After a 30-Year Career, CFO Scales Back

Cincinnati CFO John Renner wanted to ease up a bit in his next position. He was flexible in location, but held firm on scaled-back responsibilities.


John Renner knew he needed a change. He had been working 24/7 for nearly three years on one project, and wanted to scale back the intensity of his work. In his seven-year tenure as the CFO for a large Cincinnati hospital he invested an enormous amount of energy into his recent project: transitioning it from part of a seven-hospital system to independent status. Now, he was looking for another opportunity.

So, he negotiated his severance in November 2008, looking forward to a little time off but also knowing that consulting work would be a phone call away.

His consulting work was keeping him quite busy, in fact. While he could have skipped the job search altogether, at least for a while, Renner said he never doubted that he wanted to get back to a full-time job.

“At the end of the day, when you sit down with a team of people you work with, you feel you are part of a community. As a consultant, you put the wheels in motion and step out; you don’t have the ownership factor. But when you’re a part of that team, you get the satisfaction of seeing the outcome.”

Renner was looking for VP or C-level jobs in health care that would combine those aspects of being a team player with a more reasonable lifestyle, he said. “I could see still putting in long hours, but I wanted to set the level of intensity back a notch ” from his previous position.

Being selective about responsibilities

Even for someone with options, a job search can be a long and laborious ordeal. “I was lucky; I wasn’t laid off. I had made the choice to leave. And at 30-plus years in the industry, I could be selective about opportunities,” said Renner, nine months after leaving his last position. “But you still go through mental highs and lows, wondering if you will find the right opportunity.” Renner knew he wanted to eventually return to a full-time position, because in the end, that was what would be the most fulfilling.

“There are not a lot of positions at the level I was seeking a job,” he said. “I would look through the list, and while there were a lot of jobs listed, very few were appropriate for my level. John signed up for FinanceLadder in February 2009.

“Ladders always kept me positive,” he said. “I would read the newsletters, and just as I was approaching another interview or sending in another cover letter, there was some timely reminder or hint that would be helpful and keep me on track. And just reading about other people who had found the right opportunity was very motivational.”

But open to relocation

When the FinanceLadder member left his CFO position in Cincinnati last year, he did have a lot of options. As an empty-nester, he and his wife did not feel they had to stay in Cincinnati, so he opened his search up to other areas of the country. He also thought about ways in which his expertise in finance might work in other industries and considered banking jobs and education jobs.

By early spring he had applied to several positions, including jobs in Colorado, Pittsburgh and Chicago. But there was one just 125 miles from Cincinnati that was especially attractive.

North on interstate 75 was a position at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima, Ohio, that appealed to him on many levels.

“The majority of my career has been in jobs that were turnaround situations,” Renner said. “This hospital was financially strong; it has a number of needs in terms of developing its operations. But I wouldn’t be involved in significant changes in operations, staffing and implementation. It’s a well-established organization. I would be taking it to its next step in efficiency.”

Renner first contacted the recruiter about the position in late March. “When you see the opportunity you really want,” he said, “the process is way too slow. I remember saying to my wife, ‘ Why can’t they just make a decision?’ he said, laughing.”

His first interview, via phone, was in early May. After several more phone conversations, he traveled to Lima for his first onsite interview. After that, he said, he knew this was the job he wanted. While he was still speaking to people in Pittsburgh and Colorado, he was keeping his fingers crossed for this one. And in early July, Renner was offered the position of VP/CFO of the hospital. On August 17, he started his new job.

So, with one more corporate move under his belt — “I’ve made seven previous corporate moves. This is just one more on the list,” he said — he’s living in temporary housing while he waits for his home in Cincinnati to sell. He said he believes his job search, while long and sometimes challenging, worked out very well.

“There were a number of days where I wondered if I was going to get an offer,” he said. “There were jobs I could have gone for that would have been OK. But I’m glad I chose to take my time and find the opportunity that was best for me. The balance of life and work is very comfortable here. I think this is a good fit.”