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Caron leadership change emphasizes succession planning

July 1, 2014
by Gary Enos
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When David Rotenberg arrived to work as a therapist at Caron Treatment Centers in 1996, he was not thinking about long-term career goals. Fortunately for him, he had landed in an organization always considering the possibilities in this area.

His effective clinical work with adolescents would be rewarded with a clinical supervision role. Then, about six years after his initial hire, Rotenberg and more than a dozen colleagues were enrolled in on-site MBA classes, which would come to represent a major milestone in his career trajectory. Last week, Caron announced that Rotenberg, 46, has been named the eastern Pennsylvania treatment organization's executive vice president of treatment. Facility leaders say the move reflects their emphasis on careful succession planning and the growing of the next generation of leaders from within.

“By the time I had worked here six or seven years, I saw that this organization was growing and expanding, that it was a meritocracy, and that I could do something beyond clinical supervision,” says Rotenberg, a native of the region who had entered treatment at Caron at age 23.

Rotenberg emphasizes that at each stage in his career progression he has benefited from mentoring within the organization, particularly from Mike Early, who previously held the executive vice president role and will begin transitioning to more of an advisory function with Caron after 43 years in the field.

“This has been a tremendous partnership, as we have built up many of the programs here,” Early says of his work with Rotenberg. “He is an extremely passionate young man who has grown up in the Caron system. … I would not want to hand over this role to anyone else.”

Origins of effort

Caron's effort to nurture the next generation of leaders stems in part from the frank realization among its administrators that Wernersville, Pa., never will carry the allure of a Palm Beach or a Palm Springs for prospective staffers, says Early.

Asked about what he has tried to emphasize in a mentoring role with colleagues, Early says, “The key to any mentoring and the key to any growth is transparency.” He believes it is also important as a leader to show vulnerability. “I've been able over the years to admit when I'm wrong,” he says.

While it always has remained clear that Early has had the final say in matters as chief of the treatment operation, “What's really cool is I've never had to exercise that,” he says, because of what amounts to a team-oriented approach.

Early's new title as Rotenberg ascends in the organization will be chief clinical officer, but he expects over the next year to 18 months to move into more of an advisory role at Caron. He and Rotenberg agree that it has been a priority within the organization to nurture young leaders while at the same time not de-emphasizing the important role of the veterans they will be replacing. Many treatment organizations struggle to provide a comfortable exit for their senior leaders when the right time arrives, they say.

Early is credited with establishing a multidisciplinary approach to treatment at Caron, as well as driving the creation of innovative programs in young adult treatment, the treatment of recovering professionals, and services for chronic pain patients.

Rotenberg, whose previous title was vice president of treatment, led the growth of Caron's adolescent and young adult programs and says he expects to continue to be asked to lend his expertise in that area to the organization.

He received his second master's degree, in healthcare management, in 2004, thanks to a Caron initiative to bring those classes to its treatment campus. “That is a perfect example of Caron taking care of its employees,” Rotenberg says.