Henry Herr will receive UND honorary doctorate
Pat Sweeney | Mar 26, 2020 AT 5:46 pm
Bismarck native and philanthropist Henry Herr will receive an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater, UND.
The State Board of Higher Education made that announcement today (Thu).
Herr earned two degrees from UND. He’s a retired executive with 40 years of experience in healthcare finance and service delivery. He now lives in Tennessee.
The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education (SBHE), on Thursday, approved Henry D. Herr -- executive, philanthropist, two-time University of North Dakota graduate and a native North Dakotan -- to be the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater.
A retired executive with 40 years of experience in healthcare finance and service delivery, Herr helped found Healthways and AmSurg, two companies that have shaped the landscape of the healthcare industry. As chief financial officer, a member of the companies' boards and an executive leader, Herr helped envision the transformation of healthcare, create thousands of jobs, serve millions of patients and build multi-billion-dollar companies.
Furthermore, during his time of executive and financial leadership, Herr's work went a long way in positioning the Nashville, Tenn., area -- home to both Healthways and AmSurg -- as a center of innovation in healthcare. This status has been acknowledged by organizations such as the Brookings Institution, which recognized Healthways and AmSurg's roles as regionally vital healthcare companies with national footprints.
“By awarding an honorary degree to Henry Herr, we are demonstrating our University pride in our connection to a great man and our thanks for his role in strengthening healthcare services across the nation,” said Interim President Joshua Wynne. “In particular, Henry’s focus on the importance of primary care and disease prevention rather than treatment was prescient. He is the embodiment of UND’s leader-in-action spirit and the epitome of the hopes and dreams we have for all students and graduates of this great University.”
Herr won the UND Sioux Award, the highest honor given by UND Alumni Association & Foundation for achievement, service and loyalty, in 2015. A CPA who earned both his bachelor’s and master's degrees in accounting from UND, he is a member of the UND Accounting Hall of Fame.
"I wholeheartedly support the nomination of Henry Herr for an honorary doctorate degree from the University of North Dakota," wrote Katherine Campbell, professor and chair of the Department of Accountancy at UND, in her nomination letter for Herr.
"He is thoughtful, observant and principled in every endeavor. His humility, gratitude and generosity are notable. Those who attended the Sioux Award in 2015 have remembered Henry Herr's acceptance comments because of their focus on the contributions of UND and its faculty, rather than on his own life and accomplishments.
"Henry often comments on the importance of curiosity, and how this underlies not only entrepreneurial success but also the spirit of educational endeavor,” Campbell said.
This "enduring appreciation for education, UND and the State of North Dakota," Campbell added, make Herr an outstanding candidate for an honorary degree.
'You're in healthcare'
Herr was born and raised in Bismarck, N.D. After earning his bachelor’s degree from what is now known as UND’s Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, he served in the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star. He returned to UND for his graduate degree, and served as a graduate teaching assistant in Accountancy.
Following grad school, Herr took a job in the Oregon offices of Arthur Young. At that time, in the early 1970s, Medicare was reimbursing hospitals based on the complicated "step-down cost allocation" method. During a meeting, management asked if anyone had experience in that method. Of all his colleagues who came into the company at the same time as him, Herr was the only one whose school had a class in step-down cost allocation, Herr told the UND Alumni Review in 2015.
When he was the only one to raise his hand, he was told, "You're in healthcare."
This proved to be a turning point, as Herr eventually became vice president and CFO of a billion-dollar company that ran hospitals, nursing homes and psychiatric facilities, and which included the first for-profit Health Management Organization in the United States. When that company was bought out in 1981, Herr and several other executives decided to start their own company: Healthways, a firm that became the largest independent provider of disease management and preventive care solutions in the world.
Herr also co-founded AmSurg, a spin-off company from Healthways that is now the country's largest ambulatory surgery center.
Herr served as CFO of Healthways from 1981 to 2001, and on the company's board from 1981 to 2009. He served as AmSurg's CFO from 1992 to 1994, and on that company's board from 1992 to 2016.
Herr and his wife, Judee, live in Monteagle, Tenn. They have two children. Over the years, the Herrs have provided significant financial support to UND, including the Kulas Koppenhaver Faculty Professorship Endowment and the Kulas Koppenhaver Memorial Technology Fund.
“Henry is absolutely a UND hero to students in the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration,” said DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation. “His love for UND comes through in his generous support of students walking the same path he walked. He is so deserving to receive an honorary degree from a university for which he cares so much.”
The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education approved Herr's candidacy for an honorary degree during a meeting that was held via Interactive Video Conferencing. No official date has yet been set when Herr will receive his recognition, which traditionally takes place during commencement ceremonies at UND.