Cleveland: Toby Cosgrove '62

Have you ever been on a date? If the answer is ‘yes’, maybe you can relate to one of the few drawbacks of my summer job—I am a professional dater. And if you are the kind of person that thinks dating is nothing but fun, I think you are crazy. Each week, I meet strangers, often over coffee or a meal, and try to learn a lot about an individual in a short amount of time. While I’ve never actually met most of these people before, we do have the Williams connection, which gets me in the door and helps lubricate conversation. Half the work is done. The other half of the work, however, is still to be addressed. Since I’m the one extending the invitation, the onus is on me to make sure we have a meaningful conversation and have fun doing so. Okay, so now take that responsibility and imagine it applied to someone that you believe to be ‘out of your league’. Before meeting Dr. Toby Cosgrove ’62, CEO of The Cleveland Clinic, I was a coil of nerves and excitement, hiding behind the disguise of a carefully planned business-casual outfit.

Pre-interview research usually serves to create a feeling of preparedness, but the more I learned about Dr. Cosgrove’s work, the more impressed—and thus intimidated—I became. To overcome those feelings, however, I thought about how I had already met so many exceptional Ephs—bankers, writers, CEOs, designers, educators—and had yet to leave an interview in any kind of state resembling trauma. Each meeting had been different, but all had been supremely positive. This would be no different, I rationalized. Lo and behold, my visit to the Cleveland Clinic was nothing short of inspiring. To have Dr. Cosgrove give me a personal tour, sharing insights and anecdotes along the way, was a real privilege—and lots of fun.

The Clinic’s campus is anchored by a new building and Parisian-style allé, which is an architectural indication of the kind of amazing work that happens inside. It is unlike any other hospital or research institution I’ve ever visited. I could go on about their light-filled atriums, contemporary art collection, roof-deck yoga classes, or nifty supply-hauling robots, but I’m supposed to be talking about Dr. Cosgrove…so back to the man that helped build this place…

Dr. Cosgrove has been working at the Clinic for 35 years. Before being appointed CEO, he was Chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. When I asked him about some of his most important lessons learned at Williams and life after Williams, he turned to his computer to print me out a copy of the convocation address he delivered at Williams in ’97, on the topic of the F-word. He watched my eyes get bigger during his dramatic pause. Then revealed that the F-word he wrote about was Failure. I had asked a few other Ephs about this topic during my interview, but none had more interesting things to say about it than he—ironic for such an accomplished person. He relayed the story of meeting Williams professor Charlie Keller while a junior in high school junior. The revered history of professor wanted to know not this young applicant’s I.Q., but his G.Q.—his Guts Quotient. How determined and courageous was he? I think we all know the answer.

(Dr. Cosgrove is standing beneath a sculpture titled Iceberg, by another Williams alum, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle ’83.)

A cargo-carrying robot transports supplies from one part of the hospital to another.

If you’re interested in learning more about the architecture of The Cleveland Clinic, check out this segment of the film The Architecture of Healing. Included are interviews with landscape architect, Peter Walker, and architect Robert Botswick.