As our senior vice president and chief human resources officer enters in to retirement after more than two devoted decades of service with HCA Healthcare, we look back on John Steele’s legacy. Read on to find out how our human resources team has inspired the next generation at HCA Healthcare by helping to unlock possibilities for our more than 270,000 strong workforce…

After a 25-year career at HCA Healthcare, senior vice president and chief human resources officer (CHRO) John Steele is retiring. We’re taking this opportunity to recognize the impact of his legacy of building leaders who are committed to living our culture and leading the healthcare field.

“John has been a trusted advisor to colleagues throughout the organization, and we appreciate his contributions to our culture and growth over the years,” said HCA Healthcare chief executive officer Sam Hazen. “We thank him for his commitment to HCA Healthcare and congratulate him on his retirement.”

(Second from left) John Steele, HCA Healthcare’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer is retiring, leaving a legacy of transformative workforce initiatives that support colleagues’ career development, their families and their lives.

Steele’s mentee and successor Jen Berres steps into the role of CHRO as of November 1, 2019—evidence of his dedication to developing leaders who will help HCA Healthcare succeed into the future. “Jen’s deep understanding of our organization, as well as her insights into industry best practices, will ensure that we remain a leader in the area of human resources,” adds Hazen.

Building relationships and engaging others

Growing up in a military household that moved around the country every two years taught Steele to make friends quickly and use humor to engage others. Years later, these qualities helped him land jobs as an account executive and recruiter—roles that played off his natural talent for adapting to new situations and building relationships. Early in his career, he learned from leaders to “do what it takes to get the job done”—adopting a dedication to learning, and to serving customers and colleagues.

In the mid-’90s, Steele joined HCA Healthcare as an assistant vice president. In 2003, HCA Healthcare’s CHRO Phil Patton, Steele’s mentor and colleague, passed away unexpectedly—and the loss was devastating to all who knew him.

While Steele mourned Patton, the announcement of Steele’s promotion to senior vice president introduced another set of challenges for him to balance at the same time. Remembers Steele, “After grieving Phil’s passing, I was in a freefall trying to figure out everything I needed to know about the job at hand. To get through it, I reached out to people I trusted. I relied on my team to get the job done, then tell me how they did it. I learned as I went. And I woke up one day feeling I fit the role.”

John Steele has been an avid champion of the HCA Hope Fund, HCA Healthcare’s employee-run nonprofit organization, committed to assisting colleagues when they’re faced with unexpected hardships. “We know that when someone in our HCA Healthcare family is in need, we want to help,” he said.

A seat and a legacy

Steele has been instrumental in garnering the support of leadership to involve HR in conversations that are strategic, forward-thinking, proactive and comprehensive.

Says Steele, “I remember just wanting a seat at the table, to have HR included in the conversation.” He obtained that support from former CEOs, who initiated a culture shift and included HR in discussions about strategy and the organization’s future.

Leadership’s support of the HR agenda was instrumental in the decision to invest in leadership development programs like the Leadership Institute, and workplace initiatives like expanded family leave, tuition reimbursement and student loan forgiveness—all of which have become part of Steele’s legacy.

Calling HCA Healthcare “a people company,” Steele believes that the way to better patient care is to “do the right thing for the people that do the work.” And that means developing leaders internally who understand and respect the enterprise’s unique culture of care – leaders who support clinical work in an ethical and compassionate way from the top down.

John’s top 4 tips

A 25-year legacy of learning and development wouldn’t be complete without a little parting advice! Here are four tips that have helped Steele through the years:

  1. Never stop learning and growing. Grow your career and skills through expanding your knowledge.
  2. Growth isn’t always a straight line. Persevere and learn to zigzag.
  3. Determine where your passion lies. Make your work meaningful and don’t forget to make it fun! If you love what you do it will be a pleasure to come to work every day.
  4. Foster relationships at work and value your colleagues. You can never be an expert at everything so surround yourself with smart motivated people and help them grow.
Bringing out the best in others

It might come as a surprise to learn that Steele hasn’t always been the effective storyteller he is today. It’s a skill he admired in former CEO Jack Bovender, who understood the importance of being ready for a moment and telling a story effectively, as he did leading the company through the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Steele’s own storytelling blends his decades of professional expertise, curiosity to learn and genuine empathy for the human condition. Every moment that he captures becomes a story he recounts to bring the best out in others.

(left) John Steele, HCA Healthcare’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer, and (right) Sherri Neal, HCA Healthcare’s vice president of cultural development and inclusion

To paraphrase one of Steele’s favorite quotes about business, by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a leader.” As an example close to home, we need to look no further than the impact of our company’s founders, Drs. Thomas F. Frist, Sr. and Thomas F. Frist, Jr.

Their influence established a culture of caring like family that continues to resonate across the enterprise each and every day. For Steele, his shadow can be seen over the years mentoring colleagues whose work affects countless areas across HCA Healthcare and inspires discussions about the future of HR.

Just as Steele is a transparent leader who believes in building trust and creating psychological safety at work for everyone, the contributions he’s made connects colleagues to a bigger purpose and helps them reach their greatest potential: to serve patients, support each other and improve the human condition.

“Determine where your passion lies. Make your work meaningful and don’t forget to make it fun! If you love what you do it will be a pleasure to come to work every day,” says John Steele (center).

HCA Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, comprising 184 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom. With its founding in 1968, HCA Healthcare created a new model for hospital care in the United States, using combined resources to strengthen hospitals, deliver patient-focused care and improve the practice of medicine.