A native of Illinois, Spencer Kowal, chief financial officer (CFO) and treasurer, has lived in his share of big cities on both the east and west coasts, but according to him, the Midwest is the best. He recently celebrated his first anniversary as an Ohioan and in his role at Akron Children’s overseeing the financial operations for the hospital.
Prior to joining Akron Children’s, Spencer served at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as vice president of financial strategy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Denison University and a master’s degree in health care administration from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health.
Tell us about your background.
I am a Chicago native but have lived in several other exciting cities including Washington D.C., Philadelphia and San Francisco. My career has been spent either as a hospital management consultant or a hospital administrator. Having worked for both adult and children’s hospitals, I’ve had many different experiences.
Tell us a little about your role as Chief Financial Officer.
As CFO, I serve on the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) and report to President and CEO Grace Wakulchik. ELT incorporates perspectives from all areas of executive leadership including clinical, operational, quality, human resources, information technology, strategy, legal and finance. We make key decisions as a team and value all perspectives in that process.
Many of my responsibilities center on the financial operations of our organization including the areas of accounting, revenue cycle, supply chain, managed care, financial planning and financial analytics. Through these functions I aspire to be a strategic financial advisor on all matters related to finance to the organization. I also engage with and inform the finance, audit, investment, quality and executive committees of the hospital Board of Directors.
What do you like about working at Akron Children’s?
The people make this such a wonderful place to work. The determination of our clinicians, nurses and all our employees to take on any adversity – including the challenges brought by the COVID pandemic – is inspiring. I have watched our employees rise to the challenges that we faced this year, always focused on our mission as an organization and anchored by the three promises that serve as the guiding principles in everything we do.
The clarity of this mission has helped Akron Children’s execute its strategic objectives extremely well across two hospital campuses, several adult hospital neonatal and pediatric inpatient partnerships, a growing number of health centers, and 50+ primary, specialty and urgent care locations. Akron Children’s also has excelled at providing services across the full continuum of care from inpatient and outpatient services to home care, a specialty pharmacy and through a national model for school health services. These strategies are foundational to the organization’s ability to lead in serving the children of Ohio and beyond. At the same time, Akron Children’s has been equally successful establishing an environment of continuous performance excellence and operational improvement that I like to call financial stewardship.
Why is employee engagement important to you?
Engaged employees directly support quality patient care. This translates to reducing preventable complications, enhancing patient safety and improving the patient and family experience. Employee engagement is a must. We need to listen, engage and support our staff every day. Our most important organizational assets enter and exit our buildings and ride our elevators each day – our employees. Our focus on employee engagement is what makes Akron Children’s a truly special place.
If you didn’t work in health care leadership, what would your dream job be?
It would be something to do with sailing or boat racing. There is something wonderful about sailing. I’m not sure I would like the stress of having to compete all the time but being around competitive sailing in some way would be a dream job for me (but only if my family was with me).
Tell us about your family.
My wife, Randi, and I are blessed with five beautiful daughters: Samantha, Karli, Avery, Hayden and Dylan. Samantha recently graduated from the University of Illinois. Karli is an avid theater performer and a Miami University freshman. Avery, my high schooler, has a passion for crew. Hayden and Dylan are the youngest (ages 7 and 5) and both love doing puzzles, bike riding and playing Candyland with their dad. My family has a very personal connection to pediatric care. Karli is a neuroblastoma survivor and is in complete remission thanks to the wonderful care she received at Lurie Children’s.
How do you relax?
I like to spend one-on-one time with my daughters. They keep me busy. I also like to road bike in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park which helps to clear my mind and recharge.
Most interesting place you’ve been and why?
The most beautiful place I have traveled is Positano, Italy. It is a cliff-side village on southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The most fascinating, and perhaps peculiar, place I have visited was the Wieliczka Salt Mines near Krakow, Poland. These mines actually include four chapels and an underground lake.
What was your first job?
I volunteered in high school in a hospital emergency room. I was responsible for stocking the rooms between patients. The nursing team took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. This job, and having several family members involved in hospital administration, influenced my decision to work in health care.
What would you change about yourself if you could?
I would find more opportunities to travel and experience new cultures and people.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra you live by?
I think a mantra that I have tried to live my life by both professionally and personally is ‘progress over perfection’. For me, this means learning from my failures and setbacks and focusing each day at being better at something than I was yesterday. It’s a goal that is both achievable and one that I will never be done achieving.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I am a big University of North Carolina Tarheels basketball fan from my graduate school days. Each year, I attend at least one game in person. Luckily, my wife puts up with my obsession and even travels with me for these games.