St. David’s CEO Earl Maxwell leaves legacy of innovation

Earl Maxwell

On December 31, Earl Maxwell retired as CEO of St. David’s Foundation, after more than 12 years in that professional role. Before his time as CEO, Maxwell served on the board for eight years while also leading the accounting firm he co-founded, Maxwell, Locke & Ritter. “None of the first three CEOs of St. David’s Foundation had a background in social services or health,” Maxwell said, “We all learned social services and health through hands-on doing.”

Maxwell counts his predecessor, Neal Kocurek, among his personal heroes. Kocurek founded and led environmental engineering firm Radian International before taking on role of CEO at the foundation. “Neal once said the more he learned, the more he realized how little he knew. I’m the same way. In fact, reading and learning has shaped all of my leadership.”

Maxwell says books on how nonprofits are financially constrained, what makes organizations strong, and even biographies of great leaders often influenced the direction of the foundation. “For example, when I read a book that talked about how nonprofits were too constrained by limited spending on overhead, that changed the way we approached grant-making,” he said. “I knew that you’d never run a business that way. We now know that capacity building with our grant partners helps build the legs underneath them so they can take good ideas and good outcomes to scale.”

St. David’s has had the resources to get creative in its grant-making, and Maxwell took advantage of it. The grants the foundation awards are derived from profits made by hospitals and facilities in the St. David’s HealthCare system, of which the St. David’s Foundation owns 41 percent. When Maxwell became CEO at the Foundation, it was making grants of about $9 million each year. In 2019, the foundation made more than $70 million in the Central Texas area.

But a foundation measures itself on more than the sum total of its grants. Maxwell aimed to use foundation resources to reach those health causes other funders couldn’t.

Today, St. David’s uses data and outcomes to drive its health-related funding, even if other foundation leaders weren’t convinced that was the right approach. It’s the reason why the foundation helped launch a program to provide post-birth home visits to reduce maternal mortality. It’s why the foundation has taken leadership roles funding mental health programs that are lacking in the area and aging-related services to address that growing population of seniors. And it’s why the foundation changed courses to fun neighborhood parks.

“When we learned that only 20 percent of your health is determined by your access to doctors and the other 80 percent is determined by your family structure, where you live, and your access to healthy food and parks,” said Maxwell. In November 2019, it made the first of a $3 million commitment to improve parks in Bastrop, Caldwell, and Travis counties. “The thing is, these gaps are not sexy. They’re not things people get all fired up about and they don’t make for an easy appeal for money. But the same kids who play on these playgrounds are some of the same kids who were born at our hospitals. Now, we want our parks so overrun by families and children to improve the health of the whole neighborhood.”

The new CEO Edward B. Burger, Ph.D, former president of Southwestern University, started this past week.

NOTE: A version of this article also appeared in the Jan 5, 2020, Austin American-Statesman.

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