Ken Grant: Everyman's VP
When he puts his arm around her, Cousins’ friends from the nutrition department heckle her a bit—perhaps for consorting with a “suit”—but it’s obvious she sees past Grant’s executive appearance. “If you got a problem, you come see Mr. Grant,” she shouts back at them. “He’ll take care of you.”
As VP for General Services, Grant oversees some 1,000 employees. His vast, $45 million operation spans environmental services, nutrition, community services, print shop operations, central sterile, receiving, patient transport, corporate purchasing and distribution, linen distribution and mail services.
With his warm, down-to-earth manner, Grant has perfected the art of excelling as a suit-and-tie official in a working man’s domain. His innovative business thinking and decades of experience in managing health care materials have brought about creative procurement deals that have resulted in substantial savings for the institution. And his own career path—from patient escort to the highest-ranking minority at one of the world’s top hospitals—has shaped him into a natural mentor, especially to those just starting out.
“Entry-level staff play a vital role in the success of this institution,” he says. “But we need to ensure that those who want to grow out of those jobs have the chance to do so. That includes offering training that will improve both their life and technology skills, so that when the opportunity presents itself, they will succeed and progress.”
Not surprisingly, Grant lists among his proudest accomplishments a career advancement program that, over a year and a half, opened doors for some 200 entry-level employees. The four-week program was unusual in that it took place during working hours and focused not on teaching job skills, but instilling confidence and changing attitudes.
When federal funding for the project ran out last year, Hopkins Hospital and Health System revived the effort with a $3 million Department of Labor grant. The newly launched Project REACH incorporates much of what Grant’s program set out to accomplish by furnishing eligible employees with the opportunity to take accelerated GED classes and life-skills courses that prepare them for the next level of employment.
“Ken regularly supports employees in getting release time to participate in our advancement programs,” says Pamela Paulk, vice president of human resources for the Hospital and Health System. “It’s not easy to give employees time off with pay to go to school. The work must still get done. But Ken and his managers understand that part of their mission is to help their employees grow and realize their full potential.”
While much of General Services’ success rides on the hospital’s education and retention efforts, it’s also spurred along by Grant’s simple philosophy of leading by example. It’s not unusual to see him pick trash up off the floor, and he always carries food or parking coupons in his pocket to reward staff members for doing the same or to soothe frustrated visitors.
“Even in the worst weather emergency, Ken is always here,” says Hospital/Health System President Ron Peterson. “Other folks naturally take his lead because they see he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty.”
The polished VP has also been spotted politely asking his workers to tuck in their shirts, explaining gently that every staff member’s appearance is part of the hospital’s professional image. “I learned from a very young age that how I presented myself made a real difference in how people treated me,” he says.
Grant has a natural aptitude for mentoring. “The first time I met Ken,” says Khari Reed, a senior administrative manager in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, “he pulled me aside, introduced himself and told me that he admired my positive attitude. It amazed me that a senior executive would take the time to give feedback to someone new.” Reed credits his mentor with grooming him to become the current president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association of Health Services Executives, an organization for minorities in health care administration. Grant himself serves on the executive committee.
Andrea Booth, now an administrative manager in pediatric cardiology, rotated through Grant’s office in March 2002 as part of a two-year administrative fellowship program. “He put me right to work on the tray line in the cafeteria, then moved me into the kitchen, linens—the works,” she remembers. “He wanted me to appreciate what his employees contribute.”
For Grant, Hopkins is the latest rung in an impressive career ladder he built from the ground up. He says his energy, drive and inspiration all stream from his mother, who raised Grant and his two brothers in the projects of New Orleans without their father. “I grew up in a time when everyone knew everyone. When you did wrong, it beat you home,” he says. “With those kinds of pressures and controls in place, it was easier to get your head on straight.”
After high school, finding that he and college “didn’t agree,” Grant landed a job as a patient escort in an area hospital. Over the next 13 years, his supervisors continually saw his potential and challenged him, first as a microfilmer, then inventory clerk, receiving manager and ultimately, manager of supply processing and distribution—all while offering encouragement as he completed his undergraduate degree at Tulane.
More than a decade later, Grant’s aggressive approach and shrewd knowledge of the market have helped his team build valuable corporate purchasing partnerships and save several million dollars a year. “The message,” says Grant, “whether it’s to my staff or to our business partners, is that we will be fair, but we expect that the prices at Johns Hopkins will be the best or as close to the best as they can offer.”
“From his work to his golf game, Ken never gets rattled and always seeks out the best choices,” says Mike Harris, assistant administrator and head of Radiology Physics and Engineering Services. “He always finds a cost-effective way to complete purchases, no matter how complicated.”
But while the $300 million procurement business is Grant’s biggest ticket responsibility, he remains committed to his employees. “Ken has connected in a most sincere way with his staff and has made significant improvements in employee morale and staff satisfaction,” says Judy Reitz, the Hospital’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Back in the cafeteria, Connie Cousins’ nutrition colleagues have noticed a photographer who’s been documenting Grant’s day. Throwing down their lunches, they huddle excitedly around Grant, craning to be in the shot with him. It’s then, surrounded by his smiling staff, that Grant shines brightest.