David Dunlap, who has led Roper St. Francis for the past 13 years and expanded the reach of the health care system, is stepping down.
The president and CEO of the 5,600-employee, nonprofit hospital owner and medical provider said Friday he plans to retire by the end of the year.
Dunlap notified workers Thursday, saying his time at Roper “has been his most rewarding and enjoyable of his 40-plus year career.” He said he came to the decision after discussing it over the holidays with wife Pamela.
“I still love my job,” he said. “But now, at age 72, I’ve decided with Pamela that the time is right to spend more time with family, to play golf, to travel, to serve in the community and to enjoy the privilege of living in Charleston.”
Roper has hired an executive search firm to help it find a successor. Dunlap said Friday that he expects that internal candidates will be considered for the top job.
“I know once that person is named, I’ll exit fairly quickly after that,” he said. “But it may take six or eight or 10 months for all that to play out. I wanted to let the board know I’m here if they need me.”
Roper St. Francis is among the region’s largest private-sector employers. It has about 125 locations and three hospitals — Roper Hospital on the Charleston peninsula, Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in West Ashley and Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital in Mount Pleasant.
Dunlap got his start in health care administration in 1975 in Nashville. He joined Roper St. Francis in 2003 and has served in volunteer leadership roles at numerous local organizations, including the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Trident United Way.
“It’s been a fun journey,” Dunlap said. “It’s all about having good people, getting them aligned and making sure we’re getting to the true north we’re trying to achieve.”
Under Dunlap’s watch, Roper acquired dozens of local physician practices, expanded its reach into several outlying counties and built its Mount Pleasant hospital.
“David helped move the system forward in a dramatic way,” said Dr. Brian Cuddy, chair of the Roper St. Francis board of directors.
In about six weeks, Roper will move about 600 support employees who now work from various office locations to a single new campus along Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston.
More recently, it prevailed in a lengthy court battle that allows it to build its fourth full-service medical center in the fast-growing Carnes Crossroads section of Berkeley County, near Summerville and Goose Creek.
“That could be our largest hospital in 10 years. ... We’re designing it in a way that it can grow and expand with the population moving into that area,” Dunlap said.
Doug Bowling, Roper’s chief strategy officer, has worked under Dunlap for all but four years since 1988 and considers him his mentor. They started together in Oklahoma City at a hospital that “was losing money hand over fist and was in terrible financial trouble,” Bowling said.
He recalled how his new boss fixed it over the course of about 18 months.
“It was impressive to watch that turnaround,” said Bowling, who added that he’s not interested in the CEO job. “I got a great deal of benefit early in my career to see that done and done well.”
Similarly, he said, Roper needed a morale boost when Dunlap arrived in Charleston from New Orleans.
“Employee satisfaction or employee engagement was bad to pitiful, somewhere in that area,” Bowling said.
He credited Dunlap for reversing that.
“It really comes from the top, from David setting and creating the culture,” he said.