Carnegie Mellon University

Cain Hayes, President and CEO of Gateway Health

February 27, 2020

W.L. Mellon Speaker Series: Cain Hayes Says Intention and Patience Are Key

Cain Hayes, President and CEO of Gateway Health, spoke as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series.

When Cain Hayes was an undergraduate at Drake University studying business, he made a 30-year plan: Before he turned 50, he was going to become CEO of a multibillion-dollar company. By forming a clear leadership philosophy and learning to be patient, he achieved his goal, becoming President and CEO of Gateway Health in November 2018.

Hayes spoke to the Carnegie Mellon University community as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series. The informal question-and-answer coffee chat was moderated by MBA student and Graduate Business Association president Melissa Bizzari.

Have a Specific Goal and a Plan To Achieve That Goal

Hayes divided his 30-year plan into three equal segments. For the first decade, he would focus on building his skills and becoming a high performer within a function. For the second, he would begin to lead teams at increasing levels. And for the third, he would run businesses and build high-level management skills toward a CEO role.

“This whole characteristic of planning I really inherited from my grandfather, Percy Hayes, who was a World War II veteran,” Hayes said. “One of the things he learned in the Army is that you need to have a specific goal. But as importantly as having a specific goal is have a specific plan to achieve that goal — with contingencies.”

Applying Financial Services Experience in the Health Care Sector

Following a 20-year career in finance with a lot of sales successes and increasing levels of responsibility, Hayes had begun to focus on the challenges of health care for average Americans. “The fact is, one health event or one hospital stay averages $15,000, so if you didn’t have appropriate health coverage or help, you could see where a few health events could wipe out a person’s financial health,” he said.

“I made a career decision to take what I learned on the financial services side of business into health care.” At that time, Aetna had reached out to invite Hayes to join the company as President of a $3 billion division. From there, he moved into the COO position at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota before arriving at Gateway Health as CEO.

Cain Hayes of Gateway Health
Cain Hayes of Gateway Health
Cain Hayes of Gateway Health

“I encourage everyone that leads a team — whether it’s two people, or 20,000 or 100,000 people — develop a leadership philosophy based on your own core values,” Hayes said. His leadership philosophy is composed of five P’s: people, planning, processes, performance, and partnerships. He aims to build teams of individuals with the right aptitude and a collaborative attitude, who represent diversity across several measures and can work together efficiently and productively.

The Importance of Patience 

Hayes also presented his formula for career success, built on more P’s: performance, positive visibility, and patience come together to bring promotions, pay, or power, depending on what motivates someone. “In most instances, I was my own worst enemy as I was on this path, because of my propensity to be impatient,” he said.

“I’ve seen so often, and it almost happened to me at times in my career, where you have the performance, you have the positive visibility — you’re very well thought of — and then the promotion or opportunity that you feel should be yours doesn’t happen, and then you lose patience. And then you can oftentimes make decisions that aren’t in your best interests. So patience becomes very important.”

The W.L. Mellon Speaker Series enables students to interact with global leaders, CEOs, and management experts in student forums that encourage insightful and lively dialogue.