During a recent talk with business students, Dennis Dahlen gave this advice: Raise your hand when somebody asks for a volunteer for a crazy project.
“You’ll learn something,” says the CFO of Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, Minnesota. “I’ve raised my hand a lot. I’ve got more failures than most people, but I have more successes, too.”
Dahlen’s willingness to take risks has served him well. He has been CFO of the renowned medical system since 2017. He has been a problem-solver, coach and navigator during a time when the health industry has faced numerous challenges.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance and always expected he would pursue a graduate degree. He worked as a public accountant – mostly auditing health care clients – before landing a position at Lutheran Health Systems in Fargo.
That’s when he decided the time was right to continue his studies at MSUM.
“I knew the program was well-regarded and the classes worked well with my schedule,” he says. He earned his master’s in business administration and management in 1986.
Dahlen still keeps in touch with classmates and remembers some key takeaways from the program. “We managed a lot of group projects,” he says. “Throughout my career, group projects have been the norm, not the exception. Most results are driven by teams. It’s how work gets done.”
That degree also opened doors for Dahlen to accept a job at Mayo Clinic, an academic and research institution.
Before joining Mayo Clinic, Dahlen served at Lutheran Health Systems until it merged with Phoenix-based Samaritan Health Services to form Banner Health in 2000. At Banner Health, Dahlen served in various positions, including senior vice president and CFO.
These experiences paved a path to one of the most renowned health care institutions in the world. As part of Mayo’s executive leadership team, Dahlen works collaboratively with institutional and site leaders in financial planning and management. He and his team are constantly looking for ways the clinic can grow and thrive.
Dahlen has always been intrigued by the nonprofit model of health care. He enjoys finding the balance between financial performance and appropriate patient care. The role also comes with additional responsibilities. As CFO, Dahlen is often tapped for expertise during times of crisis.
“When you represent one of the best, people look to you for answers,” he says.
During Dahlen’s tenure, there have been many moments of challenge: the pandemic and a labor shortage are two of the most recent. These come at a time when health care leaders are looking for ways to make services sustainable and affordable for everyone.
“It’s one of those vexing questions that weigh on me and others,” Dahlen says. “I hope we can make progress on our own.”
Dahlen is proud of Mayo Clinic's leadership in the health care industry. Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester has been ranked the No. 1 hospital in the U.S. for six consecutive years by U.S. News and World Report, and Mayo's hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona, and Jacksonville, Florida, are top-ranked in their states. Supporting Mayo's research and education efforts are deeply rewarding. He points to Mayo’s leadership in developing one of the first COVID-19 tests and its research in macular degeneration and deep brain stimulation, among other things.
“It’s a place where the best and the brightest come together in service to advancing medical education, research and practice,” he says. “That’s an exciting place to be.”
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