Executive leader comes full circle after exceptional 30-year career

June 24, 2021
Lisa Montgomery with MUSC former first lady, Ann Edwards. Photo by Anne Thompson

It’s fitting that Lisa P. Montgomery finish her 30-year career at MUSC - a place that she knows well and where she has spent much of her life. She’s achieved so much: overseeing MUSC’s financial strategy and operations, supporting leadership and the university’s direction and supporting improvements to patient care for South Carolinians all while building and maintaining important personal connections with her employees.

In Montgomery’s own “circle of life,” she is ending her career where it all began. Born at MUSC Hospital, she would later launch an enviable career and life journey at the institution that forever holds a special place in her heart. A place she truly loves.

Talk to anyone on campus and everyone, it seems, agrees. During her decades of leadership and service, Montgomery has been a transformative leader - a steady presence around campus, contributing her well-honed skills and engaging management style where it was needed. Her commitment to people and institutional values combined with her goal-oriented vision have helped to transform MUSC’s culture to where it is today.

MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, praises Montgomery’s extraordinary contributions, steady impact and tireless dedication to supporting the institution’s mission throughout the Lowcountry and state.

“Lisa Montgomery has had a significant positive impact on so many dimensions of who we are as an institution. Her experience, judgment and reliability as a senior leader have been invaluable. Although I certainly wish her well as she moves into her next chapter, she will be sorely missed on campus as a friend and colleague,” said Cole.

Patrick J.Cawley, M.D., MUSC Health CEO and vice president for Health Affairs, University, agrees wholeheartedly.

“This institution will miss Lisa Montgomery profoundly. Over the past three decades, she has proved to be a force of nature. She brings her best game to everything she does, and she’s always thoroughly prepared, having put a great deal of thought into all aspects of a matter. Her keen business acumen and willingness to speak her mind coupled with a deep connection to all around her have made an immeasurable impact on this institution. There is no doubt that she has been an integral part of the tremendous growth and transformation this institution has achieved. And, I would be remiss not to add that I’ll miss a valued colleague and most of all, friend,” he said.

Montgomery, who retires at the end of June as executive vice president of Finance and Operations, started her career at MUSC Hospital in 1991, when then-hospital CEO and vice president of Finance and Administration Charlene McCants Stuart was looking to build up the hospital’s finance team with new ideas and talent. Dependable, dedicated, courageous, savvy and a good judge of character - Montgomery shared qualities that reminded Stuart of herself when she started out at MUSC.

Montgomery was hired as director of Patient Access Services for MUSC Hospital. She had proved herself through previous successes at other health care institutions and was poised to take on new challenges in health care. In 1998, she was named director of Patient Financial Services and controller, working with senior leadership to revamp the hospital’s financial processes by reorganizing the revenue cycle and patient financial services to provide efficiency while still providing the highest quality patient care.

Stuart Smith, former CEO of MUSC Medical Center and vice president of Clinical Operations, observed that Montgomery was taking on more difficult tasks.

“Lisa’s work was exceptional. I saw it as the start of a pattern of high performances during such difficult times. It’s these early successes and later ones that are the hallmark of her career,” he said.

Lisa Montgomery MUHA leadership at ART dedication 2007 
Montgomery with Stuart Smith, from left, Chris Malanuk, Marion Woodbury and Hal Currey at the dedication of MUSC Ashley River Tower in 2007. Photo by Anne Thompson

Establishing MUHA In 1999, she, Smith and institutional leaders collaborated to take MUSC hospital to greater heights by leading the hospital’s conversion to the Medical University Hospital Authority. This bold move, which won approval from the South Carolina Legislature, would allow the hospital to operate more efficiently as a public benefit corporation and foster future growth. MUHA officially launched in July 2000.

Montgomery credits the commitment and vision of the strong senior leadership team across the hospital, physician’s practice plan, College of Medicine and university for achieving this milestone. And, she explained, it occurred during rough times, which included reorganizations, failed mergers, significant losses from federal and state funds and a poor economy. Despite these challenges, MUSC emerged as a stronger organization.

“We made it through that period, thanks to everyone embracing a team approach,” she said. “The experiences helped forge bonds and relationships between these entities like never before. It was a time to embrace change, apply new ideas, innovative methods and best practices that were executed at other academic medical centers to help MUSC succeed through this transition.”

Montgomery’s experience and successes with the hospital soon caught the attention of MUSC’s Board of Trustees and then-president Raymond S. Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., who tapped Montgomery to lead university finance and operations in addition to continuing to manage the Medical Center’s finance and operations arm. Understanding both entities proved to be both masterful and strategic, allowing Montgomery to see MUSC’s big picture and where she could share her strategic insight as a member of the President’s Council and senior leadership team.

Montgomery, center, with MUSC Finance and Administration's leadership team at the June 4 Leadership Development Institute (LDI) retreat. 
Montgomery, center, is joined by the Finance and Administration leadership team at the June 4 Leadership Development Institute (LDI) retreat. Photo provided

Among her first tasks within the university was to assess her division’s workforce of more than 1,200 employees, which supported three university units - Engineering and Facilities, University Finance and University Operations. Once the Medical Center had launched the MUSC Excellence program to improve patient and employee satisfaction, Montgomery and her team introduced elements of it across the Division of Finance and Administration, with a goal to improve customer service and satisfaction and employee engagement.

“We’ve always tried to connect the dots regardless of where employees work and ensure that they understood Excellence’s impact to the institutional team and overall mission to support patients, research and students - everything needed to make an individual’s experience at MUSC better,” said Montgomery.

Weathering several complex financial crises, Montgomery helped to steer the institution through rough waters. She launched responsibility-centered management as an effective decision-making budgeting system to support the university’s colleges and deans. She also worked with division leaders to streamline and merge expertise within various service units and supported new programs, creative methods and innovative ideas and measuring tools to support efficiency, transparency and cohesiveness throughout the university - all in an effort to achieve financial sustainability.

Most recently, Montgomery helped to lead MUSC’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic, joining executive leadership and the campus’ infectious disease experts to discuss safety strategies that supported MUSC’s patients, students, faculty and staff; revamping campus operations; and acquiring personal protective equipment for front-line clinical care team members. She partnered with Lisa Saladin, P.T., Ph.D., provost and executive vice president of Academic Affairs, to formulate a “playbook” for the future that included the transitioning of in-person classes for students to online learning as well as developing the MUSC Enterprise Remote Work Plan and other pandemic support policies.

According to Saladin, it was a period of instant learning where clinicians, researchers and academic teams learned to adapt, transform and pivot on a dime. “We learned a lot and are still learning from this pandemic experience,” said Saladin.

Lisa TUW Award 
Montgomery, center, is joined by MUSC women leaders as she was honored as the 2018 Trident United Way (TUW) Role Model of the Year winner at the TUW Women United annual luncheon. Photo provided

Another area of impact that Montgomery has championed is mentorship and elevating women and minorities to leadership roles. She achieved this by piloting strategies first within her own division and later extending the focus campuswide. In 2006, just as MUSC Excellence was launched in Finance and Administration, she collaborated with interim chief equity officer Willette Burnham-Williams, Ph.D., to set diversity goals for the division and adopted communications tools and practices to connect diversity and inclusion efforts with great success.

“Lisa has modeled her area and the university after other leaders, taking risks to diversify the look of MUSC’s talent pool. She’s also a trailblazer, possessing the best Press Ganey employee engagement survey scores of any leader across the enterprise because of the risks she’s willing to take. Employees see her genuine desire to make positive change in order to build MUSC as the organization all of us want it to be,” said Burnham-Williams.

Much of Montgomery’s commitment to improving MUSC’s fiscal growth can be found in the hospitals, clinical facilities and research buildings around MUSC’s campus that have contributed to downtown Charleston’s changing skyline. Her influence has also extended to MUSC Health’s growth around the Tri-county, region and state - a great source of pride for her.

While others may be ready to retire and slow down years before it’s time, Montgomery cherishes her 30 years at MUSC. And along with the years of hard work and challenges, she has always valued the journey, for its afforded her the privilege of building important relationships over three decades.

“As bad as some times were, it’s the people and relationships - the building of a team, mentoring people and watching the teamwork and people come together that is so important. I still think our worst day is better than most places. It’s what has kept me and other people here at MUSC,” she said.

Lisa Jim Edwards Fritz Holllings 
Lisa Montgomery with MUSC President Emeritus Jim Edwards, left, and former Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings. Photo provided

Montgomery plans to remain in the Lowcountry - she’s home-grown after all. She grew up in Pinopolis in Berkeley County. Her commitment to health care and service are modeled from her early childhood and a strong family work ethic. Her late father, Kenneth Pennington, D.M.D., was the first full-time dentist in Berkeley County, while mother, Helen Pennington, managed the business side of the practice. Not long after arriving at MUSC, Montgomery earned her Master in Health Administration from the College of Health Professions and rose quickly through both MUHA and university management and leadership positions. Thirty years later, she has her sights set on new adventures. 

Asked how she plans to spend her retirement, she’s looking forward to spending time cultivating hobbies and interests, traveling, although her mother’s health is currently her biggest priority, and enjoying the company of family and friends.

Perhaps Montgomery’s success is easily summarized by looking to the past as she looks forward.

Smith may well have said it best. “Where we come from is just as important as where we are headed - in other words, where we have come from as an organization to where MUSC is today,” he said. “MUSC has come so far over many years, and Lisa has been a key part of MUSC’s transformation since the day she arrived.”

Lisa and grounds crew 
Montgomery with members of MUSC's Grounds Department after an on-campus MUSC Commencement ceremony. Photo by Anne Thompson

Montgomery has established needs-based scholarships to support students in health care leadership in the College of Health Professions. To make a donation in her honor or for more information, please visit the College of Health Professions donation page.