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Bob Rich to lead search for new Cleveland Clinic CEO

Dr. Toby Cosgrove announced last week he is leaving the helm of the Cleveland Clinic, which is putting Bob Rich on a search to replace his friend.

Rich, the chairman of his family's Buffalo-based frozen-food empire, Rich Products Corp., is also the chairman of the Cleveland Clinic. He will be leading the search to find the health system's new top executive.

He met Cosgrove, the hospital system's CEO, when they were both around 19 years old. Back then, they were fraternity brothers at Williams College. Cosgrove was a basketball player and science student; Rich, a hockey goalie who was developing a taste for classic literature by writers such as Melville, Hemingway and Cervantes.

That was more than a half-century ago. Rich went on to become a business leader; Cosgrove, a world-class cardiac surgeon. They reunited in 1989, when Rich's mother had surgery at the clinic. Cosgrove wasn't her doctor, but Rich realized his college friend was on staff and grabbed coffee with him.

"What have you been up to?" Rich asked Cosgrove, who explained some of the breakthrough surgeries happening at the clinic.

"I was listening to that thinking how much money the guy must be making," Rich told The News during an interview with Cosgrove last year in Cleveland. "I said, 'Listen pal, how about lending me five bucks till payday?' Toby explained he and all the other doctors are on one-year contracts."

"Salaried," Cosgrove interjected.

Rich was intrigued: The clinic was performing breakthrough surgeries, which saved his mother (and years later, one of his children). The year-to-year hiring approach was smart.

At the time of that coffee conversation, Cosgrove was still a practicing physician who was a noted expert in valve repair. He became CEO of the clinic in 2004, at which point he had performed some 22,000 surgeries.

"Toby still is on one-year contracts after all these years," Rich said. "It’s part of our business model here."

Rich was asked to join the clinic's board in 2002. He ran a successful capital campaign that exceeded the $1.25 billion goal and became board chairman in 2011.

"It's been one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done," Rich said in an earlier interview. "It's been like a calling."

Rich, who is also a sports team owner, Broadway producer, author and world-class angler, said he's become known as "the Cleveland Clinic person" within his various circles. Through that, he regularly refers business colleagues, friends of friends, even "people who hear out of the blue" to the clinic.

"It's not necessarily white-collar big rollers with big bank accounts," Rich said, noting a Rich Products security guard who had a "great outcome" with open-heart surgery.

Cosgrove, who turned down President Barack Obama's offer to become secretary of veterans affairs in 2014 and was interviewed for the same position by President Trump, will stay on until his successor is chosen. He will then step into an advisory role.

Last week, Rich told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he intends to wrap the search by the end of 2017. He also confirmed that the next leader will be a medical professional, in keeping with the Clinic's longstanding physician-managed model.

"I'm giving us until the end of December," Rich told the Plain Dealer, "but I'm very hopeful we'll be able to move it along and we don't need that much time."

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