James W. Gauss

President, CEO, Witt/Kieffer

Company Info: Witt/Kieffer

Web site:

Address: 2015 Spring Rd., Suite 510, Oak Brook, Ill. 60523

Phone: 630-990-1370


Advice: Young executives should concentrate on developing leadership skills. University and professional programs where faculty are sitting executives can help young leaders develop communication, interpersonal, and conflict-resolution skills. Young people should seek out mentors who can help them develop their drive, intellectual agility, and emotional intelligence that they need to motivate and influence others when they step into leadership roles. Future leaders also need to seek exposure to a variety of professional disciplines, people, and organizations. Young executives should identify industries and areas of interest for which they have a passion. Knowing what they’re passionate about and the related disciplines can serve as a platform for marketing themselves, particularly as they change careers in record numbers. What also is becoming increasingly important is working in a multicultural environment and gaining sensitivity and awareness of people from diverse backgrounds. These combined, high-quality experiences go a long way toward focusing career efforts. Critically important qualities for candidates at any level/industry are a high level of integrity, a commitment to hard work, an inquisitive nature, a talent for problem solving, an ability to manage through difficult times/resolve conflict, and an aptitude for effective public speaking.

Qualities sought in emerging leaders: We look for people who have shown progression in their careers, learned from their mistakes, and transitioned from task-driven and narrowly defined management roles to demonstrated leadership positions. Ideal candidates also display a substantial awareness of their strengths and shortcomings, and have taken action to maximize potential, minimize weaknesses, and surround themselves with strong people who can complement their abilities. We also look for people who perform well, not only within their organizations, but who are increasingly aware of the external forces that impact their business. This is particularly important for those who have positions early in their careers that are not focused on external forces such as the competitive landscape and legal, legislative, and regulatory issues. Confident, superior leaders have the ability to identify and work with people who are more intelligent than they may be and who know how to build teams that achieve results greater than what they could accomplish on their own. Finally, we find in short supply leaders who can clearly communicate a vision that inspires all stakeholders/audiences, both internal and external. While intangible, visionary leadership is inspired leadership that ultimately creates tangible results.

Sector specialization: Health systems, hospitals, higher education, academic medical centers, children's hospitals

Job function specialization: C-suite, presidents, corporate officers/health systems, physician executives

Geographical Focus: U.S.

Companies I often recruit for: Catholic Healthcare West; Phoenix Children's Hospital; Scottsdale Healthcare; Palomar Pomerado Health; Presbyterian Health System

Favorite historical figure: Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, who had the vision to understand the businesses in which he was operating. He realized early on that the changing competitive landscape needed to be an active part of his thinking as he moved the organization forward. Jack grasped the need to hire high-performing executives and make difficult decisions about those who were not performing at an acceptable level. He knew how to marry the dynamics of an organization’s internal environment with external forces to foster superior performance. He also knew how to bring about fundamental changes in the way the business was organized, achieving substantial long-term gains and transforming the company. He had strong people who were willing to challenge both him and the corporation. He was able to articulate a clear strategic vision for the organization. He was completely dedicated and had an undying commitment to his work.

Education: Washington Univ., MHA; Lakeland College, BA

Languages: English

Employment history: Witt/Kieffer: President, CEO, 2007 to present; Executive Vice-President, 2007; Western Region Director, 1986-2006; Senior Associate, Central Region, 1985-86

Other interests: Reading, golf, music

Professional/Membership Affiliations: Director, Institute for Diversity in Health Management

Experience in executive search consulting: 25+ years

High Profile Placement: Presently working on a search for the president and CEO of Legacy Health System

Other paths I might have pursued: My studies and early career plans were focused on health-system and hospital administration. If I had not been introduced to executive search at an early stage in my career development, I would have followed that path.

The global business trend that will most influence corporate performance in the future: Given that so much of business has become international in nature, the ability to identify people who can work in different cultures and countries will be the most pressing business issue. Undoubtedly, as businesses move in this direction, their ability to find people with the talent and flexibility to work at an international level will be the key to success.

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