Alumni Profile: Listen, lead and execute
Written by Danny Bonvissuto
When John J. Warner, MD, MBA, arrived at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1988, he planned to go into sports medicine. By the time he graduated in 1992, he’d fallen in love with cardiology. Seventeen years later, he was a busy interventional cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Then, when a new president arrived with a plan to build a new hospital, Warner’s career path took an unexpected turn.
“He wanted a physician to co-lead the planning process and for reasons that aren’t totally clear to me, he asked me to do that,” Warner chuckled.
Warner is, as they say in Texas, hiding his light under a bushel. He held many leadership positions throughout his career that made him a stellar candidate.
Over the course of that one-year project, Warner became fascinated by hospital planning and operations and began to think about doing something different. He got his MBA in 2011, rose as the internal candidate to replace the departing CEO of UT Southwestern University Hospitals and Clinics in 2012, and accepted the Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs position at UT Southwestern in 2018. He also later assumed the additional role of CEO of the UT Southwestern Health System where he served until March of this year.
Looking back, Warner says his time at Vanderbilt set the stage for this career shift.
“At Vanderbilt the first seed was planted for what would eventually be my career path in academics. I was immediately attracted to it because of the people I worked with and the exposure I had to excellence in education and great clinical care,” he said. “I like the variety that academic medicine provides and have always adapted to new challenges.”
On that note, Warner, who grew up in the 700-person town of Ransom Canyon, Texas, became the CEO of Wexner Medical Center and executive vice president of The Ohio State University on April 1.
“It’s a bigger role in a bigger place, and like Vanderbilt, The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is a nationally ranked health care system connected to an outstanding public research institution, so I was attracted to the place because of the breadth and depth of services,” he said. “But what drew me to the new role is the opportunity to be more involved with the academic and research missions in addition to the patient care mission. I have had such great experiences in all three of those over the course of my career, so the opportunity to engage more directly again is exciting.”
Leadership is the thread that runs throughout Warner’s “twisted” professional life. After decades of involvement on multiple platforms, he began serving on the American Heart Association’s (AHA) national board of directors in 2014, was named an AHA fellow in 2016, served as AHA president from 2017 to 2018 and received the Gold Heart Award, the highest volunteer honor given by the association, in 2022.
“At every stage of life, I’ve not been the smartest, most creative or innovative person in the room, but I’ve found that my success has been in listening, building consensus and executing,” Warner said.