A Conversation with Michael Cartwright, CEO

I interviewed Michael Cartwright, CEO and co-founder of American Addiction Centers, and he shared the importance of recruiting a great team for addiction treatment success, starting with recruiting excellent clinicians.

By reading this blog you will:

  • Observe the importance of recruiting clinicians for addiction treatment
  • Hear Cartwright’s passion for addiction treatment hiring
  • Learn the nuances of addiction treatment recruitment as a whole

Chad Harrington
25 February 2016

Michael Cartwright

Michael Cartwright | Image credit: American Addiction Centers

With 19 treatment facilities, American Addiction Centers treated over 7,000 people last year, and CEO Michael Cartwright lead the way.

The key? Recruiting quality clinicians, says Cartwright.

In order to build such a large network of treatment centers—with plans to add at least 80 additional centers—an organization like the American Addiction Centers (AAC) is always recruiting. They have grown quickly since inception, even making it on the Inc. 500 List of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies.

Recruitment, Cartwright says, is the key to both quality and high growth for his business:

“It’s really all about hiring the right people, getting the right team put together in anything that you do. I approach business like a football coach would. It’s all about the team that you recruit and the team you put on the field to win the game. I think we’ve done a very good job of that over the last five years.”

Addiction treatment is a new field in healthcare, having begun only about 40 years ago, according to Cartwright.

Amidst the 16,000 different treatment centers in the U.S., AAC is uniquely attuned to high growth and high quality as an organization.

On hiring top clinicians (and the rest of the crew)

“The number one thing is, Do you have the right clinical team in place? That’s key. The next thing, Do you have the right sales and marketing team in place to help keep your place filled up? Then, number three, Do you have the right CFO and accounting staff in place to make sure you’re managing your money properly?”

Relode: Why is the first priority your clinical team?

Michael Cartwright: “That’s our product, that’s what we do. That’s like saying you’re a car manufacturing company and you don’t have a good car manufacturer.

“When Ford and Chevy got away from that in the 1980s, they got their clock cleaned by the Japanese and the Germans. When they’ve gotten back to building quality products, they’re selling cars again. GM, Chevy, Ford—all of them had a really tough time in the 80s and 90s with the quality of their product. And they got back to worrying about design (they came out with some new designs and came out with new products). They got back to making the quality of the product delivered, and now their financials are back in order.

READ ALSO: “13 Business Lessons from GM and Toyota’s Joint Venture

Greenhouse Treatment Center, Image credit: American Addiction Centers

“So first and foremost, a company’s number one objective is, What do we make? or What service do we provide? Once you figure that out, Are you the best at it? Are you better than everybody else in the world? And when you can say you’re better than everybody else in the world at delivering that service or that product, the financials will be fine—they’ll take care of themselves.”


American Addiction Centers Profile

  • 19 treatment centers
  • 1,800 employees
  • 7,000 clients treated in 2015

Cartwright’s goal with AAC is simple—to change lives through quality addiction treatment. He told us during the interview that he’s 24-years sober himself, and since his recovery, he’s help affect thousands. In fact, during 2015 alone his team served 7,000 patients toward health through their 19 clinics around the country.

R: What are you primary pain points in hiring?

1. Finding seasoned professionals who also understand business

MC: “The primary pain point is finding individuals who have been in the field for a while who understand the disease of addiction as well as the business process that you have to go through to run a business.”

“A lot of times people like myself get into the field because we struggled with addiction. We want to help others, we go to school, we get a degree. So you got a counseling degree, you know how to help people, but you also have to monetize that to be able to pay people.

“Finding people who are seasoned and understand great clinical care and what that looks like, and then also good solid business practices—and have a good combination of both. So it’s just challenging to find.”

2. Finding individuals who want to work for a new company

MC: “When we’re going into new markets, finding individuals who want to work for a new company that has not been around as long as other not-for-profit organizations out there.”

R: Do you have a secret to hiring the right people?

Greenhouse Treatment Center, Image credit: American Addiction Centers

MC: “No, but I wish I did. But I think the law of attraction is a lot of it. People that are really good at their job want to be around other people who are really good at their job. Love what you do; be very, very passionate about it.”

“We attract at AAC committed people that are passionate about one thing—helping that individual getting their life back together with addictions. That has to be the number one reason you want to do this. Not the pay, not the money; it has to be that you seriously want to get into this to help people. Then, we can go, Okay, what should someone normally make in this position. We try to hire committed folks, people who are committed to solving this problem in America.”

Cartwright’s vision drives quality in addiction treatment recruitment.

Cartwright’s vision recruits for him

Marc Turner, Image credit: American Addiction Centers

That vision is why Marc Turner, who is CEO of an AAC center called Greenhouse (Texas), joined the AAC team four years ago. I asked him when the moment was that he knew he wanted to work for American Addiction Centers at Greenhouse.

He said it was when he heard your vision for quality services, and Cartwright’s vision is simple: “It’s not a complicated vision,” says Cartwright himself. “It’s just, *How can we get better every day?

SEE ALSO Turner’s Story: “How Greenhouse CEO Hires for Quality in Addiction Treatment

R: What’s driving you in all this?

MC: “Same thing when I got into this 21 years ago: Help an individual with an addiction change their life. It’s that simple. No big goal other than that. If we can help an individual transform their life, then it affects three other people in their family.”

“Last year we served 7,000 individuals in 2015, and if you really look, they all probably have at least three family members that are being impacted by drug addiction. That’s 28,000 people you’re changing their life, so that’s meaningful.”

My reflections on recruitment for addiction treatment

Cartwright’s persona is inspiring. While I was with him for less than an hour, our conversation was sandwiched by a phone interaction he was having with a potential client, someone who needed treatment. He knew AAC could help this person and he made the grassroots phone call immediately after our interview, while I was still in the room, because he cares.

That’s the key to me for recruitment of top talent for addiction treatment, or any field really. It’s what attracted Marc Turner to work for AAC, and I presume, what attracts many others there, as well.

So if I were to encourage other CEOs or recruitment professionals in addiction treatment recruitment, it would be this: let your passion and compassion shine, and top talent will come to you as you search for them.

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