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Hope and Healing Through Servant Leadership Connects for Brad Adams, President and CEO of Southwest Transplant Alliance

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Coming from a family tradition of public service, Brad Adams, President & CEO of Southwest Transplant Alliance (STA), one of the largest organ procurement organizations in the U.S, says his family’s commitment to public service led him to say yes to working in organ donation.

“My dad was the district attorney where I grew up, my mom was a public school teacher, and my grandfather was the superintendent of schools,” says Adams. “Many of my family members still work in service to their communities. It’s just in our blood to serve.”

Servant Leadership Approach

Adams says servant leadership is a key to success in his role at STA. “We emphasize servant leadership in all that we do and have developed our leadership residency program around the principles of servant leadership. And it’s how we approach this work in partnership with our communities and our donor families. What we do – it’s not work so much as service to others and their needs.”

“Our mission at STA is to save lives through donation, but it’s actually our vision that drives us to serve – a vision that hope and healing will abound every time donation is possible. How do we lead people to experience some form of hope and healing through this process? We only can do that if we’re approaching our work with a servant’s heart – in service to our peers, to our public, and to our people.”

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And it’s something Adams sees through an eternal lens. He emphasizes his faith’s significant influence on his identity and thinking. He has had a couple of very personal experiences with donation, seeing loved ones find hope through donation. Having observed the transformative power of this work for those experiencing extreme grief, he finds immense strength being part of an organization that shepherds someone else to a greater understanding of their loved one’s true purpose in life and to an eternal hope that can come from that.

A Texan at Heart Focused on Community

Adams was born in Lubbock, Texas and has always lived in the state. “I very much identify as a Texan, and in a lot of ways that makes this work that much more important to me because it allows me to serve communities throughout my home state. I’ve lived in many different places in Texas — Lubbock, Richardson, Gainesville, Waco, Arlington, Dallas — and with my wife growing up and having family in Houston, Beaumont, and Austin — I just really feel a close connection for some reason to many different Texas communities.”

He now lives in Dallas with his wife, Jen, where they just celebrated 25 years of marriage. They have three children, two in college and a senior in high school. “I am very proud of my three kids and the things they have committed themselves to and become passionate about and are pursuing,” says Adams. “And I’m super proud of my wife for all she’s done to raise them. I give her all the credit.”

From Lawyer to CEO of an OPO

Adams went to Southern Methodist University (SMU) to study both music (voice) and business. After graduating from SMU with an accounting degree, he worked as an auditor at Price Waterhouse LLP while earning his CPA license. He later enrolled in law school at Baylor University. After graduation in 1997, he practiced law at two different national law firms, primarily in the areas of personal income and estate tax planning, which included counseling clients on end-of-life decisions. That’s where he first came to understand organ donation and transplantation as another way for someone to leave a personal legacy. He then took his practice in-house, where he counseled a large conglomerate of privately held companies on a variety of legal matters.

In the Leadership Dallas program of the Dallas Regional Chamber, Adams met Patti Niles who at the time was the President & CEO of STA. She recruited Adams in 2015 to serve as STA’s General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer. In 2022, Adams became STA’s President, and upon Niles’ retirement at the end of 2022, he became STA’s President & CEO. He also now serves as President of Donate Life Texas, the organization that promotes and maintains the Texas donor registry.

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Leveraging a robust background in both legal and business domains, coupled with a servant-oriented leadership style, he has effectively steered STA to fulfilling its mission of saving lives through donation. The outcomes are already evident: within his first two years at the helm, donation at STA has surged by over 15 percent.

The STA Team

Of STA’s many successes, Adams says he’s most proud of the team of employees at STA. “We have incredibly passionate individuals who are dedicated to this work, who are selfless in their approach, who collaborate well, and who are open to new ideas and to creative thinking.”

Adams says he spent much of his first year as President setting a new strategic direction for the organization and making sure all STA employees embrace it. “I meet with our new employees each month to discuss STA’s strategic direction and why it’s important and how it focuses us on our work and where we are headed. We make sure everything we do aligns to it.”

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“And we spend a good bit of time making sure everyone in the organization feels connected to our mission and vision. Whether you’re on the front lines working with a family, or you’re managing a donor and trying to allocate organs to waiting recipients, or you’re in the IT department or in the finance department supporting our frontline teams in some way, we want everyone to know their work matters.”

Annual Themes Provide Focus

STA is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024 and has designated it as the “Year of Legacy.” Previous themes under Adams’ leadership have been the Year of Community and the Year of Service. “In those previous two years, we worked to re-envision how it is that we interact with each other in community and in service to each other,” says Adams.

“We’re excited to celebrate so many things this year through our 50th anniversary, our Year of Legacy. It’s a year of looking back over the last 50 years and celebrating the impact of this work in our various communities and in service to those communities. It’s an incredible legacy that exists because of the work of so many people who got us to where we are today. Over the last 50 years, we have honored over 10,000 selfless organ donors who went on to save over 30,000 lives. That’s just an incredible legacy.”

“But we always want to be thinking about what the next 50 years might look like and how the things we are doing today could become tomorrow’s legacy – things we are doing today through research or innovation that can dramatically impact where things are tomorrow.”

Connectivity of The Alliance

Adams was first introduced to The Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance (The Alliance) in 2022. He is serving on the planning committee of The Alliance’s 2024 National Collaboration Forum, Developing National NRP Best Practices & Approaches that will be held in March. “The session will explore how the donation and transplant community can come to consensus around NRP expectations and protocols,” says Adams.

He also co-chaired The Alliance’s NRP Critical Issues Forum in March 2023. The program was near the beginning of the NRP conversation, showcasing The Alliance’s forward-thinking commitment to the donation and transplantation community. Six months later, in October 2023, Adams led a follow-up conversation, Setting Up an NRP Program: From Ethics to Education. “In the Fall session, we were able to offer the community comprehensive updates in a number of areas related to NRP.”

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Adams (left) hosts a roundtable on ethical considerations of NRP with colleagues Dr. Anji Wall (Baylor), Brendan Parent (NYU), and Dr. Matthew DeCamp (University of Colorado).

He values the connectivity that The Alliance provides. “The ability to connect with our peers not just in the donation space, but across the organ donation and transplantation continuum is so valuable,” he says. “Getting to know and meet and interact and collaborate with transplant center partners, with other OPOs, with members from the Hospital Association, with members from the SRTR, and with others who are involved in organ donation and transplantation provides a unique opportunity. The greatest value of The Alliance is that connectivity throughout the entire ecosystem.”

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