There’s a new face on the AFMC team. Our new CEO, Mr. John Selig, took the helm on September 1. He recently went on AFMC TV to share his background and discuss his vision for our future.
Mr. John Selig is an Arkansan through and through. He grew up in the little town of DeQueen, just north of Texarkana. "We used to dress up to go to Texarkana: the big city," he jokes. He moved away for a while but has been back in Arkansas with his wife, Jeannie, since 1987. For the past 30 years, he and his wife have lived in the Benton area, where they raised three kids. "I now have a 31-year-old daughter in Little Rock. She and her husband have two kids," he says. "So, we’ve got two grandkids who are close by.” He also has two twin 21-year-olds (one boy and one girl) who are both in college. “They’re busy. They’re here and they’re gone,” he explains. “But we have a good time.”
Mr. Selig's background started a little differently than he first thought. He originally thought he would become an engineer when we went to college. Toward the end of his college career, though, he found an interest in public policy. “I actually went into the Peace Corps for a couple of years," he reveals, "which was as much of an adventure as anything. It was a chance to go see the world. I was even in West Africa for a couple of years." He enjoyed the idea of public service so much that, when he came back to Arkansas, he decided to go back to graduate school to study public affairs.
“Since then, I’ve been with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) for about 28 years in different roles,” Mr. Selig says. He worked with in-home services for DHS for a couple of years, where he ran the personal care, home care, hospice, and home health programs. He then became the Director of the Division of Behavioral Health Services (DBHS) for DHS for about three years. “I really enjoyed that,” he reveals. “We created some anti-stigma campaigns and really tried to raise awareness around mental health issues.”
After his time as Director of DBHS, Mr. Selig became Deputy Director at DHS, where he oversaw several divisions, including Medicaid, for about six years before becoming the Director of DHS. He held this position for 12 years under different administrations. He worked on topics like Medicaid payment reform and expansion, child welfare, juvenile justice, and early childhood education.
In 2016, Mr. Selig left DHS to do consulting work with states outside of Arkansas for a company called Optum. “The last three or four years,” he says, “I’ve focused on behavioral health issues: working with state Medicaid programs, helping design programs, and putting together bids, which has been very helpful coming to AFMC because a lot of our work is contract-based. I worked to understand what the customer wants and put together a bid, so that was really great training for what I am doing now with AFMC.”
Though he is passionate about mental and behavioral health, Mr. Selig’s focus with AFMC lies in making better use of public resources and trying to help the health care system run better. “The challenges for me were always to say, ‘What can we do to make better use of our resources?’ That may be in doing things like focusing on prevention,” he says. “If you’re always focused on the deep end and just on treatment, you’re going to spend a lot of money for a short-term impact.” And while his focus has never wavered, Mr. Selig has seen the health care model change during the last few years.
"There is a lot more attention on prevention, and a lot more attention on evidence-based practices, which warms my heart,” he says. “Instead of doing what we’ve been doing in the past, we’re now asking, 'Does this work?' If it doesn't work, let’s try a different program, treatment, prevention approach, or outreach method to engage clients." Mr. Selig observed more people taking control of their health. "There's more focus on helping people take responsibility for their care and health. That means making resources available to help them stop smoking, eat better, or take whatever helps them live healthier lives.”
Regarding his leadership style, Mr. Selig likes to work from a team standpoint. "What's great about AFMC," he adds, "is there is such a strong team here from the people I have met, many of whom I knew before."
Mr. Selig is not a stranger to AFMC. While working at DHS, he developed a strong relationship with us. He is not coming in cold without knowing anybody. He already knew many executive team members including our former CEO, Mr. Ray Hanley. “I’ve seen how AFMC can support the system,” he says.
Because he is familiar with the team, Mr. Selig is one step ahead of the game. "I want to understand what's going on in different areas. But I also like to delegate responsibility and say, 'That's your responsibility, no surprises. Let's take some risks, but let's not do crazy things.'" Mr. Selig is very curious and wants to try new things. He maintains an open-door policy (or, with the pandemic, an open-computer policy). “I’m not big on chains of command,” he adds. “Whatever it takes to get it done, that's how I want to do it."
Due to his strong relationship with the company, Mr. Selig has also observed the growth of AFMC over the last few years. "AFMC was on a steady growth pattern before the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, because of our great work with public health surrounding the pandemic, there was a balloon or skyrocket for a couple of years," he recalls. "Now, it's returning to where it was before the pandemic.” As he mentioned, AFMC did some great work during those two years, and we realized that we had capabilities in other areas that we didn't even know. Mr. Selig wants to take advantage of these newly recognized opportunities.
“There are so many areas of need in Arkansas and elsewhere where we can support people involved with public health. There are opportunities to focus on topics like behavioral health; adverse childhood experiences; diversity, equality, and inclusion; and access to care," Mr. Selig says. "We must look for the opportunities, decide what best fits our mission and capabilities, and go from there." All that is to say, there is no particular growth level he wants to reach. "I'm more about impact than growth," he explains. "If growth helps us have a bigger impact in Arkansas and helps us improve people's lives, that's what I want us to do. We will be thinking about where we want to focus our attention and our efforts. You can't do everything, and if you try to do everything, you probably won't do much of it very well,” he jokes.
As our impact expanded during the pandemic, Mr. Selig noticed AFMC's growing reputation. "As part of the job I've been in," he says, "I went to national conferences, and more and more, I see AFMC out there. People know who we are and what we're doing. The team is talking about how we don't just service Arkansas. We do all sorts of things." He’s right! We’re not just focused on a particular area of quality improvement anymore. Now, we have so many other capabilities. While AFMC is much more well known here because of our prominence throughout the state, we are also gaining national recognition.
When asked to describe himself in three words, Mr. Selig chose curious, open, and “my kids would probably throw in cheap and funny,” he jokes. “That’s four, but we can start with that.”
On being curious, he says: “I ask many questions to understand why you do what you do or how to do it better. I seldom like it when someone tells me, ‘Here’s what we do,’ I’ll say, ‘Well, help me understand why we do it; why that is.’ That helps me think it through further.”
On being open: “I am very open about what I’m thinking, open to new ideas. I like to know what's going on and share what I know. I don't keep the information to myself. I'm much more about figuring out how to get something done. As long as we're successful, I don't care where the credit goes.”
On being (as his kids say) cheap and funny: “I like to stretch the dollar and do things as efficiently as you can. I also like a good joke and humor, so they’d probably throw that in,” he says with a smile.
Like many of us, Mr. Selig likes to relax once the workday is over. "You'll find me out on the bicycle or maybe going for a run," he says. "You'll certainly find me with the grandkids or with my kids. I love doing family stuff. I have a dad down in Hot Springs, and we also spend time together. I also probably do more yardwork poorly than I should," he jokes. "I'm not a green thumb, but I like to piddle in the yard."
Mr. Selig is excited to embark on the journey ahead with AFMC. We're excited to be on this journey with him. “It’s such a credit to my predecessor Ray Hanley and the team that he built. I look at what AFMC has done, particularly over the last couple of years, and it's remarkable what an impact this company has had. I'm looking forward to helping build on that,” he says.