April 2019 Articulate

Michael Gallagher Leaves Legacy at SantaFe HealthCare


Written By: Chris Eversole

Service is the most important word in Michael Gallagher’s vocabulary, and he has an exemplary track record of service as a business and community leader over the past 44 years, including 18 years as an executive of SantaFe HealthCare in Gainesville.

He took an average of 75 flights a year, generally spending two nights in a hotel per trip, for many years. He thrived on giving his all to his work and his civic activities.

“I’ve always been a high-energy person who can work 12, 13, 14 hours a day and can go six, seven days a week,” he said. “So, where other executives might be playing golf, fishing or being involved with other activities, my hobby has been serving on all of these organizations and giving back by helping make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.”

A year ago, Gallagher was on a business trip to Phoenix, and he took an afternoon to hike to the top of Camelback Mountain, a popular getaway close to the city.

“I reflected on my life and my career, and I realized that I had been going 24/7 for all these years,” he said. “While I had made a significant contribution to my industry, I thought deeply about the rest of my life and so many other things I haven’t done. I wanted to spend time with my wife, my two children and my seven grandchildren.”

He soon set in motion plans to retire from his position as SantaFe HealthCare’s president and CEO.

The not-for-profit organization is one of the largest private entities in Greater Gainesville, and it has $2 billion in annual revenue. SantaFe HealthCare includes: 

  • AvMed, a health plan based in Miami serving 250,000 members, primarily in South Florida;
  • Haven, which provides end-of-life care for more than 15,000 patients and families annually throughout 18 counties in North Florida; and
  • SantaFe Senior Living, which operates three senior living communities, including The Village at Gainesville.

Gallagher’s last day in the office was March 1.

“I’m now having to learn how to retire,” he said.

In addition to time with the grandkids, Gallagher and his wife of 40 years, Sonja, plan to take a cruise to the Scandinavian region and travel in Russia and the West.

“Most of my business travel has been in the U.S., and we want to see the rest of the world,” he said.

Foundation in Accounting

Gallagher graduated from the University of Dayton in 1975, and he began his career at Coopers & Lybrand in Columbus, Ohio.

“The language of accounting is highly transferrable to all aspects of business, and I became more and more involved in helping businesses with their strategic thinking,” he said.

When he became a partner at Coopers & Lybrand after 11 years, he focused on the insurance industry. Gallagher joined Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania in 1993, initially as the chief financial officer, and he quickly took on broader operating and strategic responsibilities.

When he decided to make a career move in 2001, he met with Bob Hudson, who then was president and CEO of SantaFe HealthCare.

“Bob and I spent a lot of time talking about AvMed’s culture, its mission and its values,” Gallagher said. “It became very clear to me that SantaFe was very aligned with my values, and I decided that this was going to be my home.”

At first, Gallagher was SantaFe’s chief financial officer. That expanded into other responsibilities, including strategic planning and operations. He became president for Haven and the organization’s senior living entities in 2004.

The SantaFe board appointed Gallagher as president and CEO when Hudson retired at the end of 2006.

Seeking Alignment

Gallagher believes that an organization must be aligned to be successful.

“Everyone needs to understand the importance of why we do what we do,” he said.

Ensuring alignment starts with hiring.

“Obviously, it’s critical that job candidates have strong skills and a strong background, but that’s only one component that we look at,” he said. “Beyond that, we focus heavily on the candidates’ DNA, their values and how their behaviors complement our corporate culture.”

Under Gallagher’s leadership, SantaFe has strengthened alignment by giving new employees a thorough orientation into the organization’s values and beliefs. Over time, it routinely assesses how well they are living up to the organization’s expectations.

“We looked to the hospitality industry, including Disney, to find ways for the service ethic to cascade through the organization,” he said. “We also believe in rewarding people, from formal recognition events to simply thanking them when we see them in the hall.”

Wide Involvement

Gallagher has been unusual in the extent of his involvement in business groups at the state and national level. Before he retired, he served on the national boards of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Alliance of Community Health Plans and the Health Plan Alliance. At the state level, Gallagher was a member of the Florida Council of 100 and served on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Locally, Gallagher was a past chair of the Greater Gainesville Chamber, the Gainesville Council for Economic Development, the United Way of North Central Florida and the Heart Walk in Alachua County. Gallagher was also a member of the Dean’s Council and Advisory Board at the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida.

Eric Godet, the Gainesville chamber’s president and CEO, worked with Gallagher as a chamber volunteer, both locally and statewide, and when Godet was a vice president at Haven.

“Mike’s background as a CPA is extremely valuable,” Godet said. “He’s very methodical in his approach to challenges. He lives his life the same, whether it’s in the community or on the job. He always has the same tenor and is always very focused and mission-driven.” 

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