Podcast Special Guest, Brett Spenst

Brett Spenst
Episode 51

Sit down with host Japhet De Oliveira and guest Brett Spenst as they discuss the power of community, a mother's influence, the importance of emotional well-being, and life's many lessons.
Libsyn Podcast
"I think that especially in business there are many times where we get wrapped up in the issue, the problem, or things like that, and we forget that there are people who are intricately involved, and that has as much to do with the success as the great idea that brings you a different approach."

Narrator: Welcome friends to another episode of The Story & Experience Podcast. Join your host, Japhet De Oliveira, with his guest today and discover the moments that shape us, our families and communities.

Japhet De Oliveira: Well, welcome friends to another wonderful episode of The Story & Experience Podcast. I'm really excited about our guest because I've known him for quite a few years in different contexts and different places and so today you get to meet him as well and hear a few of the stories and experiences that have shaped him into the great leader that he is today. The way it works is brand new is that we have a hundred questions. First 10 I'm going to ask and then we get to 11. He's looking at me right now a little bit fearful, but a little bit excited as well, 11 to 100, and he will get to pick the numbers between there. Good smile, good smile. If you could see his smile, you would see he's confident. So let's dive in straight away and let me ask you the first one. What's your name? And does anybody ever mess it up?

Brett Spenst: My name is Brett Spenst. No, they usually don't mess that one up too badly.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's good.

Brett Spenst: Unless they're intentionally trying to call me something else, which-

Japhet De Oliveira: Which happens.

Brett Spenst: It could happen.

Japhet De Oliveira: Could happen, could happen. Well, hey, that's fantastic. I'm very happy for you, you should thank your parents for that. Brett, what do you do for work?

Brett Spenst: My role at Adventist Health is the finance officer for our care division, which has a responsibility for all of our hospitals, clinics, everything related to the care of a patient.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok, all right. Thanks for clarifying what care division is, but that's exactly it. You're right. 22 hospitals, 300 plus clinics, it's a lot. And you're the finance officer for all of those.

Brett Spenst: Correct.

Japhet De Oliveira: All of those. Ok. All right. How long have you been in your current role?

Brett Spenst: I have been in my role for about 14 months.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok. All right. Brilliant. And then before that? That was a bonus question.

Brett Spenst: Before that, yeah, how far back before that you want to go?

Japhet De Oliveira: The dawn of time?

Brett Spenst: So I actually worked for Adventist Health for 21 years and then in 2007 left to go be CFO and COO for Kettering out in Ohio, was there for five years and then moved to Denver, Colorado where I was the CEO for Littleton Adventist hospital for about six years. And from there I went to Advent Health Orlando, which is the flagship hospital right there in Orlando as the CEO.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok. So you're just returning home?

Brett Spenst: I am returning home. It has felt like that.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, hey, that's fantastic. Hey, that's really good. So in the morning when you get up, what's your drink of choice? Is it coffee? Is it tea? Is it one of those liquid green smoothies? Is it water?

Brett Spenst: Straight up coffee. Coffee with a little bit of half and half just to color it, but absolutely.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok. Ok. You and another 99,000 other people-

Brett Spenst: Coffee, coffee-

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah.

Brett Spenst: Coffee in my house is a really big deal.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, it's a big deal. Oh, nice. And what, you just like it black coffee with a little bit of half and half?

Brett Spenst: Yeah.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok, all right. Tell me, where were you born?

Brett Spenst: I was actually born in Loma Linda in Loma Linda University Medical Center. I think the old version was called the chicken coop or at least that's what everybody told me it was, but that's where I was born.

Japhet De Oliveira: Now, we discovered something, I discovered something about you that I didn't know. But I mean, there's lots of things I'm going to discover right now that I don't know but this was intriguing about you were born there, but you are dual nationality.

Brett Spenst: I am. So before I was the age of one, my parents who were in school at Loma Linda at the time returned to Canada. And so when we moved back to Canada, they registered me as a foreign born Canadian. And so I actually have both Canadian and US citizenship.

Japhet De Oliveira: Double blessing. Well done. Well done. Good for you. All right. So now when you were a child born young, a child, what do you imagine you were going to be when you grow up?

Brett Spenst: I actually thought I was always going to be a doctor. My dad was a dentist, he wanted all of myself and my siblings to become dentists. That just didn't seem like something that was that exciting. But I always thought I would take medicine. And that was the plan in action even until I was in high school. And we had moved back to Loma Linda from Canada and I was babysitting for a young couple, he was a cardiothoracic surgeon, and I quickly realized that I spent way more time with his kids than he did. And they were wonderful kids, great people. But when I got to La Sierra, I decided on a business degree.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hmm. Hey, that's good. Good, well, thank you for deciding on a business degree and serving healthcare. So all good. All good. If people were to describe you, would they describe you as an introvert or an extrovert and would you agree?

Brett Spenst: Well, my wife would describe me as an extrovert but I would say I'm probably more introverted. Put me in a large crowd and that's not where I get the most energy but put me in a small group and that is energizing.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, hey. That's nice. I like that qualification. That's good. And since your wife knows you well, actually helps verify this answer. Are you an early riser or late night owl?

Brett Spenst: Would you believe both? So I'm usually up by at least five and do my personal study. Right now where we live I can watch the sun come up and it's just a great way to set your day off. And then I'm usually up until 10 or 11.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's fantastic, that's fantastic. I like that you do both. I don't recommend it, but I do like you do both. I'm with you on that. Hey, so this morning when you woke up, first thought that went through your mind?

Brett Spenst: Actually the first thing that goes through my mind, for whatever reason, I wake up with a song in my head, I always have.

Japhet De Oliveira: A different song?

Brett Spenst: A different song. And this morning when I woke up, it was Tom Petty, Running Down a Dream.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's so great. That's so great. I love him.

Brett Spenst: Yeah, the day before it was Big Daddy Weave but this morning it was Tom Petty.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's really great. I like that. Oh, that's beautiful. All right. Sorry, leadership question here, Brett, are you a backseat driver?

Brett Spenst: No,

Japhet De Oliveira: No?

Brett Spenst: No. The person that has the wheel, if they want advice, I'm happy to provide advice. But sitting without the controls in your hand, just throwing tidbits of information and advice to people, no.

Japhet De Oliveira: Mm, ok. Right. Hey, beautiful. Right, we've done the first 10. It just flew by so quickly. So now the wheel is over to you and you get to pick a number between 11 and 100. Where would you like to go, sir?

Brett Spenst: Well, how about we go with 14.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok. 14 it is. Tell us about what you enjoy doing outside of work.

Brett Spenst: Right now I would say the thing that I enjoy most outside of work is hanging out with my grandkids. I've got two grandsons, one is going to be three in a couple days and the other one is eight weeks and that just brings great joy and fulfillment.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, well, congratulations on that. And absolutely I can see that. Three years old and eight weeks old, beautiful, beautiful.

Brett Spenst: In fact, a week ago we took the three-year-old, just my daughter and Landon to Disneyland and the three of us just had a blast. And I was sore the next day from carrying, hauling him all over the place but we had a blast.

Japhet De Oliveira: But I bet seeing his eyes pop and joy, that's priceless. They did that well. Hey, so where do you want to go after 14?

Brett Spenst: Well, let's try 18.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok. 18, if you had to eat now just one meal for a month, what would you choose?

Brett Spenst: The specific dish or?

Japhet De Oliveira: Sure. Yeah.

Brett Spenst: I would eat Mexican food. I would eat Mexican food. There's no question. Now, if I have to pick something specific, it probably would be tacos or tostada.

Japhet De Oliveira: All right. All right. Now you just do that for a month, great.

Brett Spenst: Absolutely.

Japhet De Oliveira: I love it. Love it. All right. After 18, where next?

Brett Spenst: How about we go to 21.

Japhet De Oliveira: 21, all right. Share the very best compliment that you've ever received.

Brett Spenst: That's hard. The very best compliment, probably the best compliment was that I actually listened and was interested in the person rather than just the issue.

Japhet De Oliveira: Mm, that's good. That's good.

Brett Spenst: I think that, especially in business, there's many times where we get wrapped up around the issue, the problem or things like that and we kind of forget that there's people that are intricately involved in that and that has as much to do with the success as the great idea that brings you a different approach.

Japhet De Oliveira: And I would say that's true. I mean, in conversations that you and I have had, I've always felt that way as well about you that you do listen well, you ask great questions. And so I think it really does, it means a lot. It means a lot to be engaged in that level. And it takes time.

Brett Spenst: It does. It does, but it's time well worth the investment.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's true. That's true. All right. After 21 then where next?

Brett Spenst: Well, let's go to 27.

Japhet De Oliveira: 27, all right. Bring us in your kitchen for that special meal, now we'll find out whether you do this, but what would you be making?

Brett Spenst: Well, my wife would laugh because I'm not a cook. The funny thing is when we first got married, I remember saying this to her so she didn't make it up, I said eating is just such a waste of time. And she goes, "I am so glad you feel that way because I've always thought cooking was a waste of time." So when Holly is out of town, I probably am eating cold cereal. It's pretty bad, but that's true.

Japhet De Oliveira: Like granola?

Brett Spenst: No, Life and Chex and Cornflakes.

Japhet De Oliveira: I like it. I like, that's next level, with-

Brett Spenst: You got to mix. Have to mix.

Japhet De Oliveira: With milk or with one of those-

Brett Spenst: No, with milk. Yep. I grew up on a ranch, it was milk.

Japhet De Oliveira: All right. You're blessed. All good. All right. After 27, then?

Brett Spenst: Let's go 34.

Japhet De Oliveira: 34, tell us about a moment that a person's kindness made a difference in your life.

Brett Spenst: Well, I think that's a good one. Do I get a chance to think about that a second?

Japhet De Oliveira: Absolutely.

Brett Spenst: Ok. There are times when the unexpected kindness it is some of the best. So one of them I would say is traveling, I try and do mission trips on a regular basis. And I spent a lot of time traveling to Nepal, working with our Adventist hospital over there. And there was a time when I was stuck in a foreign country without appropriate travel arrangements and everything had crashed and burned and some random person stopped and helped me sort it out. Could speak both languages and they didn't know me from Adam and it always struck me, why would they have done that? And I think many times in our life, if we know the people, we probably would stop and help out, we would. But a complete and random stranger when you're in a hurry to do whatever is top on your mind to actually stop and help them out.

Japhet De Oliveira: There is something about being present and being able to just see what is the need and-

Brett Spenst: And I think that's exactly it, being able to see it. I think there are many people that would feel like they're present, they're listening, they're paying attention, but they're not really seeing some of the emotion and some of the needs that are in front of you. That, yeah. With just a little bit of effort would put you in a place to make a difference in somebody's life.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. No, that's true. That's true. That's really good. Thanks. Right, after 34?

Brett Spenst: Well, should we jump all the way up to 40?

Japhet De Oliveira: Certainly seems like a leap. No, it doesn't. It's great. All right. So here's 40, and tell us about if you would Brett a time where you failed.

Brett Spenst: It's easy. That happens a lot. And I would say there was one time I was in a job and it just was not going well. And it was early on in my career and there wasn't an awful lot of assistance to help me understand why I would wasn't I wasn't performing or I wasn't doing well. And that went on for about three months. In fact, I remember sitting at Christmas time going, "I think I made a big mistake, maybe I should have taken medicine, maybe I should go back to school and do something different."

And as it turns out, I went back, I was in public accounting at the time and I had a new boss on a job and he sat down and wrote me review notes, pages and pages of review notes on my work. And you looked at it and go, "Oh my gosh, I'm probably going to get fired from that." But every one of those was crafted in a manner to help me understand why I was doing it and what I could do differently. And it actually was a huge turning point.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's incredible.

Brett Spenst: And I always appreciated that actually invested that effort in, "Hey, here's how you can do that better. Here's why you're doing that in the first place."

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. It speaks again into the volumes of time and investment in others as well, yeah. It's good. That's good. Hey, that's beautiful. All right. So past 40, where next?

Brett Spenst: Oh, let's drop down to 25.

Japhet De Oliveira: 25. All right.

Brett Spenst: Hey, you told me I didn't have to go in order.

Japhet De Oliveira: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Brett Spenst: I'll bounce all over.

Japhet De Oliveira: Ok. No, it's beautiful. It's the freedom of 11 to 100, anywhere you want go, you just can't repeat them.

Brett Spenst: Well, as long as you're keeping track, because I'm not writing them down over here.

Japhet De Oliveira: I will. If the question comes up, I'll remember. Share the most beautiful thing that you've ever seen.

Brett Spenst: I would have to say the birth of a child.

Japhet De Oliveira: With you.

Brett Spenst: It isn't of beauty as in seeing a beautiful piece of art but it is a beauty that goes deeper and touches your soul and you know that, wow, I will be forever connected with this human, and what an awesome responsibility and challenge. But I would say that.

Japhet De Oliveira: I'm with you. I'm with you. I understand. Yeah. No, totally. All right. After 25 up or down?

Brett Spenst: We'll go up. Let's go to 53.

Japhet De Oliveira: 53. All right. Can you tell us about at least one important person in your life?

Brett Spenst: Sure. One important person in my life has been my mother. And just an amazing person that no matter what had the most positive outlook on life and a smile. So as a child, her mother passed away when she was five and from the age of five until 16, she was in probably 30 foster homes.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh my goodness. Wow.

Brett Spenst: Untold stuff that she went through as a child and somehow randomly got sent to an Adventist boarding school in Canada, Canadian Union College, where she met my father, where she met my father's family first of all. And having started out life in some of the worst possible situations you could be placed into and at an age when you have no control and probably couldn't do anything about it and yet to have an incredible positive outlook, the rest of your life. She passed away in the middle of the pandemic and there isn't a day that goes by that something doesn't remind me of that and her influence and hopefully that positive outlook lives on.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's really beautiful. What a great tribute to your mom. That's beautiful. I love that. I think some people learn some amazing things in their lives through difficult, difficult times. And it's always interesting to see what they do with it, right?

Brett Spenst: Yeah, absolutely.

Japhet De Oliveira: So she chose to be extra positive and extra caring, that's beautiful. What an inspiration. Fantastic. Good challenge for all of us.

Brett Spenst: It's a challenge to me, I mean, I think about it every day.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, that's nice. All right then sir, 53, you want to go up or down?

Brett Spenst: Oh, let's go up. Let's try 62.

Japhet De Oliveira: 62. What does a sense of community mean to you?

Brett Spenst: Sense of community to me is both an obligation and an opportunity. And I think that we have an opportunity, especially in healthcare, to be engaged in our communities. And with that opportunity comes a responsibility for us to actually make a difference. We're not casual observers, we're active participants. And so when I think of community in a work sense, I think of opportunity and expectations. When I think of community around at a personal level, I think of a group of friends that I can count on for just about anything that goes on in my life. And I've been blessed to have it. We've moved a lot so I have a community in Orlando and in Denver and in Ohio and in Canada and all up and down California.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's good. That is good. It is not easy to create community, you have to really take your own time and your own vulnerability to be able to do that. But that's a good testament to who you are as well. Brett, always investing.

Brett Spenst: I think it's easy to move to a new location and you end up with new friends and that shows up, that takes up your entire time, I think it's important to maintain contact and connect. There are friends of mine from eighth grade that I still will call multiple times a year and talk to them.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's beautiful. Hey, that's really good. Beautiful. All right. Where next?

Brett Spenst: Well, you said the higher ones got harder so-

Japhet De Oliveira: Well, what's hard?

Brett Spenst: Let's try 68.

Japhet De Oliveira: 68. All right. All right. If you could let one new professional skill, what would it be?

Brett Spenst: Professional skill?

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, yeah.

Brett Spenst: So something that I would use in my current profession?

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah.

Brett Spenst: Well, if I was just learning a new skill, that'd be pretty easy. I am not musical at all. And I would revert to music in some way, but that's just not that valuable in finance.

Japhet De Oliveira: Well, next time you have one of your committees with all the hospitals, you could pay the banjo.

Brett Spenst: Just going to bust out the banjo and away we go.

Japhet De Oliveira: A little bit Tom Petty on top of that.

Brett Spenst: Perfect. Perfect, throw a little Don Hanley in there we've got all of the great writers of the generation. New skills for work, I think one can always improve in listening skills and improve in attention to detail that otherwise gets missed. I think you can learn an awful out about a situation and a context from listening. And while I try and do that well, I think there's always opportunity for improvement in that area.

Japhet De Oliveira: Good, good. I like that. See it wasn't like it was harder at 68, I mean, a hundred's calling you.

Brett Spenst: A hundred is calling.

Japhet De Oliveira: No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding. All right. Where next?

Brett Spenst: Let's see, we were at what number?

Japhet De Oliveira: 68.

Brett Spenst: 68? Well, let's try 71.

Japhet De Oliveira: 71. Describe a time when your life took an unpredictable term.

Brett Spenst: Okay. I was the CEO at Littleton Adventist Hospital and was meeting with, I don't even know who, was in the middle of a meeting and somebody walked in and goes, "We need you right now." And it's lie, okay. So I got up and walked into the conference room with the team and they had assembled, we had already set up a command center because there was an active shooter at a high school that was a half mile away and we knew we would be receiving children and we knew nothing else. We didn't know if we actually did go into a lockdown because there were so many unknowns and we were close by.

And I'll shorten that story, but that evening we did receive only one child and Claire was at our hospital for almost two weeks and then passed away. But the first night that she was there, we had the governor of Colorado decided he wanted to come and visit. We told him, I'm sorry, that's probably not going to happen. This isn't the right time for a family to interacting with a politician and he showed up anyways.

So I said, "Well, you're here. How about we go down to the emergency department? You can thank first responders." And so we walked down to the emergency department and he was encircled by about five nurses, EMTs, physicians. And they were talking, I was probably three or four feet behind him just kind of listening. And an ER doc was standing beside me. And she had been an ER doc for many, many years and as she's talking, she had not been there when Claire was brought in, but suddenly she's in tears. And I'm like, "Oh my gosh, what is happening?" And just let her continue to talk. And what I realized as the story went on is that she had actually been in our emergency room when the Columbine shooting went down and we had actually children that have been shot. And so here it was 14, 15 years later, she is reliving that.

And what changed my life was my understanding about what I owed to every one of my associates and that is emotional wellbeing. And many of our staff in hospitals, in ERs, in ICUs, et cetera, see really, really difficult things and up to that point, I had never invested in resiliency or in emotional wellbeing or anything else like that. And I realized that was my responsibility. And from that day forward, that has been a priority, especially when I'm leading a hospital on what are we doing to assess as well as to improve the emotional; wellbeing, the resiliency of our team, of our staff, our physicians. Because there is so much that can be done, it doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be expensive. It has to be deliberate and you can make a big difference. And ever since that day it's been a priority.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's a beautiful and powerful story. And I think that speaks volumes into all of us, into all of our lives, the emotional wellbeing. I mean, everybody, especially first responders, but everyone. Absolutely.

Brett Spenst: Yeah. I think that the pandemic has impacted far more of our associates from moral injury, et cetera, than ever before. By a time a patient would get to a med surge, they're probably in a whole lot better condition and they showed up in the emergency or in an ICU, but in COVID we've had to use staff everywhere to help. And I think that is a great opportunity and I think it's one that will actually differentiate organizations because as clinical and other associates become much scarcer, the demand is much higher, we need to compete or be a better organization that people actually select, "I want to go there because of how they take care of their people."

Japhet De Oliveira: Exactly. Exactly. That should be a major factor always. Yeah. Well, okay, I've held back a few tears and let's hold it together. We have time for two more, last two, where would you like to go for that?

Brett Spenst: Okay. Well, let's drop down to 19.

Japhet De Oliveira: 19. All right. Let's go to 19. What is your exercise routine?

Brett Spenst: Well, I guess I have to be honest. Right now, my exercise routine is pretty limited. In fact, it consists of short walks late at night or sometimes early in the morning. And then on weekend, usually pretty active around the house and in the yard, we are still trying to settle in so there's a lot of physical activity around taking care of the place, getting it in condition. But that is an area where I have significant opportunity for personal improvement.

Japhet De Oliveira: Personal and professional growth.

Brett Spenst: There you go. There you go.

Japhet De Oliveira: No worries. No worries.

Brett Spenst: The one thing I will say is

Japhet De Oliveira: I know what you are talking about.

Brett Spenst: The one thing that I have learned over my years is that as we age, we get stiff.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yes.

Brett Spenst: And that creates opportunity for injuries and so it is important to get exercise. Also important to yoga or stretching or whatever you want to call it, but my grandpa be 102, my grandma lived to be 96. I expect that I'm going to be around for a while and that is something that is on my list to do a better job of.

Japhet De Oliveira: All right. All right. Good for you. I feel like this year 2022, be good for that.

Brett Spenst: Exactly.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Last one. Where would you like to go, sir?

Brett Spenst: Let's do 86.

Japhet De Oliveira: 86. Oh, this is beautiful. Who was influential in shaping you to be who you are now and why?

Brett Spenst: Boy, Japhet, that is tough because obviously I've already talked about my mom, she's had a huge influence on my... I have been blessed to work with some amazing people that actually invested in enormous amounts of me. One of those individuals, Valgene Devitt, who actually was the CEO at Ukiah for quite a few years. Actually, I think he was the COO at Portland for a while as well. So was within Adventist Health. And his contribution to me was immeasurable. I was a young finance person that's pretty cut and dry about numbers and he really helped me see the people side of our business, not just the patients, but our associates and our physicians and how important it is, that is just as important and actually a critical to foundation for a well performing organization, whether it's financially well performing or clinically well performing. It's what and how we invest in our people. And Val passed away a few years back, but he made a significant impact in my life.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's beautiful, Brett. And I love the thread that you've woven in, which is absolutely tied to your character, the value of people, the value of time, the value of those before you, who like your mother and others who have just shaped you and that you do so well in others taking time to in us and others as well. I think that makes it a place that you want to belong to, right? So, yeah, absolutely.

Brett Spenst: When I first started at Adventist Health back a long, long time ago, our mission statement was family of caring people that was the start of it. And, I think that still is an important part. We call it something different today, we call it a community. But that community of people that work together through thick and thin and are committed to making an impact everywhere that we touch in our personal and our professional life and Adventist Health has treated me really, really well and given me great opportunities to grow and impact people.

Japhet De Oliveira: Okay. I see that in your leadership and I'm excited to hear do what you do and I thank you for investing your time, not in this conversation, but investing your time in my own life as well, and appreciate you a lot, Brett, for who you are and who you will continue to be. So it was a privilege to connect, thank you.

Brett Spenst: Thank you.

Japhet De Oliveira: For all of our people who are listening, all of our friends out there just want to encourage you to do the same. Just like Brett and I are talking right now, you should just connect with people, hear their stories and experiences, share your own. And you'll realize just as I am as well that we grow and we learn from each other and we become better people for it and we can do all that God has called us to. So God bless you, look after you and thank you for listening to another The Story & Experience Podcast.

Narrator: Thank you for joining us for The Story & Experience Podcast. We invite you to read, watch and submit your story and experience at AdventistHealth.org/Story. The Story & Experience Podcast was brought to you by Adventist Health, through the Office of Culture.