Featured Leader: Marlyn Ervasti

Ervasti’s Energy Guides ChangeMarlyn Ervasti

Ivern Ball said that knowledge is power, but enthusiasm pulls the switch. If that’s the case, power, meet Marlyn Ervasti – a man with a whole lot of pull!

In a life that has spanned over three quarters of a century, two things have always remained constant to Ervasti – change and enthusiasm.

Born to Finnish immigrants in Sebeka, Minn., Ervasti’s humble beginnings could not have predicted his success. The youngest of 12, he credits his farming experience for giving him the confidence he needed to take chances and succeed in life as well as the one-room country school (through eighth grade) for accelerating his love of learning.

Education was strongly valued in the Ervasti household. His innate learning style even captured the attention of his principal in high school. He saw Ervasti’s chemistry interest and allowed him to expand on it by doing extra experiments during study hall time. Something that, Ervasti said, led him to the University of Minnesota and his chosen degree in pharmacy.

Like many students today, Ervasti, too, had to work. Enlisting in ROTC, he gained valuable leadership and management skills that he applied to his studies and ultimately to his life choices. Following receipt of an ROTC commission as 2nd Lt. in the Army Medical Service Corp, he rose through the ranks to retire as a full colonel from the Army Reserve. He says ROTC helped him come out of his shell and communicate more effectively as both a pharmacist and manager.

After 12 years as a traditional pharmacist, Ervasti said he never set out to lead. “I would see something and suggest a solution. I liked implementing change and one thing would lead to another. … I would continually look for services we could provide.”

So it’s really not a surprise that a man with so many ideas would also go on to compound a corticosteroid product that would reportedly became Rowell Lab’s no. 1 selling product here and abroad – catapulting Rowell to an elevated position in the marketplace. Ervasti’s “Cortenema” greatly alleviated the discomfort of patients suffering from rectal irritation due to ulcerative colitis. The drug came about after a frustrated surgeon looked to Ervasti for help. And from a conversation that started in the St. Barnabus Pharmacy with, “Tell me doc, what has worked?” came not only a product with fantastic results but a drug manufacturer that entered a new level of competition due to its success.

Attributing a pharmacological base and scientific mindset for career progression, his first position was at Minneapolis’ St. Barnabus Hospital, now part of Hennepin County Medical Center. He was then recruited to St. Mary’s Hospital (now Fairview Riverside) where he quickly moved from Director of Pharmacy into broader administrative positions. While heading up Special Projects, he started the hospital’s nuclear medicine department before moving to Director of Central Supply. Joking that he was known as “most promoted,” Ervasti continued to climb to Vice President, Senior Vice President and finally Chief Operating Officer. Saying, “I never planned for administration. I always had a fall back position (pharmacy).”

Once asked to describe his job in one word, he said: Hospital Administrator. Unfortunately, that was two. So he thought on it and said, “What do I administer? I administer CHANGE.” A fact that remains evident throughout his entire career.

“Marlyn makes change happen, because of his vision and his intuition on how things work,” said Robert Nordin, pharmacy manager at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. “To be a leader, he is very collaborative.”

Originally serving as Nordin’s preceptor, their friendship has now lasted more than 40 years. “Ervasti was known for … asking the right questions and surrounding himself with the right people,” added Nordin. “He always asked, how does this fit into the mission of the organization? People wanted to work with him because they knew he would make things happen.”

When asked where his passion has most driven his leadership, he very modestly replies, “To whatever little success I’ve had it’s led me to that.” By Webster’s standard of little: not big; small in size or extent, he has far surpassed that.

Among his many military awards and medals, Ervasti has received the Legion of Merit and Army Commendation Medal. He has served on his church board as well as numerous hospital subsidiary corporations. He was a member of the Central Minnesota Society of Hospital Pharmacists, serving as president in 1968. Ervasti was a former President of Zeal Investment Club and a member of the Board of Directors, as well as Treasurer of FinnFest 2002, a nationwide celebration for people of Finnish heritage.

Though he is retired now, Ervasti continues to work as a hospital consultant. In his free time he enjoys adding stamps to his passport, taking the grandchildren on adventures, downhill skiing, hunting, fishing and writing – just to name a few.

Ervasti and his wife, Ruth, live in Rogers, Minn. They have two adult children, seven grandchildren and one great grandson.

* Editor's note: It is with great sadness that we report that Marlyn Ervasti passed away in July 2013 at age 80.

This Featured Leader is part of an ongoing series from the Center for Leading Healthcare Change that profiles pharmacy leaders in the community.