The University of Nebraska Medical Center's remarkable building boom will eventually slow and be replaced by an emphasis on the activities inside, the campus's new leader predicted Friday.
“A lot of the growth in the future is going to be people and programs,” Dr. Jeffrey Gold said in an interview Friday. “A cancer center is not the building. It's the people.”
Gold began this week to build relationships as he embarked on his first few days as UNMC chancellor. He held more than 40 meetings in his first four days, shook hands with hundreds of people and ate pizza with student leaders.
Gold, 61, launched his tenure at UNMC on Tuesday after spending Monday moving into a condo at Midtown Crossing.
He replaces Dr. Harold Maurer, UNMC's longtime chancellor, who will be known for finding the money for a construction frenzy on the campus north of 42nd and Leavenworth Streets.
Besides erecting about 10 facilities and research towers over the past 10 years, UNMC will build the more than $320 million Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center over the next three years.
Gold, who came from the University of Toledo, said the amount of construction on the Omaha campus eventually won't be as dramatic. Gold said he loves new buildings, but the phase that follows building growth naturally is filling those buildings with people and the work they do.
Among those he met with Friday was Connie Miller, a nursing faculty member and UNMC Faculty Senate president. Miller told Gold that UNMC's chancellor and the faculty senate have traditionally had a good relationship.
“You can certainly expect that that will continue, if not grow,” Gold told her. He said he would “do my darnedest to attend” Faculty Senate meetings when invited.
“I really look forward to this journey,” he told Miller. “We have to have fun along the way.”
He's here to roll up his sleeves and work with people, Gold said — eager to not only build the institution but also to help individuals advance their careers.
“I love to walk around the classrooms and laboratories,” he said. He said he wouldn't hesitate to visit the library at 10 p.m. “If somebody sees me walking around at night, it doesn't mean I'm lost or befuddled. I'm just trying to meet a different group of people.”
Krupa Savalia, UNMC's student regent, said Gold dropped in on the student senate Wednesday night and ate pizza with the students.
“He told us that he wanted to start engaging with us as soon as possible,” said Savalia, an M.D.-Ph.D. student from New Jersey. “I think that speaks volumes about the type of chancellor he wants to be.”
Gold went to dinner Thursday night at Happy Hollow Club with UNMC fundraiser Amy Volk, philanthropist Dick Holland and Holland's friend Marian Leary.
Volk said Holland and Gold talked about arts and the symphony. Holland told Gold about the excellent acoustics in the Omaha performing arts center named for Holland.
“It was like having dinner with a friend,” Volk said. Gold was relaxed and enjoyed himself, she said.
Gold, who was a cardiothoracic surgeon, said in an interview that it hasn't been a stressful week, but it's been a busy one. “It's like drinking out of a fire hose. There just aren't enough hours in the day, and I work really long hours.”
Gold flew to Omaha on Sunday night from a meeting in Florida of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, for which he serves on the board. On the plane, he read Niamh O'Keeffe's “Your First 100 Days,” about making an impact in a new leadership role.
He said there are two ways to approach a new leadership position. The first is to listen and absorb, the second is to make a dramatic move to establish one's principles.
“I'm pretty much in the listening mode,” he said.
While meeting with a group of vice chancellors and other leaders Wednesday morning, Gold recommended that they read Patrick Lencioni's “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”
Dysfunction No. 1, he said, is “lack of trust.”
Gold said he intends to build trust rapidly. He'll make a lot of decisions, he said, and they won't please everyone. But he will carefully think them through and act in the best interests of the institution and community, he said.
He said he isn't nervous but is on a steep learning curve. It's humbling, he said, to take over as chancellor of a well-established organization that has a fine legacy.
Gold's wife, Robin, has closed her ophthalmology practice in New York City and most likely will commute to visit their daughter, who is a med student in New York, their son, who works for Google on the West Coast, and Gold in Omaha. Gold said it's possible she would resume her practice in Omaha, but he wasn't certain.
He said he intends to exercise at 5 a.m., begin work about 6:30 a.m., attend meetings and events at night and get home at 9 p.m. Then he'll clear his computer inbox of perhaps 500 emails, he said. He said he will work more than 100 hours a week. He'll be paid $775,000 a year plus standard university benefits.
Omaha businessman Michael Yanney, who heads the executive committee for the cancer center, said Gold met with that committee Wednesday, then had lunch with Yanney in the businessman's office. He described Gold as a team builder, a quick study who can laugh and take pleasure in work.
UNMC is on the cusp of becoming a powerful center for health care, Yanney said, and the new chancellor can drive it there.
“He gives me the impression he can do it,” Yanney said.