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Shaun Menchaca: Head honcho of wellness

Portneuf Health Trust CEO Shaun Menchaca. Photo by Pete Grady.

Portneuf Health Trust CEO Shaun Menchaca. Photo by Pete Grady.

While attending his son’s soccer game at the Simplot Complex in Boise, Portneuf Health Trust CEO Shaun Menchaca got a glimpse of what was missing from southeastern Idaho.

“I knew we needed something better in our community,” he says. “It was time we built something for all of our community that was world-class.”

That simple idea grew into what is now the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello, a sprawling 80-acre outdoor facility that is perhaps the crowning achievement of Menchaca’s career thus far.

The facility, which Menchaca calls a “park on steroids,” opened in September 2015 and houses a stocked seven-acre lake, two miles of walking and biking trails, sports fields, volleyball courts, and the largest amphitheater in Idaho, which brings national acts like Lynrd Skynrd and Keith Urban to its stage.

Since building the complex, Menchaca has fielded praise from all directions, from community members to visitors from places like Denver, Los Angeles and beyond. In fact, the woman who installed the ticketing equipment at the amphitheater told Menchaca that it was her favorite complex, and she’s installed equipment at world-class venues all over the country.

“That is a comment that’s going to stick in my mind for the rest of my life,” Menchaca says.

Pushing Through Challenges

But while residents sing its praises today (the complex has more than 6,000 “likes” on Facebook), Menchaca recalls the early days when the complex was just a dream, and he had to fight through layers of opposition from the community, political leaders, and even his own colleagues to get them to see his vision.

In fact, he recalls the exact words one colleague said when he raised the idea: “There is no way in hell!”

But Menchaca says he was never deterred.

“I don’t really take ‘no’ very easily,” he says. “I’ve always been kind of a scrapper. I try to do what we can do to make things happen and progress the organization forward.”

That attitude helped him persevere through years of research, community outreach, political maneuvering and fundraising – about $10 million worth – until the project was underway. Today, Menchaca is helping to finish up the final piece, a world-class mountain bike course, which is set to be complete in May.

More Than a Job

While the wellness center is probably the most visible part of Menchaca’s role, his organization is focused on improving the wellness of all residents of southeastern Idaho, whether by funding public health projects using grant funds or consulting with smaller clinics on business strategy. Menchaca has also championed the creation of the Letsbewell.org website, which encourages Bannock County residents to compete with one another through health challenges aimed at improving the overall health of the community.

For Menchaca, wellness is more than a job. A die-hard exercise junkie, he works out at least six days a week, whether hiking, biking, or heading to the gym, often early in the morning or late in the evening to accommodate his work schedule.

“I gotta tell you, I love work,” he says. “Work is in the middle of my personal life, in a good way. I love those kinds of things – going outdoors, wellness programs.”

His passion for wellness combined with his leadership strategy have earned him the respect of his coworkers and subordinates.

“Shaun is kind, generous, and laser-focused,” says John Abreu, chief financial officer of Portneuf Medical Center. “I have seen Shaun advocate on behalf of patients, community, and the organization in a way that is thoughtful, well-balanced and visionary.”

Leadership Philosophy

Menchaca says there are some hallmarks of any great leader, including trustworthiness, authenticity, and the ability to influence others to share a common vision. But, he says beyond those qualities, there’s not much else that is universal about leadership.

“I don’t think there’s a magic bullet leadership handbook,” Menchaca says. “There is some well- known advice that can be ignored in favor of what works for each person.”

For Menchaca, that means placing trust in his team and encouraging them to build their own leadership abilities. That perspective has gained him praise from his small team.

“Shaun is by far the best boss I’ve ever had,” says Suzanne Riley, who has worked as Menchaca’s executive assistant for the past five years. “He has very high expectations and doesn’t accept mediocre performance, but with his leadership and guidance, he makes me want to perform above what I thought my own potential was.”

Riley says Menchaca never micromanages, but shows trust in his employees and encourages them to build their own leadership experience. Riley says he encouraged her to join the Pocatello-Chubbock Leadership Association, and to serve as president of the leadership board this year.

A Legacy of Leadership

Growing up among the fish hatcheries and open fields in Hagerman, Menchaca spent his days dirt biking, fishing and shooting pellet guns.

“It was a great place to grow up, and I’m proud of that heritage.”

As the youngest of five, he got bossed around quite a bit by his older siblings. He says he was always the one tasked with changing the channel on the TV and fetching things for everyone else. He jokes that growing up with older siblings helped him develop his servant leadership skills.

At school, he could drive his teachers crazy with his constant chatter.

“I was that kid that liked to talk and was excited,” he says.

Today, it’s easy to imagine Menchaca as the talkative kid in class, especially when you get him talking about his passion projects. Ask him about the wellness center, for example, and he could go on for hours about each feature.

But despite all the talking as a youngster, he listened, too. As a young man, Menchaca learned important business lessons by observing his father, a small-business owner who passed away in March.

Menchaca’s father, Juan Menchaca, was a veteran who had gone to beauty college in Boise and once styled the hair of Miss Sweden in the Miss Universe pageant. He and his wife Joyce owned a beauty school and several local salons across the Magic Valley area.

Menchaca recalls driving up to one of the salons one day, and asking his father why he parked so far away from the door when he owned the place. His answer was that any good business owner should leave the best parking spots for the customers.

He also always said that if a businessman ever wanted to know how to improve his business, he should ask his employees.

“Looking back on this now, I see that as kind of visionary,” Menchaca says.

Those lessons of respect for the customer and the employee are ones that Menchaca tries to put to use in his work today.

Though there are only three full-time employees at Portneuf Health Trust, Menchaca tries to build a culture around living the mission and creating an enjoyable workplace for them and for others they work with.

“I think that humor and fun and making people want to come to work creates such a better team and environment, and you get so much more out of them,” he says. “I think that makes for a great company and I hope that’s the kind of company we’ve created.”

Honing in on Healthcare

Menchaca’s interest in healthcare was sparked when he was in high school, as he listened to his older sister talk about her job as a director of healthcare records. She told him stories about misuse, problems, and miscommunication – issues that still plague healthcare systems today, Menchaca says – which inspired him to study health information management at Boise State University to see if he could make a difference.

But Menchaca graduated in the 90s into a depressed job market, so he ended up taking a job at Future Shop, a now-defunct electronics retail company. He didn’t last long during his training before he came to the realization that healthcare was truly where he wanted to be and left that job to pursue his passion.

Not long after he quit, a friend called him and mentioned a finance job at Saint Alphonsus Foundation, which became his first experience in healthcare. After a few years, he transitioned into a role as the business manager for Saint Alphonsus Orthopedic Institute, which turned out to be a very difficult role for him, since he was stuck in the middle of a somewhat contentious business relationship.

“I look to that as a little bit of a failure, because I wasn’t able to accomplish anything,” he says. “That was really a frustrating thing for me.”

But he says that experience taught him more than a lot of the roles he’s taken before or since about communication, how to work with physicians, and how to find common ground and deal with people who are at odds with one another. And he learned valuable lessons that he might not otherwise have had from the experience.

When a development director position opened up back at the Saint Alphonsus Foundation, he returned there for several years before being recruited to serve as executive director at the Portneuf Healthcare Foundation in 2009.

It was during that time that an unexpected court decision changed the course of his career. The foundation was in the middle of planning the Portneuf Medical Center’s move to a new campus when the Supreme Court of Idaho made a ruling that restricted the ability of public agencies in Idaho to finance public projects, essentially shutting off access to the financing they had anticipated.

“It was a very difficult thing to go through, knowing we needed to build a new hospital and we had no access to financing,” he says.

The solution they came up with was to create a new governance structure for the hospital, which opened up a need for a new entity to own the community’s portion of the hospital. That entity became the Portneuf Health Trust, and after a bit of lobbying, Menchaca became its CEO.

A Dual-Sided Coin

Menchaca says there are dual sides to his current role: making sure Portneuf Medical Center operates appropriately, and making a meaningful impact on the community at large through the trust.

In both of those roles, engaging the community and other stakeholders in the decision-making process is crucial to his success.

“The wellness complex didn’t just happen,” he says. “We spent a lot of time looking at data and talking to the community to see what the community needed and find out where the gaps were.”

To have those conversations, he held focus groups with community and businesses leaders, people in senior centers and even jails, in hopes to get a total view of the community perspective.

While so much collaboration could exhaust many others in his shoes, Menchaca says he jumps up out of bed every day to get to work. He loves what he does and feels honored to do it.

The only things that stress him out at the end of the day are thoughts about whether he made the right decisions that day, treated everybody correctly and created opportunities for everyone to come out on top. Any other issues tend to work themselves out, he says, so he tries not to get stressed about other details.

After all, stress is bad for one’s health.


About Stephanie Schaerr Hansen