Up until January Christy Stephenson was responsible for nearly 2,000 workers, 600 doctors and a family of organizations that touched the lives of 350,000 people each year. Chief executive officer of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital — Hamilton, she ran a 67-acre medical campus, eight childcare centers, and an 86,000-square-foot fitness center.
She sat at the helm with what appeared to be remarkable ease, making time for quilting, walking daily with a friend, taking part in a book club, and flying to Seattle to visit her baby grandson, while, at the same time, leading her healthcare center to the honor of being the first New Jersey hospital and only the 4th in the nation ever to receive the Malcolm Balridge National Quality Award.
It may have been surprising to some when Stephenson, 56, announced that she was stepping down and leaving a prestigious job in the career she had pursued since she was a teenager, first as a hospital volunteer, then as a nurse, and finally as a top administrator. But she speaks of the decision with the same calm that she exhibited in her office.
“Things change with time,” she says. “I wanted to find a different life balance. I felt that the hospital was ready, and I was ready. It was the right time.”
Stephenson gives the keynote at the day-long “Women in Transition” conference at Rider University on Wednesday, April 18, at 9 a.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce. Cost: $35. Call 609-689-9960.
Adjusting beautifully to her recent transition, Stephenson says “I feel I’ve been reborn. It’s the best thing.” Friendly and garrulous, she can’t help but talk on and on to her friends about this next step in her life. “People say ‘Will you just shut up!’” she says with a laugh.
Stephenson, whose expertise, after all, is in performance management and strategic planning, has a blueprint for the next stage in her life. “I call it the 30-30-30 plan,” she says. “Thirty percent fun, 30 percent giving back, and 30 percent work.” But that adds up to only 90 percent. “The other 10 percent goes in whatever bucket I want,” she says, finishing off the math.
Her husband, James Lytle, a manager with the U.S. Postal Service, was completely onboard with Stephenson’s plan to leave the full-time work world. He, however, is continuing to work, with no thought of retiring any time soon, despite the fact that he is the older of the pair — by a whole 18 days. Stephenson says that they are enjoying this new phase of their lives.
This could be, at least in part, because Stephenson has plenty to occupy her time. While she is no longer working full time, she is anything but retired. She is just getting her healthcare consulting and speaking firm off the ground. She has named it Stephenson and Sons LLC (firstname.lastname@example.org). “My father was in construction,” she explains. “That was the name of his company, and of his father’s company before him.”
So far, her sons are not involved in the firm, but it is possible that they will be one day, she says. Her older son, who has moved from Seattle to New Hope, and who recently made her a grandmother for a second time, is an emergency medicine physician. Her younger son is in healthcare information systems. Stephenson is allocating a good part of her fun time to babysitting for her grandchildren.
She is also on the board at Robert Wood Johnson Hamilton, and she says that the role on the board has made her transition easier. She doesn’t miss the power, deference, or prestige that comes with a CEO position, she says, but she does miss the people. The once a month board meetings give her a chance to catch up on their news, and to share hers. “It’s a joyous reunion,” she says. In the stretch between board meetings she and her former colleagues keep up with one another’s lives via E-mail.
Unlike many women, Stephenson has worked full-time straight through her life. When her kids were small she cut back a little, working nights and weekends so that she could be home with them during the day. Upon reaching the pinnacle of her career, she was on duty from shortly after dawn straight through evening meetings and formal events — and right on into the weekend.
Now, she says, “I’m trying not to let work define and absorb my life. That’s very easy to do, you know.”