Tina Freese Decker wasn't always a West Michigan woman. She was an Iowa girl, born and raised in Des Moines to parents who influenced her world.
She watched her father, a small-business owner, innovate and persevere. She saw his respect and care for those who worked for him. He was a determined entrepreneur who evolved his business over time, all the while taking care of his employees. Her mother, an art teacher, was caring, dedicated to volunteering for multiple causes and "fun to be around." She was involved in her children's lives and gave them a great upbringing, filled with creativity. She inspired Tina to be a good mom and to give back to the community.
Tina graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor's degree in finance; she earned her dual Master of Health Administration and Master of Industrial Engineering from University of Iowa. In July 2002, she came to Spectrum Health as an administrative fellow. In September 2018, she was appointed to the role of president and CEO.
West Michigan, where she's lived for 16 years, became home.
She loves the people. "Others watch out for you. It's a caring community. It's innovative. Amazing growth is attracting talented people."
She loves the area. "There are so many great places to explore. Access to all the things we have here is amazing: shows, art, education, opportunities, sports—it's a great place. I grew up in a town this size, so this is comfortable for me."
She loves her wonderful family. Her husband, Jay, an elementary school teacher, is taking a break from his career to focus on their home life. Their children—Maddie, 10, a gymnast, and Drew, 8¬, a master at Legos and a "comic engineer"—share a birthdate and are fluent in Spanish through language immersion classes. Tina enjoys going to their events, going for ice cream, taking walks, swimming and reading. She enjoys traveling and seeing new sights with her family, involving places where the children can practice Spanish and learn about culture.
Photo courtesy of Tina Freese Decker.
Tina thoroughly disconnects when on vacation. "It's respecting colleagues, who'd need to feel they must always be connected, too." She doesn't look at e-mail. She's technology-enabled but brings books, so her children don't see her iPad and think she's working.
Tina is fast-paced when back at work, yet knows her speed isn't everyone else's. "I need to make sure my pace at work is a doable pace. Sometimes, I need to slow down to relish those little moments at home; it's the same at work." Creatively, she was part of the ArtPrize Leadership on Canvas 2018 entry. Her simple painting, in shades of blue, speaks to the strength and calm at her core.
Tina is driven. Following her undergraduate degree, there was no question she would pursue a dual master's. She incorporated Industrial Engineering to challenge herself and create new possibilities. "It's a unique dual degree. It's rare. I only found it with Iowa." Industrial Engineering intrigued her, with its emphasis on human factors. "People make mistakes, but we want to be as error-free as possible." She saw artificial intelligence, queueing theory and efficiency as needs in health care.
Tina is open to challenges and opportunities. She was creative about gaining the perspectives and knowledge she sought. She was determined to graduate in two years and under her own name; her wedding was scheduled 2½ years out. She worked with her professors, completing everything as planned. Her dual degree was rare among her industry peers—health care had not yet begun to focus on industrial engineering or process improvement. "Spectrum Health was just on the cusp of it."
Tina is a quick study, contributing to her successes. She actively listens and learns, constantly seeking input and feedback. She's a continuous learner—going back to when her grandfather would pull out his encyclopedias for her. "I've always asked questions and always been curious. It was engrained in me as a young child to be inquisitive."
That's her normal: to find out more, be curious, take understanding and apply it. She wants to make a marked difference in the health of her community. She wants Spectrum Health to be innovative and takes a personal interest in all services the health system offers. She wants to reduce the cost of care. She has long championed telemedicine as a convenience, getting people connected via technology to streamline their medical processes—with no gap in care.
While Tina is a major executive of a $6 billion corporation, she is focused on people—the people who work at Spectrum Health and the people they care for. It's clear she's found balance between a caring approach and ensuring smart business decisions are made.
From a distance she appears analytical, yet she's deeply compassionate. "It's why I 'round'; why I take care of others. It's at the core of who I am and why I chose this career path."
As she connects with employees, Tina seeks out the person who works in the remote space of the office. She recalls a wife and husband telling her they feel blessed to be at Spectrum Health, having worked there 32 and 14 years, respectively.
"I believe so much in people. I want us to be the best place to work. We have 30,000 employees and they have families relying on them. Their health care, job and income—I take it to heart.
"Health care is a team sport."
As she mentors and supports employees and young careerists in the health care industry, Tina shares words of wisdom that helped her stay focused throughout her professional development.
"Care about others." "Be open to possibilities." "Be willing to be vulnerable and ask questions to learn." "Be clear about who you are and what grounds you." "Be passionate about what you do." "Understand yourself and know what you can do." "You can't do it all. Work with others." "Anyone can be courageous." "Starting your career is a marathon—not a race."
Tina realizes she is a role model for everyone at Spectrum Health—and beyond. "What I do will spread fast. I'm a role model for my kids, for other women." She takes that seriously and feels privileged to be a role model while doing her life's work.
"I want to make an impact and help people achieve better health. Good health is central to people living a happy, productive life."
Written by Amy L Charles, Editorial Director for West Michigan Woman.
Photos © Kelly Braman Photography
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