s not me. I have a sense of drive. I love being part of a team.” Most of all, he says, “I love the work.”