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2021 Dynamic Dozen Top CEO/Managing Partner: C.J. Davis

President/CEO, Burrell Behavioral Health

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C.J. Davis believes in getting out of the way. His management philosophy: Hire engaged, smart people and let them put their talents to work.

“A strong leader maintains a subservient leadership style that is rooted in the desire to serve others,” says Davis, president and CEO of Burrell Behavioral Health. “Employees thrive in an environment where they feel valued, are encouraged to maintain a voice and are offered opportunities to participate in finding solutions. The days of fear-based leadership and management have been replaced with trauma-sensitive environments that embrace the notion that the workplace can be an environment of healing, not just stress.”

Davis, a psychologist, brought about 20 years of experience in community mental health when he joined Burrell in 2017 to guide the provider base of 400 clinicians serving more than 40,000 clients across 25 counties in Missouri and Arkansas.

“I believe the CEO is critical in creating a narrative about not only the services we provide, but how they impact people,” Davis says. “It is important … the CEO assists the organization in securing necessary resources, community partnerships and internal enthusiasm to ensure sustainable and meaningful outcomes.”

He says Burrell is in the relationship business, and it thrives when employees and clients are placed at the core of every decision.

“In the case of behavioral health services, we have placed people first by increasing our annual number of clients served each year by nearly 10%,” Davis says. “Our commitment to mission expansion and ensuring that mental health services are accessible … have translated to significant financial and economic growth.”

In the past nearly four years, he guided Burrell’s budget from $85 million to $150 million.

Davis says Burrell succeeds when employees are encouraged to excel.

“Every strong leader sets the course of an organization by casting audacious goals beyond what employees believe is attainable. This permits our leadership team to dream big about how best to serve our mission,” he says.

Initiatives under Davis’ leadership include an expansion of Missouri school-based services with more than 50 school partnerships and added services through collaboration with primary care and pediatricians’ offices, colleges and businesses.

“This philosophy to ‘go where clients need us’ has transformed our ability to establish expanded access points,” Davis says. “This has included adding a 24/7/365 psychiatric and addictions crisis center as well as same-day service walk-in clinics. Our leadership team pushes the concept that people don’t schedule their crisis, so we have to be ready when they are ready.”

COVID-19 forced Burrell to pivot in a matter of weeks from face-to-face services to a virtual platform – upending a 50-year model of mental health care.

“Our leadership team embraced the moment to push, promote and advocate for mental health access in our communities, while simultaneously encountering behavioral health needs like never before,” Davis says. “I, personally, learned that leaders need to adjust to the needs of the workforce and allow traditional beliefs to be challenged and, in many cases, changed.”


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