Mary Brainerd

HealthPartners and Park Nicollet CEO
Mary Brainerd

The logistical challenges of merging two large organizations are considerable. However, the roughly 13,000 employees of HealthPartners and 8,000 employees of Park Nicollet can rest easy knowing that Mary Brainerd, 58, the CEO of the combined organization, has a solid track record in mergers and acclimations.

Brainerd, who was president and CEO of the pre-merger HealthPartners, which even then was the country’s largest not-for-profit, consumer-governed health care organization, cites the 1997 merger of HealthPartners with what is now Regions Hospital as her biggest professional challenge. During an intense three years, Brainerd was responsible for the post-merger integration of two markedly different cultures. “A lot of time and effort went into creating a shared vision for what we wanted to do and how we wanted to behave going forward,” she says.

Out of that consolidation crucible came valuable career and life lessons that Brainerd acknowledges she keeps relearning to this day. Topping her list of lessons are “listen more than you talk” and “seek first to understand.” In stressful times, however, she acknowledges that she tends to become “more command-and-control-oriented, and sometimes that’s not helpful.”

Brainerd, a philosophy major in college who admits she’s had “an accidental career that’s been more of a jungle gym than a ladder,” advises future generations of leaders to find meaningful, relevant work that they think is worth getting up for every day. “I’m always sad when I hear people say they hate their job,” she says. “Not having a specific title? I never feel bad about that. But not having work that you think matters? That’s tragic.”