HCA Healthcare
December 06, 2022


Source: Nashville Business Journal
Author: Joel Stinnett
Date: December 6, 2022

Wayne Smith was new to Nashville, having recently been named CEO of Franklin-based Community Health Systems, when Dr. Tommy Frist Jr. invited him to lunch at HCA Healthcare headquarters.

“When I got there, he said, ‘Let’s go downstairs. We’ll go to the cafeteria,’” Smith said. “He introduced me to every person in the room. … Then he said to everybody, ‘I just want to say one other thing to you today. Wayne is here. He’s the new CEO of Community Health Systems and, by the way, he’s here to buy HCA.’”

Smith was not there to buy HCA, but the story was one of many shared Monday night highlighting Frist’s compassion, business acumen, mentorship, philanthropy, entrepreneurial spirit — and wit.

The tributes were part of the Nashville Business Journal’s 2022 Most Admired CEOs awards held at Conrad Nashville, where Frist was honored with the Legacy Award for his lifetime of achievements in business and philanthropy.

Frist co-founded HCA more than 50 years ago alongside his father, Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., and businessman Jack Massey. From a $5.25 million investment in 1968, HCA quickly grew, posting $29 million in revenue in its first year and going public on the New York Stock Exchange. Frist, a former Air Force flight surgeon, was CEO of the company twice and chairman of the board when HCA orchestrated a $33 billion leveraged buyout in 2006, the largest in history at the time.

Today, HCA (NYSE: HCA) is Middle Tennessee’s largest publicly traded company, according to Nashville Business Journal research, with nearly 11,000 local employees and $58.75 billion of revenue in 2021. The company operates 182 hospitals across 20 states and the United Kingdom, more than any for-profit hospital operator in the U.S.

That success has made Frist one of the 100 richest people on earth — his net worth is $17.4 billion, according to Forbes — but fellow billionaire John Ingram said Frist’s wealth has not changed his values.

“Here is a guy that has accomplished so much in the business world … and yet he’s so normal, in terms of raising really good kids, being a dedicated spouse for 60 years to Trisha [Frist],” Ingram, who is chairman of Ingram Industries, said in a tribute video played during the event. “He is a guy who has kind of had the same group of friends since high school. That’s just incredibly admirable.”

Frist’s success has spread across Music City. The health care industry has a $67 billion annual impact on Nashville’s economy, according to the Nashville Health Care Council, with more than 500 area health care companies, employing more than 328,000 people.

One of those people was Heather Rohan, who retired as president of TriStar Health in 2021 after a 43-year career in health care. Ten years ago, prior to leading TriStar, Rohan moved to Nashville from Florida to become the CEO of TriStar Centennial Medical Center, HCA’s flagship hospital.

“I was a little nervous,” Rohan said in the video. “I got a handwritten note from you, Dr. Frist, and in that note you were welcoming me to Nashville and you said you believed in me and you had confidence in my abilities to do that job. That note, and I still have it, meant the world to me.”

Frist isn’t just the father of Nashville’s largest industry, his philanthropy has helped establish some of the city’s most beloved landmarks, including the Nashville Zoo, the Frist Art Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Adventure Science Center. He also founded the Nashville Health Care Council, United Way's Alexis de Tocqueville Society, the HCA Foundation and The Frist Foundation, one of Nashville’s largest charitable organizations.

“He made philanthropic giving and community partnerships core to the mission of HCA,” Frist Foundation CEO Corinne Bergeron said in the video. “What is more essential to Nashville and our identity than giving back to the community?”

In an acceptance video played upon receiving the Legacy Award, Frist — who was in attendance — thanked his fellow leaders at HCA for the company’s success.

“We founded HCA with the idea that a group of hospitals working closely with physicians and with access to capital could provide greater care to patients and communities than a single hospital on its own,” Frist said in the video. “We did that and it took more people than I am able mention to mention now. … You would be hard pressed to find a company that spans 55 years and has had only a handful of CEOs. I accept this Legacy Award with them, for we did it together.”

For more on Frist, his lifetime of achievements and the legacy he's left on health care and Nashville, check out Friday's cover story featuring an interview with the legendary entrepreneur.