Micah Aberson: ‘Helping the people who help people’

'Chief global brand officer' markets Sanford Health around the world

Micah Aberson speaks to a television news crew at the Sanford Sports Complex

Micah Aberson is the executive vice president of Sanford Health. Here, he shares his views on the important work the organization is doing, forecasts the health care environment to come and explains the value of continually challenging yourself.


Aberson was born in Sioux Falls — at Sioux Valley Hospital (now Sanford USD Medical Center), he notes. He attended Lincoln High School, followed thereafter by Augustana College. While enrolled in college, he spent a semester abroad studying in Stellenbosch, South Africa, situated near Cape Town on the country’s southwestern coast.

Returning to the U.S. to complete his education, Aberson took an internship with the marketing and advertising group Lawrence & Schiller, where he would then work for 12 years. Aberson focused on account services and client relations while also earning his master’s in business administration from the University of Sioux Falls, eventually obtaining a partnership role at L & S.

Joining Sanford Health

It was four years ago this June that Aberson accepted a position with Sanford Health. President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft called him and asked if he had any interest in a recently vacated position leading the Sanford Health Foundation. Excited at the new challenge, Aberson agreed.

He says he was compelled to join Sanford Health because of its incredible ability to get things done while pursuing everything from local acute care to a global vision.

“It was the totality of the Sanford story,” Aberson says. “The idea of being able to participate in a Fortune 500 environment with an international agenda is an opportunity that is literally unmatched in this region.”

Roles and responsibilities

On the first day, Aberson stood before the team and symbolically held a dollar bill up. “I’ve never actually raised one of these,” he said.

Aberson said he took on the new position with true humility, learning how to fundraise alongside the team while advocating for and supporting them.

After 18 months, following some retirements and movements among corporate leadership, Aberson took on the leadership of Marketing and Public Policy, both of which he had background in working at Lawrence & Schiller, followed by Profile and World Clinic. The latter he calls a “dream opportunity,” having developed a curiosity for the world following his study abroad experience.

Aberson’s position became chief global brand officer, though it is now executive vice president. His wide range of responsibilities has largely remained the same. The title change was to better reflect his role and provide succinctness and clarity — “chief global brand officer” having become a point of levity when introducing himself to people at peer institutions.

Given the large field that Aberson oversees, each day is different, and even the most well-planned days can change in a moment. However, he sees consistency in two things in the work he does. “Most of my time is spent on the growth agenda for Sanford Health — meeting with prospective partners and our colleagues and sister institutions around the country,” Aberson says.

The other part of his work is operational in nature: “My job is to find the smartest, best people to lead each area I oversee. People who have knowledge and skill sets that usurp my own and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs,” he says.

When asked what he enjoys most about his work, Aberson says, “The work we do at Sanford Health is incredibly profound.” He believes his 5-year-old daughter, Sutton, articulates it best. When asked what her daddy does, she said he worked at Sanford. She was then pressed to clarify what specifically he does and said, “He helps the people who help people.”

Aberson says even though those who work in administration or support services are a step removed from patient care, it is still rewarding to be a part of the process of helping people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Beyond that, Aberson enjoys the diversity of the work he does. He’s leading the rapidly growing Profile franchise. He’s traveling to places like Ghana and Costa Rica and aligning with partners there. He’s helped to create the Sanford International golf tournament.

Looking back and looking forward

“There are so many things that as an organization, we can be proud of,” Aberson says. He looks over my left shoulder at the Sanford House, to cite just one example.

Aberson recalls traveling around telling Denny Sanford’s story to raise the philanthropic gifts that made the “presidential library” possible. At the same time, those who gave told their stories, explaining why they were passionate about giving to such a project.

Having been realized, the Sanford House became the site where the International Board deliberated over whom to bestow the inaugural $1 million Lorraine Cross Award.

“To the degree that I’ve had any hand in these organizational accomplishments, it’s a source of pride,” Aberson says.

Looking ahead, Aberson shares the outlook among leadership that health care will continue to consolidate, and in this environment, Sanford Health must ensure it remains a player.

“In the not-too-distant future, there may be 20 to 30 health care systems that prevail and lead the health care agenda for the next century,” he says.

At this juncture, Sanford Health must focus on continuing to find providers, maintaining a strong brand and searching out partners that supplement our geographical expanse. “My hope is that we continue about that business and, at the end of the decade, find ourselves successful in that pursuit,” Aberson says.

“The organization is growing so rapidly, and there is such a diversity of paths that one can pursue,” Aberson says. He believes one piece of advice that has always served him well is to remain open to opportunities. Aberson also adheres to another practice he advises others take up: Do one thing a day that makes you uncomfortable. He believes this is essential to growing one’s skill set and abilities.

Family life

Aberson has been married for more than a decade to his wife, Jaclyn, and the couple have two daughters, Sutton, 5, and Andie, 3.

They enjoy spending a great deal of time outside, especially given that Aberson is trying to teach his daughters golf, something that requires a great deal of patience. Aberson also enjoys running, having completed some marathons and half-marathons.

Finally, as a family, the Abersons enjoy traveling, both domestically and internationally, with the hope that they will pass their appreciation of other cultures onto their daughters.

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Posted In Corporate Services & Administration, Foundation, Innovations, Sanford Stories, World Clinic