Profiles in Leadership: Beyond Health Care
December 16, 2016
In a recent interview with Virginia Business magazine, Chris Lumsden described Halifax County as a “scrappy, competitive, high-spirited and industrious” community. No wonder he’s fit in so well since moving to the area more than 30 years ago. Hired as chief operating officer of Halifax-South Boston Community Hospital at just 27 years of age, Lumsden has demonstrated many of those same qualities throughout his distinguished career.
“I realize how little I know now, at 58 years old, so I can’t imagine what people thought when I was hired as a top executive at 27,” said Lumsden, who was hired as COO in 1985. “Hard work, blended with a good mind and strong ethics, being grounded and being honest with yourself at all times—these are all important to being a great leader. I’ve always tried to improve myself by observing, and trying to emulate, what’s great in other people.”
Two years after joining the hospital, Lumsden was promoted to CEO. Since then, he has guided the organization, now Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital (SHRH), through its growth from an acute care facility with about 450 employees to an integrated health care system that comprises a 173-bed hospital, two nursing care facilities, a Home Health and Hospice service and a medical group of about 65 physicians. With nearly 1,300 employees, SHRH is the largest employer in Halifax County and one of the largest in the region.
“We’re a comprehensive health care system that has served our community well,” said Lumsden, who has been administrator and president of SHRH since the organization joined Sentara Healthcare in 2013. “So just growing the organization over the years has been important to the people of this region. And that’s been an enjoyable part of my job.”
A native of Roanoke, Va., Lumsden graduated from Bridgewater with a double major in business administration and economics. He received a master’s degree in health services administration from The George Washington University in 1983. Prior to joining the Halifax-South Boston Community Hospital, he was assistant administrator at Danville Regional Medical Center.
At SHRH, Lumsden has overseen the addition of 16 new medical and surgical specialties while managing high employee productivity and strong financial performance without an employee layoff. During his tenure, the hospital also has undergone numerous multi-million dollar renovations and expansions, and he has directed the hospital’s upgrades in information technology. Through his leadership, the hospital has achieved high overall employee- and physician-satisfaction scores. Additionally, the hospital’s patient quality and safety rates in mortality, complications, length of stay and readmissions are among the best in the industry.
“This field is challenging and exciting, but one of the main reasons I have stayed for as long as I have is the people I work with every day—from board members and the leadership team to the employees, the patients and families and the community,” said Lumsden. “That’s what makes this job my calling and makes this profession enjoyable and rewarding. I’ve had some difficult decisions to make, but I’ve always put people first.”
Lumsden also is committed to the Halifax County- South Boston region, where he and his wife Linda Smith Lumsden, also a 1980 Bridgewater graduate, raised their two children. Most of his volunteer efforts have been focused on education and economic development—two areas that he views as inextricably connected. Lumsden helped lead the effort to bring computers to every school in Halifax County in the early 1990s, giving students the chance to get to use technology as a learning tool throughout their school years. A past chair of the State Board for the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), Lumsden was the founding board chair of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, which provides access to academic degree programs at all levels, professional certifications, workforce training and much more. He also was the founding board chair of the Halifax Educational Foundation and is immediate past board chair of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
“I was involved in K-12 and higher education long before I fully understood its distinct connection to economic development,” Lumsden told Virginia Business magazine. “Higher education and workforce training are linchpins to economic development. Today’s industry must have a readily available trained or trainable workforce, not manual or menial skills such as in the past.”
Lumsden is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) and is a licensed Nursing Home Administrator. A past recipient of the VCCS Distinguished Service Award, Lumsden holds an honorary degree from Southside Virginia Community College. He is a former board chair of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA), and, in 2006, he became the youngest person to receive the organization’s Distinguished Service Award.
Throughout his career, Lumsden has tried to surround himself with positive, capable mentors and coaches. He believes the secret to success is being prepared and working hard. He recalled a piece of valuable advice he received from a mentor years ago: “If I can’t outthink you, I’ll outwork you. And I’ll likely do both.”
“I’ve never forgotten that,” said Lumsden. “It’s about always trying to do the right thing. Doing your homework. Being prepared to make smart decisions. If you combine intelligence with drive, you can produce impressive results.” At Bridgewater, Lumsden was a driven student. After playing on the Eagles basketball team for two years, he quit to focus on academics. Lumsden admitted that he’s always been competitive, perhaps because of his efforts as a child to keep up with his two older brothers and a sister. He also credits his parents, who demonstrated every day that they “believed in their children,” with giving him a strong foundation.
“Our parents had high expectations for us without a lot of pressure,” said Lumsden, noting that church life was important for his family as well. “They demonstrated a high-level work ethic, and my father was highly competitive and successful as well. That environment was a good springboard for success.”
For young people just starting in business careers, Lumsden offered advice in the form of “three C’s.” Competency refers to working hard and developing one’s skills. Lifelong learning is critical, he said. Compatibility means having the ability to relate to others and to work effectively in teams. And character is about having integrity, being honest and doing the right thing.
“One more very important thing is balance, and I probably speak it better than I do it,” Lumsden said. “Balancing is really important in life—to create time for family, work, service and church and other enjoyable pursuits. And despite being competitive, driven and ambitious, which many people are, there has to be a degree of levity and humor, good sense and intuition. Being able to strike that balance between serious and grinding work, and good humor, enjoying family and friends and not taking oneself so seriously— these are important attributes of a successful leader and a successful person.”