Michael Fisher Ready to Start a New Chapter
In December 2009, a 50-year-old Michael Fisher sat down for an interview with Internal Communications just as he was set to become Cincinnati Children’s new president and CEO on January 1.
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Fisher had an impressive business background and a long record of service to the community. As a 5-year member of the Board of Trustees, he also had a love for Cincinnati Children’s and a genuine interest in getting to know employees. In fact, he would make it a habit through much of his tenure to walk the concourse and have lunch in the cafeteria so he could interact with staff, patients, and families—always insisting that they call him “Michael.”
Fast-forward 12 years—what seems like a lifetime later or maybe the blink of an eye—and Fisher is preparing to hand over the reins to Steve Davis, MD, on November 22. He is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Suzette, his children and his young grandson, continuing to contribute to the Cincinnati community, and having the flexibility to explore other business opportunities, including helping his family in entrepreneurial and investment endeavors.
“It was always my intention that I would stay as CEO for about 10 years, provided I was healthy and the board and other stakeholders, including me, believed I was doing a good job,” he said. “Of course, I had an unforeseen sabbatical of six months for my cancer treatments, and then the COVID pandemic emerged, so I ended up staying a little longer. But I felt it was important to be here to help navigate the first chapters of that crisis.”
He feels the institution is in a strong place and that it’s a good time to pass the torch.
“It’s important to have periodic changes in leadership so fresh ideas and energy can be infused into the organization and people can see that there are new opportunities for their growth,” he explained.
(Above) Michael Fisher jokes that he has 'big shoes to fill' at a dinner honoring his predecessor, Jim Anderson, in 2009.
(Right) Fisher attends new employee orientation in November 2009.
The Early Days
It was Fisher’s long-time commitment to community service that paved the path to his career at Cincinnati Children’s. He was leading the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber where he got to know the medical center’s board leaders Lee Carter, Tom Cody and CEO Jim Anderson. They invited him to join the board, and he accepted.
“Tom Cody likes to say I got infected with Cincinnati Children’s in the very best sense of the word during my time on the board. It gave me a window on the organization, and I felt privileged to be part of its incredible mission,” Fisher recalled.
When Anderson announced his retirement in 2009, Fisher decided to throw his hat in the ring. He got the job and hit the ground running. His first year was filled with refining and rolling out the 2015 Strategic Plan, supporting a “Big Bang” launch of Epic, recruiting new talent, I2S2 training, and more. The hospital also earned its then highest "U.S. News" ranking with top-10 spots in all pediatric specialties, and eight of those in the top-5.
It also brought tragedy to his office doorstep when 7-month-old Tressel Meinardi passed away due to an error involving medical equipment that was being used during his surgery in August 2010.
“Our team was greatly sobered by that terrible event, but we rallied and responded, and it propelled us forward on our safety journey,” said Fisher. “In fact, it served as an inspiration for Solutions for Patient Safety, our network of what is now more than 145 children’s hospitals who share information on a range of patient and employee safety events, including what they’ve learned and what they’re doing to prevent them from happening again.”
Fisher has experienced many moments of delight during his years at Cincinnati Children’s helm. He is energized when visiting with a child and family and seeing their joy at making progress in their treatment or appreciation for the care they received. He also loves connecting with staff and learning about what’s important to them.
“I’ve gotten to see employees growing in incredible ways—young faculty who are blossoming and nurses who are advancing in their career,” he said. “I know one employee who didn’t have the self-confidence to make eye contact when we first met. This person went on to get a GED and now engages with patients and families every day and has become a great ambassador for Cincinnati Children’s.”
Fisher has always chosen to focus on finding solutions when faced with adversity, such as the rapid emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the explosion of racial unrest in our country and the need to work harder on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I am gratified to be part of an organization that said we are going to lean into both of these issues, because being the leader in improving child health means leading—in surrounding neighborhoods, in the response to the pandemic, and in our commitment to improve the experience and opportunities for all people who are part of the Cincinnati Children’s community,” he said.
Even when confronted with his own aggressive lymphoma diagnosis in 2018 and the need to take a 6-month medical leave, Fisher was humbled by how the Performance Leadership Team stepped up to make sure the organization moved forward.
“The enormous personal care, concern and support from my entire Cincinnati Children’s family was beyond uplifting,” he said. “It reassured me that I chose to invest a huge part of my life in a place that truly was another home for me.”
Fisher and colleagues from the Research Foundation take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness about ALS.
Fisher has enjoyed walking through the concourse and connecting with employees throughout his tenure as CEO.
The support Fisher received during his illness was just one illustration of an underlying theme of his leadership—the belief that we are stronger together.
“This institution has so many enormously talented and passionate employees who are devoting their lives and careers to education, research, clinical care and other areas, all in service to kids,” he said. “How do we bring them together for the greater good, knowing that, at any point, my piece of the puzzle may not be as prominent as I might like, but understanding that we, as one Cincinnati Children’s, can do even greater things than any one of us could do alone?”
The importance of “together” was emphasized by the addition of the word in the medical center’s tagline, “Changing the Outcome Together.” It is also part of the new strategic plan, Pursuing Our Potential Together.
“I’m excited by the promise that Pursuing Our Potential Together holds for the medical center and the region as we get closer to our 150th anniversary,” said Fisher. “To the extent that this notion of ‘together’ actually helps change outcomes for kids and helps advance science that ultimately benefits kids, I will be way more grateful for playing a role in that than even the magnificent buildings we constructed or the strength of our balance sheet or the amount of external funding we received. All those things are great, but what will set us up well for the future is the culture of collaboration, the talent and the spirit of making a difference together for kids.”
Leaving a Legacy
When asked how he would like to be remembered as president and CEO, Fisher paused, then recalled his comments 12 years ago at a dinner for the board and selected guests to honor his predecessor, Anderson.
“I publicly committed that evening to 1) Do no harm, 2) Be the best at getting better, and 3) Lead change. In the years that followed, I tried to contribute to improving safety, expanding mental health services support, recognizing and addressing the social determinants of health and health equity, and the spirit of ‘stronger together,’” he said. “I’ll leave it to others to evaluate whether I lived up to that commitment. But when I look at myself in the mirror every day, I feel like I certainly did my best to honor my promise and deliver on it.”
As Fisher prepares for the next leg of his journey, he knows he is leaving Cincinnati Children’s in capable hands.
“Steve Davis brings enormous strength to the CEO role,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have a pediatrician and executive physician leading the medical center at this critical time in the world of health and healthcare. He has been a tremendous partner and key architect of so many important building blocks that are embedded in the Pursuing Our Potential Together set of aspirations—from HealthVine to the Critical Care Building, from our regulatory compliance infrastructure to the development of up-and-coming leaders. He also built a broad range of relations across the organization and in the community in response to COVID. Steve is uniquely positioned to accelerate Cincinnati Children’s impact in the years ahead.”
Although Fisher is looking forward to new and different opportunities to grow and contribute to the Cincinnati community, he acknowledges he will greatly miss everything about Cincinnati Children’s.
“For me, there is no better organization, mission and group of people,” he said. “And certainly, I have had no bigger privilege than to serve and lead this wonderful institution, which is all about improving the lives of kids. I am forever grateful.”
The Location G ribbon-cutting and celebration in October 2021 was an exhilarating way to mark the end of Fisher's tenure as CEO,
Fisher kneels at Cincinnati Children's observation of Juneteenth in 2020 in the midst of racial unrest across the country.