Baptist Health president and chief executive officer Troy Wells often gets asked for career advice. What he explains to young people is that his own career success started with a simple word: Yes.
“My philosophy is say yes and see what happens,” he said. “There’s a lot of value for young people to realize when you say yes and want to be part of something, and don’t worry about the money, good things happen. You should want to add more value before you expect something in return. It may not work for everybody, but it has worked for me.”
Wells will be honored during the UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration at 11:30 a.m. May 11 in the Great Hall of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. TheDistinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor presented by the UA Little Rock.
Wells also will deliver the keynote address at this year’s commencement ceremonies on May 12.
Before heading to college, Wells was like many young people. He knew what he liked studying, but he didn’t have a definitive career plan. He went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology.
“I was oriented toward medicine, but two years in, it didn’t seem like something I wanted to do,” Wells said, “but I did love the sciences, and I was good at it.”
After graduating in 1994, Wells took a year off. He traveled, built houses with his dad, and applied to graduate schools. He chose UA Little Rock’s Master’s Degree in Health Services Administration (now offered at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences).
“I wanted to be in Arkansas, and UA Little Rock had this program that was pretty unusual and rare at the time. I saw people being successful coming out of the program,” he said. “What made this very workable for me was it was designed so that you could work during the day and go to school at night. It was something I could manage financially and not walk away with a ton of debt.”
Wells also remembers the faculty support he received.
“I felt a sense that the faculty cared about us. They were interested in students being successful. I wasn’t a number. The faculty knew what I was good at and where I would be good in terms of employment,” he said.
Years later, Wells recruited future employees from the graduate program he knew so well.
“I stayed connected with John Baker, one of the original faculty founders of program, and I’m still in touch with him 26 years later,” Wells said.
After completing his master’s degree in 1997, Wells entered a two-year fellowship at the former St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hot Springs, where he learned the administrative workings of a hospital.
“At the end of the fellowship, I had a chance to stay on or go to Newport to run a small hospital,” Wells said. “I was 26 and single and in a place in life where I could take a risk, so I went to Newport and ran an 86-bed hospital for six or seven years.”
When the hospital was sold, Wells was out of a job. He was interviewing all over the country when he got a call from Russ Harrington, former CEO and president of Baptist Health.
“He said, ‘I want you to come to work for us. I can’t tell you exactly what the job is,’” Wells recalled. “I agreed to take a job, not knowing what it was or what I would be paid. It was a handshake. Russ asked me, ‘Do you want to be here?’ And I said yes. I was happy. I knew it was right.”
Since joining Baptist Health in 2006, Wells has had many job duties, including vice president of clinical services, vice president of Practice Plus, chief executive officer of Arkansas Health Group, and senior vice president of Administrative Services. He became the chief executive in June 2014, becoming only the third person to hold this title since World War II.
“What I enjoy most is working with people to serve people. That’s what gets me up in the morning,” he said. “Being in healthcare, you have to want to do things for other people. That’s why our organization exists. We are a faith-based, not-for-profit health system. I know there’s a mission we are here to fulfill, and I have the ability to affect that.”
Wells is active. He serves on the Alumni Association Board of Directors of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as well as on the boards for Goodwill Industries of Arkansas, Parkway Village Inc., the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Rotary Club of Little Rock.
He is also a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, the Arkansas Executives Forum, Young Presidents Organization, and Fifty for the Future.
He and his wife Mary live in Little Rock and have two children – Catherine, 10, and Charles, 6.
Baptist Health CEO Troy Wells is the recipient of the 2018 UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Award. Photo by Sara Reeves.