Gregory Jonas: Why Now Is the Time to Get Into Healthcare Management

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Over his career, Gregory Jonas has examined financial statements from nearly every perspective: as an investor, a chief officer, and a certified management accountant (CMA). Since transitioning from the corporate world to academia, Jonas has conducted significant research on the consequences of corporate disclosures. When you study corporate reporting with Jonas at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management, you'll learn from one of the nation's top experts on the subject.

Jonas' course, Accounting for Managers, is one of 10 that constitute the general management core in Weatherhead's Online MBA in Healthcare Management. You'll also complete an additional 11 healthcare core courses en route to your 48-credit-hour MBA degree, which typically takes eight academic terms to complete. This experiential degree program combines asynchronous assignments with live online class sessions and summer residencies to deliver a multifaceted education in business and healthcare management. Hometown Cleveland's status as one of the nation's premier healthcare hubs means you'll learn from leading experts across all disciplines.

We spoke with Jonas about the importance of accountancy and efficient management in delivering top-quality healthcare.

Your primary areas of research include corporate reporting and disclosures. What are the most common misperceptions MBA students have about these essential business functions?

MBA students coming into the programs—like most of the general population—think accounting and financial reporting adhere to a rigid set of rules. They think it's just numbers and recording numbers in ledgers, and they're shocked to learn that management can make different disclosure choices. Sometimes they can choose among multiple applicable rules.

That's especially true when you get to what is disclosed to the investing public. The rules allow a lot of leeway in what and how much is disclosed, and that matters to investors and other stakeholders. This malleability in disclosure and reporting shocks MBA students starting the program. Once they find out, they are a lot more interested in the subject because they realize the need to understand how it works.

Are there times when more information isn't necessarily better?

Stakeholders always think they want more information, that more information is better. In a perfect world, that might be true, but let's think about the disclosure landscape. Go back to the 1920s and 30s, when the capital markets were just forming in the U.S. Back then, the typical annual report from a company might be four or five pages. That would include all the financial statements, a letter to the shareholders, and maybe a short note from the accounting firm that did the audit.

If you look at the typical annual report nowadays, it's not unusual for it to be 200 pages or more. We've gone from a situation where there's a paucity of information to where there's information overload. More information isn't necessarily better.

"I always try to put my teaching in a contextual environment, pointing to real-life information and how to use it to make good decisions. I'd like to think my students are more operationally ready to step into a job and contribute as a result."

There are some types of information that companies, right or wrong, consider proprietary. For example, they might believe that if they disclose their product cost structure, that would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Investors would love that information, of course, but so would competitors!

Finally, there are corporate reasons not to disclose some information. Consider a company that's subject to a class-action lawsuit. What they disclose to the investing public might hinder the outcome of that lawsuit. Also, what if they try to estimate the settlement and record that into the financial statements? Number one, it's largely a guess, and we frown on guesses going into financial statements, for good reasons. Number two, there could be legal implications.

In short, not everything that can be disclosed should be disclosed, nor would disclosure necessarily be helpful to investors or companies.

You also specialize in financial analysis. How has the explosion of available data altered financial analysis practices generally and, more specifically, regarding health management?

Let's return to the historical view. There used to be a paucity of information; you used to have to hunt for information about companies. Back even 25 years ago, you had to dig for the information you needed to do a high-quality financial analysis.

In today's environment, there's so much more information available and much of it is publicly available. You can go to Google Finance or Yahoo Finance and get a lot of information there. Companies are required to file electronic versions of their financial statements with the Securities Exchange Commission, and those are accessible to the public.

"Efficiency and high-quality healthcare are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they support each other when done correctly."

Today, it's not so much a matter of finding information. Rather, it's the challenge of sorting through available information to determine what's meaningful and can be analyzed in ways useful to whichever stakeholder group you're working with.

What will Case Western Reserve online MBA students learn to help them isolate good information?

I teach a class that addresses this question, and a separate elective that takes a deeper dive. We start with the core financial statements because those are pretty clean and consistent—setting aside Enron and some examples where there's intentional fraud. Financial statements offer a lot of detail that allows you to compare numbers over time. Comparing relationships between different financial statements, benchmarking against competitive companies and using data in a very informed and analytical way is the foundation of any kind of financial analysis.

Beyond the financial statements are supplemental reports. A lot of companies now file sustainability or social responsibility reports. They're not required by U.S. law but most companies produce them anyway. However, there are no mandatory standards, and a lot of the information is narrative as opposed to numbers, which can be more easily analyzed. These documents are more difficult to decipher, and you have to use some advanced tools to make sense of the information.

We try to give students multiple perspectives on these documents. What if you're an outsider, such as an investor? What if you're inside the company, such as the CEO or CFO? We want them to understand how they'll see numbers differently depending on whether they're on the inside or outside.

You spent more than 20 years in the corporate world. How did those experiences impact the way you teach?

They had a huge impact. After earning my undergraduate degree, I went right to work for a manufacturing division of a conglomerate, primarily in product costing and forecasting.

As I progressed in my career, I went into managing a group of financial analysts. We did a lot of work on analyzing potential acquisitions, figuring out the right price that we should pay to acquire a given company. Later on, I served as a CFO and then finally as CEO of a modestly sized manufacturing company.

In the later years, my company hired MBAs, and I was a bit dismayed in many cases by the lack of context and deep understanding among these hires. That experience affects how I teach. I always try to put my teaching in a contextual environment, pointing to real-life information and how to use it to make good decisions. I'd like to think my students are more operationally ready to step into a job and contribute as a result.

Your expertise is in accounting and the program is focused on healthcare management. Where do you see the greatest opportunities for cost savings and cost reduction in healthcare?

There are so many opportunities. Take hospital networks, for example. Most were founded by doctors and physicians. Understandably, the focus was on delivering high-quality healthcare. Business processes were not, initially, emphasized as much.

"We have a local network that other areas of the country can't match."

That was probably fine in the early years, but these organizations have grown so complex and healthcare costs have grown so quickly that finding efficiencies is now critical to their survival. Efficiency and high-quality healthcare are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they support each other when done correctly.

Today, there's more focus on internal efficiency and business process analysis. The business is complex; health organizations have multiple customers. It's not just the patients who pay the bills but also insurance companies. Finding efficiencies in how these systems are managed yields benefits for everyone.

Why is now a good time to get a healthcare MBA?

By any measure, the growth in the healthcare industry and the demand for healthcare are huge. The healthcare industry is one of the highest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy. That's probably also true globally.

Why? We've got an aging population that has more demand for healthcare services. Also—and this is less frequently noted but it's important—technology is changing the management and delivery of healthcare. You can see your doctor on a smartphone now; you don't have to go into the office anymore. Getting an x-ray used to be quite involved. Results would take days. Today, x-rays are digital and your doctor can see them almost immediately. This technology chain is pervasive, whether it's in transplants, surgical procedures, medication, or telemedicine. There's so much innovation, which adds to the demand for services. It also creates a need for more people to manage healthcare.

We offer a course on how artificial intelligence can be used in healthcare and healthcare management. This is a fast-growing trend with a lot of promise. It also means it's a great time to get into healthcare management, not just from a job opportunity standpoint but also to contribute to society.

Why should students pursue the degree online, and why is the Weatherhead School of Management the right place to pursue that online degree?

First, many of our students are healthcare clinicians. Online study benefits them because commuting to campus takes time away from learning or working. At the very least, online saves them drive time back and forth. It also provides the convenience of being able to jump onto a class at an appointed time, no matter where they are.

Online programs bring together students and instructors from all over the U.S. and beyond. The first cohort in our program is quite diverse geographically, with people from New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Masschuttes, New Hampshire, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, all learning and networking together. That diversity should produce excellent learning outcomes.

That said, the local component is also important. The greater Cleveland area has a concentration of healthcare and healthcare management industry opportunities. We have three nationally ranked hospital networks, each operating differently and each very successful. We've got the nation's largest V.A. hospital. We've got manufacturing companies that support healthcare management, ranging from medical supplies to imaging to health insurance.

That's part of what distinguishes the Case Western program and provides a significant market for the program. The convenience factor and the opportunities for experiential learning should be a great local draw. It allows us to offer two great residencies for all students when they come to visit campus. And it's a great source for guest speakers and events. We have a local network that other areas of the country can't match.

The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University ranks among the nation's top 20 part-time MBA programs, according to US News & World Report. Its Online MBA in Healthcare Management offers a unique opportunity to earn a focused business degree from a school situated in one of the nation's top healthcare hubs. You'll learn from top experts among healthcare professionals and others looking to improve the nation's essential healthcare services.

Weatherhead's Online MBA allows you to study remotely, engaging asynchronous content on your own schedule. You'll be able to continue working as you study, enabling you to apply what you learn in class immediately to your professional life. Core courses in general management and healthcare management ensure you'll develop skills applicable across business sectors and functions.

Check the program prerequisites to see whether you qualify. The program offers two annual start dates—one in the fall and one in the spring. Why not start your application today?

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