Dr. Denis Cortese started at Mayo Clinic as a pulmonologist 40 years ago.
During his nine years as CEO Cortese has opened two new hospitals, one at Mayo's Arizona campus, and another at the Jacksonville campus. He's also grown the Clinic's endowment, to $1.25 billion.
Cortese says he has also taught Mayo Clinic leadership how to take risks.
"Build relationships and build alliances. The leadership, as you can see, is now doing that," said Cortese. "The other thing we've accomplished is that we've given more permission to our rank-and-file staff and employees to think bigger, too -- to think what our obligations are for the state and for the country."
“We have lots of good delivery systems that can provide better outcomes, better safety and better service at lower cost.”Dr. Denis Cortese
Those alliances have been part of a big transformation for Mayo in the past 10 years.
Mayo has branched out, playing a major role in the development of the University of Minnesota's Rochester campus. It has also developed a genomics center with the Twin Cities campus.
Cortese founded Mayo's Health Policy Center. Its goal is to rally the medical community around a plan for national health care reform and advocate for that. In essence, to bring Mayo to the world.
"To get the message to United States leaders that the time is now," said Cortese. "We have lots of good delivery systems that can provide better outcomes, better safety and better service at lower cost. It doesn't mean the cheapest cost, but lower cost."
News reports say Cortese is a candidate to become administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but Cortese says he knows nothing about that.
Cortese, who turned 65 today, says he and his wife plan to move to Taos, New Mexico in the fall. He says he'll use that as a base to launch a new health care policy career.
"There are potential activities for me in academia. I have an interest in perhaps creating something that will work toward redesigning the health care system," said Cortese.
Former Minnesota U.S. Sen. David Durenberger chairs the National Institute of Health Policy. He says Cortese would waste his skills as the administrator of a federal health agency.
Instead, he thinks Cortese could become an effective spokesman for bigger reforms.
"For what is genuinely a high-quality, low-cost health care system in this country. But it's important for him to disassociate himself from Mayo. As a spokesperson for this larger, more ideal system, I think he makes a big difference," said Durenberger.
Cortese won't leave Mayo until November 2009. There are five candidates under consideration to succeed him, and the clinic's board will select a new CEO in May. The the two will work together until Cortese's departure.
Cortese says he knows all five candidates, and they are very involved in the direction and progress the clinic is making.
Durenberger says no one needs to speculate on where Mayo is headed or who will lead.
"I'm a St. John's boy, and I grew up on a campus in Collegeville. I know how the monks make their decisions, whether it's for the abbott or for the president of the university. Mayo has that same cultural tradition," he said.
Durenberger says whomever is selected as the right person to lead Mayo at this moment will lead an organization that has changed from 10 years ago.
Mayo now has a working relationship with the Obama administration. This fall, undergraduate students at the U of M in Rochester will work with the Mayo, and there might soon be a biobusiness park in Mayo's backyard.