At the Helm: Dave Henderson

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the president and CEO of Samaritan Medical Center, San Jose, Calif.

Generation of family ownership: Third. We lease, develop and manage medical office buildings and have developed over 330,000 feet of office space. Our business was started by my wife’s family in the early ’60s.

Company revenue: Under $100 million.

Number of employees: 12.

Years with the company: 30.

First job at this company: General manager. Before this I spent 15 years in the electronics industry. My father-in-law asked me to join the company, and I said I’d give it two years. It’s hard to believe it’s 30 years later.

At what age? 37.

Best thing about this job: Working with terrific people and developing the real estate so world-class healthcare services can be provided in our community.

One of our greatest successes: Devel­oping an integrated cancer center as a result of years of focus groups and physician meetings and discussing the deficiencies in our community on how care was being delivered. That led to the opportunity to work with Stanford Health Care so that our vision could become a reality.

Best advice I ever got: Deliver difficult news within the first two minutes of the conversation and build the conversation from there. Too often people who have difficult news talk for a few minutes before they get out what they actually want to say. Finally you hear, “Well, you probably wonder why I called you into my office.”

Quote from our company’s mission statement: Our goal is managing and developing first-class medical office buildings and influencing medical services that will meet the changing needs of our medical community.

On my wall: A framed picture, Lighthouses in the Storm. There’s a guy standing outside the lighthouse with his hands in his pockets looking calm as ever while the water is rising 15 feet around him. I model much of what I do after that picture, because if you reflect chaos as a leader, you can only imagine where everyone else will be.

Best thing about working in a family business: Having a son join the business. We discussed it and planned it for over a year and are enjoying the professional and personal rewards of the decision. Greg has been with us for seven years, and it’s been wonderful to watch his skills develop related to what’s needed in the business.

Worst thing about working in a family business: There’s always a balance between developing the business and managing family expectations related to distributions. It’s a lifetime journey. My wife’s grandmother saw the business developing, but for six years she wondered if she’d see any money. One also realizes that business decisions and discussions are hard and on occasion will impact personal relationships.

My advice for other family business leaders: Balance between family and business is essential. Get outside help when you start sensing an imbalance.

On a day off I like to … see friends and family members, particularly grandchildren, and play a few holes on the golf course.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: Cancer CAREpoint in San Jose, Calvary Church in Los Gatos and Rotary Club.
I realized I had emerged from my father-in-law’s shadow when … I didn’t feel I had to agree with him.

Future succession plans: I have three children, two in their 30s and one almost there. We’ve alluded to discussions but haven’t planned yet. In a pinch, the board would meet, the chairman would take over, and Greg would be responsible for day-to-day operations.

Words I live by: You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, just know how to attract smart people to the room and listen to them.

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

Article categories: 
September/October 2019

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