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Like a lot of kids, Steve Freeland grew up wanting to get into the “family business.” And since his father was first a family physician, in Batesville, Ind., and later an obstetrician and gynecologist in Indianapolis, that meant medical school.

But after one year at the University of Evansville, he left school and spent the next few years working at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. Within a few years, Freeland found himself married and divorced, the father of a young daughter Lisa — and far from his boyhood plan.

So he enrolled in IUPUI and the pre-med curriculum in the School of Science as a returning student, embarking on his old dream path and following “the traditional IUPUI experience, working full-time and going to classes the rest of the time.”

Freeland earned his degree in chemistry and biology, but his bid to enter the IU School of Medicine at IUPUI was turned down. And that's when he discovered that family concerns sometimes trump “family business.”

“I had other med school opportunities, but it would have meant uprooting and leaving Lisa while I attended medical school in another state, and I needed to be a dad first,” he recalls. Since he had risen through the ranks at St. Vincent throughout his IUPUI years, he opted to stay with the administrative side of health care. By the early 2000s, Freeland's skills had made him the choice for a new career path: chief executive officer of the Indianapolis-based Cancer Care Group (“CCG”), an oncology company owned by radiation oncologists and one of the largest such privately held groups in the nation.

Family is touchstone

The job can be a whirlwind. Among Freeland's tasks: negotiations or planning sessions with CCG doctors; negotiating contracts with health insurance companies; or working with executives at any of over 25 area hospitals that the company serves. Others include meeting with radiation oncology equipment representatives to stay on the industry's cutting edge; traveling to Washington D.C. to meet with congressmen on health-care issues; traveling to conferences or meetings from coast to coast; or even planning spin-offs of new companies that CCG has developed.

One of the Science grad's greatest joys is watching his daughter shape her award-winning skills as an equestrienne.

But for Freeland, family is still the foundation. Now remarried to a former nurse, Jan, he stays in close touch with Lisa — at 32, a stay-at-home mother of three in New Hampshire — and enjoys the exploits of 14-year-old daughter Stephanie, a Zionsville student and a budding equestrienne with Olympic dreams in mind.

“I don't know where her passion for horses comes from,” he laughs. “It certainly didn't come from me, but we took her for a pony ride at the zoo when she was 3 years old, and it grew on her.”

Freeland may not understand Stephanie's affinity for horses, but he does understand the driving force of passion.

“I admire anyone with that kind of passion, and I'll do anything I can to encourage it,” he says. “It's special to see someone so excited about what they are so passionate about.”

Freeland and twin brother Scott, a pharmacist and 35-year employee at St. Vincent's, grew up in a family with five children, all adopted.

“We get teased all the time because we both wound up at St. Vincent's, because our wives are named Jane and Jan, and because they both are — or were — nurses,” he laughs.

“What I learned most at IUPUI was the discipline of learning”
— Steve Freeland

Pivotal role

Freeland is convinced that his IUPUI education played a pivotal role in his life.

“What I learned most at IUPUI was the commitment required and the discipline of learning,” he says. “That's what moved me up the ladder at every job I've had and what I find myself using every day.”

During the 1980s, he was one of thousands of IUPUI students who spent much of their class time on the old 38th Street campus, across from the Indiana State Fairgrounds. They occasionally felt that “our lives revolved around the bus schedule that shuttled us between campuses. But that was all any of us knew, so it was no big deal,” he laughs.

He “fell in love with IUPUI” largely due to the “passion and creativity” he found amongst the faculty. “You could tell they knew their stuff, and loved teaching it to others,” Freeland says. “That's something that impresses students who have been out in the world a bit and know how often those feelings are missing.”

But Freeland also drew inspiration from his fellow older students. “They brought such a desire for learning to class,” he says. “They knew what they wanted and were determined to get it.” It took him seven years to get his degree, sometimes going full-time, others part-time, “but it was what I both needed and wanted.”

Once Freeland knew medical school wasn't in the cards, he wasn't sure where to go. “What do you do with biology and chemistry degrees when your only goal is going to medical school?” he says. He decided to augment his business background with an MBA, which he used to climb the ladder at St. Vincent and ultimately CCG.

It intrigues him that academic lessons he learned nearly a quarter-century ago — both processes and language — now serve him well. “It's ironic that all the knowledge I thought I'd never need again now winds up being a key to doing my job at CCG,” he chuckles. “I'm not lost in the clinical aspects of the business, and I understand the medical language as a second language.”

However, Freeland's primary focus is on the business of managing the company and its business performance — a perfect fit for someone who aspired to be a physician and now thrives in the healthcare profession as a senior executive.

Determination and people skills are his primary tools. “I'm a real people person,” he says. “It's easy for me to talk to strangers, either one-on-one or in large groups. And I've never been afraid to put in overtime to get done what I needed to do.”

Those skills, plus his familiarity with hospital operations, were key reasons CCG sought him out when the organization was looking for new leadership. “They reached out to me because of my handson experience working with physician groups and hospitals,” Freeland says. At the interview, he quickly realized that his desires matched up well with the company's need for a new direction. “I don't know that I could find a job that fits me quite so well. It's the most challenging job I've ever had, and it draws on every ounce of knowledge and experience that I have. But it's also the most rewarding.”

Future is bright

Freeland is reconnecting with the School of Science these days, serving on its board of advisors and helping plan its future. At his first meeting, he ran into Dr. Erv Boschmann, “my first IUPUI chemistry professor and a man who made such a great impression on me when I was a student. To be able to talk to him after all this time was a great honor — and it felt like an incredible flashback!”

One of his biggest goals is to inject the school's strategic plan with one of his favorite maxims: a “BHAG,” or a “big, hairy, audacious goal. A 'BHAG' is a goal that is so bold that if you can just figure out how to make it happen, it will be a game-changer,” he laughs.

“The future is so bright for the School of Science — there are terrific people here, and great programs,” Freeland says. “But it's more than that. The future also is bright for IUPUI, because of what it offers its students and its community.”

Freeland believes his own story is a prime example.

“My experiences at IUPUI prepared me for my future in ways I never realized until much later,” Freeland says. “The bar was set much higher for students — even in my time there — than I thought it would be. But it trained me to be who — and what — I am today.”