Richard Burnette is a director of environmental services and oversees operations at two facilities in Corpus Christi, Texas. Richard has been with HHS since March 2013. He also served in the United States Army for 30 years prior to joining the HHS team.
Tell us about yourself, your background, and how you came to HHS.
I’m married to my wife Nancy. We have four children—two here in Texas, one of whom works for HHS, and two in South Carolina. Prior to coming to HHS, I was in the United States Army for 30 years, and then I went on to HHS after finishing the service. My first choice was actually to go into law enforcement; that’s what I had wanted to do before I even joined the service. When I retired, I thought I would pursue that career, and I went to the police department, the sheriffs department, and the border control, and no one would take me. During one of my rotations in the military, when I was in Iraq, I sustained injuries to my hands, and they would not accept me because of those injuries. So I didn’t really know what I was going to do. But then one of my military friends knew somebody from HHS, and they contacted the vice president they knew, and the vice president contacted me, so that’s how I found my way.
What do you think makes you a successful leader with HHS?
I'd say probably one of the biggest challenges we have here is the pace. We are very busy; it’s nonstop. You run into challenges every day, and being able to solve those issues as they come at you and still accomplish your goals, or, to take a word from the military, your mission, that’s what makes you successful as a leader. If you can’t do that, and you let those problems fester, you’re going to get more problems on top of them, and before you know it, you’re going to lose complete control. So I just think that being able to handle situations that arise in a timely fashion and being able to multitask are important. That’s what’s going to make you successful as a leader.
Which of HHS’ values most resonate with you, and how do you apply them to your leadership?
I think the biggest one is my ability to solve problems. That’s what a lot of military leaders do. You solve problems as they occur, and I brought that into the company. I think that’s probably the most effective thing about me. Some of my best leadership is on the fly as things are happening. I’m able to fix things quickly and resolve those issues. I’m also very loyal to whoever I’m working for, whether that’s HHS leadership or the leadership of the hospital, and I’m very committed to the job. Whether I’m picking up trash outside or I’m leading a task here in the hospital, I’m just as committed to either. I don’t say, ‘Well, I’ve been here for eight hours or 10 hours or even 12 hours so it’s time to go.’ I judge when I come in and when I go home based on what my mission or tasks are for that day, and I don’t go home until those tasks are all completed. I know more than anyone what I need to get done for that day, and I don’t want to leave my facility knowing that there’s something that I need to do that’s going to take care of my staff or the customer. A lot of that comes from the military. In the military there’s no time clocks for nobody—you work until you’re done. And I don’t see that changing a whole lot for me. Some of the things that I did prior to my injuries in Iraq I can’t do anymore, anyway. So I take the time that I might have been doing that and spend it here at work. It gives me some personal satisfaction that I’m accomplishing something that’s bigger than myself.