W. Hall Wendel Jr.

Visionary takes initiative, strengthens Mayo Clinic's Executive Health Program

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The sun is still rising off the coast of Maine, but this isn't W. Hall Wendel Jr.'s first trip of the day to his dock. "Every morning I come down here for a dip," he says. "This morning it was about 6 o'clock. It wakes you up. You feel full of vim, vigor and vitality."

It certainly should. Even though it's the middle of July, the average water temperature off his bay-front home is still an invigorating 65 degrees. These frigid daily swims are certainly not for the faint of heart, and they're just one way the 70-year-old adventurer lives a life filled with activity that would challenge a person half his age — hiking, biking, sailing, and strength and flexibility training are all a part of his weekly regimen.

Hall has run five marathons, including Boston, New York and the Twin Cities. When he climbed Mount Everest, he became only the 23rd person in history to scale the "Seven Summits," meaning he ascended the tallest mountains on all seven continents. In 2004, he sailed 15,000 miles from Miami, Fla., to Sydney, Australia, a 10.5-month adventure. His love of sailing led him to Maine, where he has cruised the waters in and around the Atlantic for decades.

But the adventurous lifestyle has taken its toll. His list of injuries and surgeries over the years lines up like a pro football player. He jokes about them like badges of honor, the price of a life well-lived. Luckily, Mayo Clinic is always there to patch him up.

"I've had both knees and shoulders replaced, fusions in my neck and low back, and both ankles reconstructed."

Hall's motto to live by is pretty much summed up by the following: "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming 'Woo hoo! What a ride!!' "

Integrity and leadership

When Hall was in his early 30s, his active life and passion for the outdoors was a perfect fit for the recreational vehicle manufacturer Polaris. Executives at Textron (Polaris' parent company) recognized his ability and passion, and named him CEO of Polaris in 1980. Unfortunately, just about as quickly, they directed him to sell it.

Who he found as a buyer surely surprised them.

Seeing Polaris' potential, Hall and fellow managers took second mortgages on their homes to acquire the company in 1981. Over the next 20 years, Hall oversaw a period of rapid expansion from $12 million in sales in 1981 to nearly $2 billion 20 years later. Today, Polaris' sales are more than $3.5 billion, and it has a market value of nearly $10 billion, ironically greater than Textron's.

Around the same time Hall was buying Polaris, he began coming to Mayo Clinic for physicals. He noticed immediately the similarities between his business ideals and Mayo's health care philosophy. In addition to perpetuating an efficient and growth-oriented culture at Polaris, Hall ensured at the heart of the culture were teamwork and a can-do spirit. "Pretty much what the Mayo brothers instilled here over a hundred years ago," Hall says.

"I've been to most of the top medical institutions in the country, and there's just no feeling like going to Mayo Clinic. That's a very reassuring, calming feeling. It's like coming home."

Hall became more active in charities in the early 1980s, when he established scholarships for children of Polaris employees. He expanded this to single-parent, inner-city youth in Minneapolis/St. Paul, then later to Miami and New York City.

In 1999 he became a Mayo benefactor. In 2007 he established the W. Hall Wendel Jr. Musculoskeletal Center, one of the world's most advanced musculoskeletal facilities. The 57-room center centralizes orthopedic services for patients, who can easily and quickly go from diagnostics to physician consults to minor surgery.

Expanding world-class care

Recently, Hall expanded Mayo's Executive Health Program in Rochester, Minn., to a new facility so it can grow and meet the needs of the future, providing more personalized and more efficient care for busy business executives.

"There's an ambiance of tranquility and serenity, but also efficiency," Hall says. "Busy executives are in and out in a day and a half, assuming no complications. If there are complications, the entire health and medical services of Mayo Clinic are on-site and immediately available. Mayo Clinic's medical services are unparalleled in the world."

The W. Hall Wendel, Jr. Center for Executive Health opened in October 2013 with room to expand and use the entire fifth floor of the Mayo Building. Within this center, executives experience a high-quality, relaxed atmosphere with concierge services, a complimentary lounge with food and beverages, and a full range of business services. There is also a library of reference materials (Web-based, print and classes) on various health and wellness-related topics.

Hall's expectation for the Executive Health Program is high, like all his other pursuits. He wants the Center for Executive Health to be global and exceed its already top-ranked achievements for high-quality patient care.

"I think there's a terrific opportunity for Mayo to really grow the Executive Health Program and remain the best in the world."

A legacy of generosity

With his support of the Executive Health Program, Hall has deepened his legacy of giving to Mayo Clinic.

Hall stresses the importance of focusing philanthropy so that gifts can have the greatest impact. At Mayo, he says, he has chosen to give to areas of need that are relevant to him and where he has had personal experience. His giving to Mayo is part of a broader philanthropic mission focused on health care and education.

"I've been blessed by success," he says. "We all worked very hard, and we had a lot of fun in the process. But I get much more enjoyment out of giving than receiving. I find it much more rewarding. It's sort of like Andrew Carnegie's feeling that any person of wealth should leave this world with a zero bank account, and that's sort of been my feeling. Once my family and close ones are taken care of, then I think it should all go to charity."

Learn more about Mayo Clinic's Executive Health Program.

May 09, 2014