Frank Byrne

My day jobs include an interesting portfolio of activities.

I’m president emeritus and foundation board member at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, where I served as president from 2004-2015. I’m currently on a number of community boards including the Urban League, the Madison Community Foundation and Edgewood College.

I’m also co-chair of A Greater Madison Vision (AGMV). Over the next 25 years, the Dane County area is expected to grow by nearly 160,000 people. AGMV’s mission is to foster public and private partnerships that will create an exceptional quality of life for all.

In the business world, I’m on the board of Steel Dynamics (a company that produces carbon steel) and also do some work advising IT start-ups.

The common thread between these things is that they’re future-focused—rather than preserving the status quo—and geared toward building community.

My most memorable caffeine was the coffee milkshakes I’d get at the Tastee Freez on Staten Island with my German grandmother. I don’t like coffee as a beverage, but I like the taste and smell of it. My grandmother could easily be persuaded to stop for a milkshake.

My current caffeine of choice is a Diet Coke at McDonald’s. I’ve tried to determine what it is that sets their Diet Cokes apart and I believe it’s a combination of things, including the water process used and the larger-than-typical width of their straws. All I know is that the flavor truly is unique to McDonald’s.

My favorite place for caffeine is McDonald’s. When I was at St. Mary’s, I’d often set up meetings at the McDonald’s on Regent St. I called those “my office hours.” It’s a tradition I continue to this day for meetings and mentoring sessions with UW students.

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with would fall into two categories: family and music.

On a personal level, it would be my wife, three kids—two of whom live on opposite ends of the country, which makes it incredibly difficult and precious to get together for more than 72-hours—and my late grandparents, all of whom were immigrants.

There are so many things I’d like my children to know about their ancestors: how they came to the U.S., the challenges they faced, their resiliency. The immigrants of my grandparents’ generation were required to assimilate as quickly as possible to succeed in the U.S. I regret that my family lost some of its cultural heritage in the process. One of the things I love best about Madison is the many different cultural festivals, like Africa Fest.

Some of the most influential people in my life were the strong women who overcame obstacles, like my mother—who became a computer programmer in the ‘70s, certainly a time when that was very uncommon—and my Irish grandma. She came to the U.S. as a teenager—all alone—was married and widowed at a young age and worked two jobs as an LPN to support her family.

It’s because of my grandma that I got my first healthcare-related job: as a nursing assistant at the nursing home where my grandma worked, one summer when I was in college. That role, as much as anything I learned in medical school, influenced the type of doctor I became. It helped me appreciate the critical difference people like CNAs, maintenance and housekeeping staff make at a hospital.

On the music side, I’d have Paul McCartney—the world’s greatest bass player and a man with an ear for pop music—Mick Jagger—for his longevity if nothing else!—and Taylor Goldsmith of the band, Dawes. I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet Taylor at Live from Studio M event and I love his music because it makes me think. A personal favorite is A Little Bit of Everything. If you can listen to that without tears in your eyes, check yourself for a pulse!

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  being reminded we have more in common than we think. It’s only by building relationships and working together that we’re going to solve any of the problems the world currently faces. If we worked harder to sit down and hear each other’s stories, I think we’d be surprised at the Venn diagrams of overlapping interests, hopes and dreams we’d discover.