Cejka Executive Search Recruits CEO for St. Luke’s Healthcare System

June 14, 2019 – After an extensive nationwide hunt, Cejka Executive Search has placed Kevin Nokels as president and CEO of the St. Luke’s Healthcare System in Duluth, MN. The search was led by Mark Madden, executive vice president and managing principal, and Rebecca Kapphahn, vice president and search consultant.

Mr. Nokels currently serves as president of CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center – Bergan Mercy in Omaha, NE. A native of Long Prairie, MN, he succeeds John Strange who retired in February after nearly 23 years as president and CEO. He starts his new role on Aug. 12.

“After an extensive search, the board is fortunate to have found someone as outstanding as Kevin to lead St. Luke’s,” said Jeff Borling, St. Luke’s board chair and chair of St. Luke’s CEO search committee. “Kevin has the vision and leadership qualities that will allow St. Luke’s to continue thriving. He has also demonstrated a commitment in his many years of experience to ensuring that care is patient centered, which is certainly at the core of everything St. Luke’s does.”

Mr. Nokels’ selection caps a search process facilitated by Cejka. With more than 100 initial prospects, the field was narrowed to a group of seven people who interviewed with the board’s search committee. Then three finalists were brought to St. Luke’s campus to interview with key stakeholders, including St. Luke’s leadership, physicians and employees.

“It has been an honor to partner with St. Luke’s Healthcare System in the search for their new president and CEO, which culminated this week in the hiring of Kevin Nokels to succeed longtime CEO John Strange,” said Mr. Madden.

“It is because of the high-caliber service St. Luke’s offers that we were able to attract someone as extraordinary as Kevin,” Mr. Borling said. “There were many people involved in the process who deserve a lot of praise for making this transitional period a strong one. I especially want to thank St. Luke’s chief financial officer Eric Lohn, who is currently serving as interim president and CEO.”

St. Luke’s is a regional referral center whose two hospitals, an employed medical group with almost 300 providers, 45 clinic sites, seven urgent care locations, two retail express clinics, eCare (online clinic) and two pharmacies serve patients and communities across three states. With a patient-centered focus, St. Luke’s high-quality medical staff provides state-of-the-art care to patients while living out their mission to put “The Patient Above All Else.”

Healthcare Recruiters

Cejka Executive Search, based in St. Louis, has provided recruiting services exclusively to the healthcare industry for more than 35 years. Its client roster includes Georgetown University Hospital, Northwestern Memorial, Levine Cancer Institute, St. John Providence Health System, Tenet, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Washington University in St Louis School of Medicine, Centene Corp., Cape Fear Valley Health and Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center.


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For these top 50 executive recruiters working in the life science and healthcare sectors, the last decade has been one of transformation. Pressure on pricing, regulatory changes, emerging innovations, growth and an uncertain political environment have all helped shape a new field of play.

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The firm has conducted searches for an array of roles, including chief medical information officer, chief compliance officer, chief of oncology, chief medical officer, chief of pediatrics, chief of neurology, chief nursing officer, CEO, CFO, COO, department chair, chief clinical officer, medical director and chief strategy officer.

Mr. Madden, who joined Cejka Executive Search last year, leads executive search services for senior healthcare executive positions. He has extensive experience leading board search committees in executive recruitment, leveraging his expertise in leadership assessment and evaluation as well as his thorough understanding of the complex issues facing healthcare leaders. With more than 25 years of experience, Mr. Madden provides expertise in healthcare recruitment for C-suite executives, physician executives, medical group practices and senior services administrators. Previously, Mr. Madden spent more than seven years with B.E. Smith serving as senior vice president of executive search. Prior to that, he was VP of Integrated Healthcare Strategies, a role he held for 17 years.

He has worked closely with boards, search committees, senior-level executives and physicians. His search engagements have included C-suite positions for large multi-site, integrated and tertiary health systems, as well as smaller community hospitals and medical group practices.

“Mark brings a strong track record of partnering with organizations, boards and search committees to achieve successful search outcomes as well as build lasting relationships,” said Paul Esselman, senior executive vice president and managing director at Cejka, at the time of Mr. Madden’s hiring. “We are excited about the added depth his experience and expertise will bring to our already accomplished executive search team.”

Ms. Kapphahn has an extensive understanding of the healthcare industry and has worked with executive leadership across a wide range of hospitals and health systems, academic institutions, physician group practices, and managed care organizations. She is responsible for management of her client’s search process. Experienced in all elements of successful healthcare recruitment, Ms. Kapphahn is the catalyst for development and execution of a well-designed candidate acquisition plan. Her strong critical thinking, communication and client management skills contribute to long-term client relationships.

Prior to joining Cejka in 2006, Ms. Kapphahn built a strong track record in healthcare recruitment operations. She has been recognized for her expertise in sourcing and candidate acquisition techniques as well as her strong leadership of high-performing recruitment teams.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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