Meetings like this are taking place in large corporations all over the country. But this is the first time I've heard one end with this result. Paul Levy is the man in charge of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. As with many large corporations and hospitals, they're feeling the financial crunch, and the board is pressing management to think about layoffs to balance the budget.
And whom are they thinking about laying off?... do you suppose they want to begin at the top, with the bloated salaries of upper management.... no, no, no... of course not.
Paul Levy called a meeting of the entire Hospital staff, in the auditorium. He knew these people... he knew all of them, because he'd been walking the hospital for weeks, watching people at work. He stood at the nurses' stations, watching the people who push the patients around in wheelchairs. He saw them talk to the patients, put them at ease, make them laugh. He saw that the people who push the wheelchairs were important extensions of the hospital.
He watched the people who deliver the food talked with the patients and their families.
He watched the people who mop the floors, clean sheets, empty trash, and he realized that many are immigrants, many had second and third jobs, and many were just squeezing out a living. Paul Levy had all this on his mind as he waited in Auditorium.
He looked out into this large group of familiar faces: technicians, secretaries, administrators, therapists, nurses, the people who are the heart and soul of any hospital. People who knew that Beth Israel had hired about a quarter of its 8,000 staff during the last six years and that the chances that they could all keep their jobs and benefits in this economy ranged was slim.
"I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I'd like to get your reaction to it," Levy began. "I'd like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners - the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don't want to put an additional burden on them.
"Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice," he continued. "It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits."
He had barely spoken the words when the Auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained well-deserved applause.
Paul Levy stood there and felt it rush over him, like a wave. His eyes welled and his throat tightened so much that he didn't think he could finish. When the applause finally ended, he told the workers at Beth Israel, the people who make a hospital go, that he wanted their suggestions.
And Paul Levy began getting e-mails.
The overall consensus was that the workers don't want anyone to get laid off and are willing to give up pay and benefits to make sure that didn't happen. A nurse said her floor voted unanimously to forgo a 3 percent raise. A fellow in finance who got laid off from his prior job at a hospital in Rhode Island suggested working one less day a week. Another nurse said she was willing to give up some vacation and sick time. A respiratory therapist suggested eliminating bonuses.
"I'm getting about a hundred messages per hour," Levy said yesterday, shaking his head.
Paul Levy is onto something. People are worried about the next paycheck, because they're only a few paychecks away from not being able to pay the mortgage or the rent.
But a lot of them realize that everybody's in the same boat and that their boat doesn't rise because someone else's sinks.
Paul Levy is trying something revolutionary, radical, maybe even impossible: He is trying to convince the people who work for him that the E in CEO can sometimes stand for empathy.
This is the way that a CEO should behave, like a leader. This is the way a leader leads their people through a crisis. This is the way you keep morale high, during financially uncertain times.
Paul Levy is the antithesis of Bernie Madeoff, and the CEO's of Lehman brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch and their Platinum Parachutes. This is a man of the people. And I guarantee you, that if and when this crisis is over, the workers of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston will remember who led them through the crisis, allowed them to keep their jobs, their paychecks, and their dignity.
Ladies and gentlemen of Active Rain. This is the portrait of a modern American Hero. Let's hope, whatever Paul Levy has... is contagious!
Give this man a well deserved round of applause.