Position: Executive Director
Company: Baton Rouge Health District
Family: One son, Alexander (7)
Hometown: Antwerp, Belgium
Education: B.S. chemistry, M.S. chemistry & molecular biology,
Master of International Business, ScD Public Health
In the news:
In July, Steven Ceulemans was tapped to serve as executive director of the Baton Rouge Health District. Other than lead the continued implementation of the health district’s strategic plan, Ceulemans—who most recently oversaw all laboratory services for North Oaks Health System in Hammond—will recruit new health care and biotech companies to Baton Rouge, as well as foster clinical collaboration among members.
What was your very first job, how old were you and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
I became a licensed youth sports instructor when I was 15 growing up in Belgium, and mainly taught children ice- and in-line skating. I learned that a job with purpose—in my case, the gratification of teaching someone a lifelong sports skill—can be at least as meaningful as earning a pay check. It also taught me the value of having a good mentor, as it was my dad’s guidance that helped me translate an interest in skating and hockey into becoming the youngest licensed instructor in the Flemish region and generate a flexible earning opportunity that I could combine with my studies.
What time do you typically get up on a workday, and what’s your ideal morning routine to get it off to a great start?
I typically get up around 6:30 a.m., have breakfast with my 7-year-old son Alexander, and help get him ready for school before leaving for the office. My morning routine is fairly flexible, as long as it doesn’t involve working out. I don’t mind being on the treadmill at night, but early in the morning just doesn’t agree with me.
For those who are not familiar with the Baton Rouge Health District, tell us a little bit about the district and your role within the organization.
The Baton Rouge Health District encompasses a 1,000-acre medical corridor with a high density of medical providers and health systems, working as a coalition of patient-focused, innovative healthcare organizations committed to the shared vision of a world-class, high-performing health destination at the heart of a healthy and vibrant community. Members of the Baton Rouge Health District currently include the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Ochsner Health Systems, Pennington Biomedical Research Center at LSU and Woman’s Hospital. I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization and working closely with our stakeholders in setting and realizing our collective goals—all either directly or indirectly associated with a thriving healthcare community.
You were tapped to serve as executive director of the Baton Rouge Health District in late July. What are your top priorities for your first year on the job?
I believe the strong leadership of the Health District Board and the efforts of my predecessor, Suzy Sonnier, have established a solid foundation for the Health District. The opportunity moving forward will be for the organization to continue to thrive as the premier collaborative platform and catalyst for synergistic healthcare and life science growth in Baton Rouge. Being new to both Baton Rouge as well as to this position, early on this means investing the time to learn and thoroughly get to know the healthcare community and its stakeholders to meaningfully collaborate.
Prior to joining the Health District, you oversaw all laboratory services for the North Oaks Health System in Hammond. What prompted the career change, and are there any lessons or insights you took from North Oaks that you’re able to apply at the Health District?
My hope is to continue to use my past investment in education and training in both the U.S. and Europe in a way that can help make a lasting, positive impact on our community. The opportunity to lead the Health District builds on my prior experience, but allows wider collaboration with community-wide healthcare stakeholders, to pursue opportunities on a scale beyond what I have been able to realize before. I believe my prior experience managing a hospital laboratory division with over 100 team members is very helpful in my current role. Healthcare is a unique industry in the sense that it is truly 24/7, with very high stakes that can profoundly impact patient lives. I believe this shared understanding of the operating dynamics and responsibilities of being in healthcare helps me better relate to the goals of many of the healthcare leaders I get to work with.
What have been some of the most rewarding experiences of your career to date?
The chance to see some of the projects I have worked on become not only realities but lasting staples that add value to the community. Examples include the past development of the BioInnovation Center in New Orleans, and the realizations of the first global medical device industry innovation center (Evonik medical device project house) and drug manufacturing facility (Oxford Pharmaceuticals) in Birmingham, AL.
What’s one of the best vacations you’ve ever taken and what’s a vacation you hope to take in the future?
I got to visit friends in Argentina a couple of years ago and very much enjoyed it. The range of breathtaking sceneries is striking, and the capital, Buenos Aires, is a wonderful place with a great mix of architecture, food, culture and atmosphere.
I also enjoy visiting my family in Belgium. My parents recently retired, and I hope I can keep spending time with them in the future, especially over the holidays.
What’s a leadership skill you’ve learned the hard way?
In Flemish, there is a saying that literally translated goes, “Being right doesn’t mean you will get it right.” It means that you can have all the facts right, but unless you find a way to get others to agree, you might not be able to get very far. I have found most situations in life to be ultimately an exercise in finding agreement. This often requires patience, which I haven’t always had in equal measure and in some cases had to learn the hard way how, even if you’re right, it can sometimes mean very little.
What’s something about your job or company that might surprise people?
The Health District represents both a geography and a coalition of stakeholders. This means it has member institutions that are located both outside and inside of its physical boundaries.
What are some of your hobbies or favorite things to do in your free time?
I like casually playing golf or tennis and spending time with my son.
How has technology disrupted your industry over the past decade, and how is the Baton Rouge Health District evolving to adapt and take advantage of new opportunities?
Value is an ever-increasing driver in healthcare, pushing for highest quality at lowest cost. This has prompted healthcare to evolve, often driven by technology, from a historically highly localized industry to an increasingly regional, national and even global competitive landscape. This brings both challenges and opportunities for Baton Rouge to strive to be the healthcare community of choice for patients, talented clinicians, and industry and academic innovators. The role of the Health District is to facilitate our healthcare community’s continued competitiveness in an ever-evolving and expanding industry landscape.
What’s one of the smartest purchases you’ve ever made? What’s one of the dumbest?
I think it’s important to realize that gratification from “stuff” is often driven more by how you relate to it and not by how much you spend. In that sense, my first car, a 15-year-old Ford Mustang, stands out. It has been the cheapest vehicle I’ve owned, but the effort and sacrifice it took for me to earn enough money to buy it makes it stand out as one of the things I have appreciated most. The dumbest recent purchase I remember was a gigantic bag of limes at Sam’s Club. It seemed like a great deal at the store, but who really needs 30 limes. I’m still debating whether to make pie or turn them into Mojitos…
What is your strategy for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
I believe that trying to find balance between work and personal life—and being dedicated to each when you’re in them—have really been helpful to me. I try to spend dedicated time with family when I can, whether it’s taking my son to basketball during the weekend or vacationing with my brother and parents in Europe over the holidays.
What are your best productivity hacks?
Make sure to distinguish the transformative from the menial tasks, and strive to find balance. If you compare your job to an aquarium, it needs both sand (daily tasks to keep things going) and larger coral/boulders (substantive work and strategic thinking) for long term success, and for the fish in your aquarium to be happy. Once you fill the whole aquarium with sand, there is no more room for any of the larger, more substantive stuff; it’s the same with strategic thinking or major improvement projects, if you bury yourself in daily “administrivia” and emails.
What is something you are absolutely determined to do in life?
Try my best at everything I commit to. It might not be possible to fully control the outcome, but I do feel strongly about giving it your best effort.