Alan Cooper has been “an exceptional leader” of the Friendly Society Private Hospital for almost quarter of a century as its CEO – but like any successful executive, he knows when it is time to step down.
Mr Cooper has announced he will retire from his role at the Bundaberg hospital, and also as CEO of the medical institute that governs it, effective from 8 July 2022.
“I’m 64 in two months’ time, and I have been here for 23-plus years, so the writing is on the wall,” he said.
“Succession planning is always a topic on the table, for all areas of the hospital. I know my capacity will start to diminish, if it hasn’t already, and I don’t want my staying to have a negative impact on our growth.
“We have an amazing Board of Directors and very experienced and committed Executive and Management teams. My retiring will allow for new fresh leadership to take the organization the next level.”
In the 12 months before he retires, Mr Cooper will not only help to find a successor but also play a key role in major development works at the not-for-profit facility, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
“We have grown from a little cottage hospital into a credible medium-size facility with sophisticated, state-of-the-art services, matching it with the best,” Mr Cooper said.
“We have 39 projects underway, six of which are significant capital works programs with the largest valued at $30 million.
“Progressing these projects will be my major focus but assisting the Board to find a suitable replacement for my role is high on the agenda – someone who has a high regard for our people and culture and a love for regional community.”
Known as ‘The Friendlies’, the hospital has been serving the Bundaberg and Wide Bay area in Queensland since taking over the old St Vincent’s operation in 1946.
Mr Cooper joined as Director of Nursing in January 1998 and took over as CEO in September that year.
He held both positions for a decade before appointing Sue Day to replace him in the nursing role, while becoming CEO of the Bundaberg Friendly Society Medical Institute that governs both the hospital and the pharmacy at the heart of the organisation’s formation in 1919.
“Alan has been and is an exceptional leader; one who inspires others around him, leads by example, and through that has developed the excellent culture for which the Friendlies is renowned,” Board Chairman Les Hancock said.
“Alan has overseen immense growth including the development of Cardiac Interventional services, Critical Care Unit, Oncology Services, two major hospital extensions, the multi-storey Medical Consulting Suites and our Emergency Department, along with attracting many other medical and surgical specialists.”
Mr Cooper has also performed key roles for the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA), being a member of the Board since October 2010.
He was also an APHA Council member from 2010-16 representing the Not for Profit – Small Group/Large Independent electorate, and since then has served as Queensland’s Regional representative as well as chairing the Small Hospitals Group for the last seven years.
APHA CEO Michael Roff said Mr Cooper will be missed by the Friendlies and the Board.
“Alan has made a huge contribution to APHA and the industry as a whole. He has been a strong voice for
Queensland and smaller hospitals, making sure their needs are represented by the industry body," he said.
“In addition, he has been a good friend to many on the Council and secretariat and we will miss his friendly
demeanour at meetings.”
Of all his achievements, Mr Cooper said he was most proud of the strong relationship the hospital had formed with the local community.
“My greatest pride is when I walk through the facility, showing a visitor around, and every staff member greets us with a cheery hello,” he said.
“It personifies the culture and shows the high level of engagement we have been able to achieve through consistent education and reinforcement of goals values and behaviour.”
Mr Cooper said he had made many good friends at The Friendlies – but was looking forward to a change in dynamic once he retires.
“We have laughed and cried together over many emotional moments, happy and sad. I will miss the daily contact with them but I’m also looking forward to no longer having to be the boss and be able to develop the friendship.”
He will also have more time to spend with his family, including following the sporting exploits of his teenage son Isaac, who was selected for Australia’s swim team at the Tokyo Olympics, competing in the men’s 100-metre backstroke.
“It’s a great joy to see your kids achieve their goals,” Mr Cooper said.
“Isaac has trained very hard for many years despite only being 17 now. It was quite a surprise to him and us to see him make the team, but he has earned a spot and we are all hoping he will do well.”
Isaac reached the semifinals of his individual event but missed out on a place in the top-eight medal round despite improving on his heat time. However, he did enjoy a podium celebration after helping Australia's mixed 4x100m medley team to win bronze in its relay.
"He loves the competition," Mr Cooper added. "Both his parents are somewhat driven but it's his mother who has the swimming gene – and he certainly showed at an early he had it also.
"At two years of age he swam 50 metres unaided, albeit using an undefined stroke, and started junior squad training much earlier than his peers. He accepted the early-morning starts and busy program as all part of the journey to success."