Dr. Rebecca Saavedra, vice president for Strategic Management in the Office of the President, provides guidance and support to members of the Executive Leadership team to develop, manage and implement UTMB's strategic plan. UTMB President Dr. David L. Callender created this new role in 2008 and she accepted the position just months before Hurricane Ike struck Galveston. Saavedra has been at UTMB for over twenty years and has served in various academic leadership roles. She was Associate Vice President of Student Services prior to accepting her current position to lead efforts to enhance accountability and performance across the institution. She is a Malcolm Baldrige examiner, and serves as co-chair of the UTMB Professionalism Committee.
Impact sat down with this dynamic lady and got her thoughts on the future of UTMB, her greatest challenges to date and a glimpse into her life away from the office.
What do you like the most about your job?
My role here at UTMB is exciting because I get to work with executive leadership as they decide where UTMB is going and how we are going to face the challenges that lie ahead. A lot of people still think of the old approach to strategic planning, as very tedious and boring but we now have a rolling strategic planning process. The new pace to strategic planning matches the dynamic environment that we face. My role is to help develop, coordinate and manage that process for the institution to ensure our agility to meet the future demands. We work to keep the planning process on track with a laser focus on performance. Working with leadership is really the most important thing that I do because they are the ones that are making the critical decisions about where we are going and how we are going to meet the challenges.
What has been your greatest challenge?
I started in February 2008 and then the storm happened in September 2008. I think when an institution is dealt one of the worse possible hands that is when an organization and its leaders show true character. That is when an organization tests its own values and culture. We had major challenges here at UTMB — we had the storm and its impact and then the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. We definitely faced challenges on multiple fronts. However, with the help of our employees, staff and our supporters we overcame it. We have achieved success that many have truly found amazing.
What is your greatest success so far?
Dr. Callender explained it the best. He said that we developed a strategic planning process ‘de novo’ — out of nothing. There wasn’t an institutional planning process or an institutional planning culture. We developed a systematic, coordinated, integrated, repeatable planning process so people would know what was required of them and we implemented it across the institution. We are not done yet, but we have a good start.
How does the Baldrige appointment help you in your current position?
It gives us a framework by identifying the critical elements needed for organizational performance and provides guiding principles for an organization to become more forward thinking and innovative. It reminds us that leadership plays a significant role in our planning process and that we have to be focused on our customer – for us that is our patients and our students.
One of the things that our planning process gives us is the ability to be flexible so that we can be ready if something happens – whether it is a storm, a competitor or a health care reform law. Any organization will be surprised occasionally, we will have what are called black swan events that happen out of the clear blue, but in most cases we want to be as prepared as we can.
How do you see the future of UTMB?
I think Dr. Callender realized that it was a time for bold action following the storm and wanted to make sure that we were in control of our future. That is what defining the future of UTMB means for me. We didn’t want someone else to define us. We realized that there was a transformation happening across our three mission areas. It was happening in education, health care and research — all at the same time. Dr. Callender took the opportunity to make some bold decisions and that is where the Road Ahead is taking us now.
It is our institutional strategic plan, tied to our core strengths, that addresses the question of how we can bring more value to our students and patients. It focuses on our priorities and implements action plans that identify what we need to do to be successful. It defines our opportunities for the future, whether it is with the new Jennie Sealy Hospital in Galveston, or in education and research. The Road Ahead looks at improving efficiencies, quality, safety, and curriculum. Everyone plays a role in achieving these goals—whether they are a secretary who is supporting a manager or somebody who is constructing a building, or cleaning a building, or developing a new cure for a disease or making innovations in the curriculum—everyone is part of the plan.
What three words would most people use to describe you?
Tenacious. I am like the Energizer Bunny, I keep going until the job is done
Pragmatic. I know that what we are involved in is a long-term process to transform our culture, but it must be done in a way that builds support and understanding.
Futuristic. The world is changing, that might seem scary to some but it is exciting and I like to routinely scan the environment to see what that means for UTMB.
If you could travel anywhere in the world where would it be?
I love to travel. I have been very lucky, my husband works in the space industry and we have been to Paris three times for an International Space Conference. A place I would really love to go that I haven’t been would be Russia or Viet Nam. I think that would be an incredible experience. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s hearing a lot about those countries, they had such a big impact on us for such a long time.
Do you have a favorite movie or book?
I just love the movies. If I could go once a week, I would go. One of my favorite movies is Aliens. I saw it in the theatre and I loved everything about it. I loved that a woman was in the leading role and that she was a take-charge person. I loved that the alien itself was a female. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and you really didn’t see many strong woman characters. That movie was the starting point. Now we have The Hunger Games where the little girl is very powerful. I can hardly wait until I can take my granddaughter to see movies like that. I love to see strong woman characters, even villains; it is fun to watch take-charge characters.
Best advice anyone has given you?
Be respectful of everyone because it is the right thing to do. From the person who opens the door for you to the secretary to the maintenance person, everyone is doing their job. Everyone needs to help each other.
Is there something you have always wanted to do but never have?
It is not that I would want to be on Dancing with the Stars, but I would love to be a dancer. I love all kinds of dance. I particularly like to watch So You Think You Can Dance? because it has all different types of really good dancers. I would love to have the time to take dance lessons and really be able to just twirl around the dance floor. That would be a lot of fun.