Mike Toftely remembers the moment when he decided to retake control of his life and get his “ass in gear.”
Prior to this moment, he had not kept up his grades in his first year at Montana State University (skiing had taken priority over attending classes, he says). He’d decided to drop out and live “the Montana life.”
This did not sit well with his father, a contractor who owned a subcontracting company for commercial drywall and plaster. “He valued hard work,” Toftely says. “He cut me off [financially] and said, ‘You’re on your own.’”
Toftely took jobs as a ski patroller and a framing carpenter, then spent time in California, New Zealand, and Australia for a year. When he returned to Montana, he was unsure what would be next for him.
“I was working on a spec home in the dead of winter,” Toftely recalls. “I was carrying two sheets of drywall through drifts of snow. I told myself, ‘I’m sure I can do better than this.’ I enrolled in Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis the next day.”
At that point, he recalls, he became motivated and laser-focused. He earned a grant to cover his second year and later won a coveted internship with Mortenson Construction. “That started me off,” he says. “The rest is history.”
Toftely is now director of construction for Stanford Health Care. His 22-year career has entailed mostly healthcare construction and project management, but he says that this path came to him by accident. After graduating college, he moved to California, where healthcare contractor Kitchell recruited him to project engineer a ground-up project at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks. There, he says, he found his niche.
“I did pretty well,” he says. “They wanted me to spread my wings. They let me project manage an outpatient MRI suite. It went flawlessly. Suddenly, I was Kitchell’s MRI expert. I was 25.”
More healthcare jobs followed. “They recognized I had a knack for facilitating communication between the client, doctors, nurses, and contractors,” Toftely says. “I was a good go-to person to help younger people in the company learn processes and how to get things done.”
At Stanford, he is responsible for executing projects within its contracts and policies and procedures, as well as leading the interface between hospital clients, contractors, and other hospital departments.
He credits his father with having a strong influence on his leadership style. “He had a lot of admiration for everyone who worked for him,” Toftely says. “He came up with programs to incentivize people who worked hard.”
His father also initiated inventive programs for project managers (PMs). “Because he incentivized performance, those PMs knew exactly what was going on with their jobs,” Toftely says. “A lot of times, these guys’ bonuses were twice their salary because they were fine-tuning everything as they went along. I took some of those lessons and philosophies with me.”
One aspect of his father’s leadership style that he has adopted is to make sure his team has the tools, knowledge, and guidance to do their jobs.
“Everyone needs to be held accountable for their successes and failures,” Toftely says. “I like to go around our office and make sure I know what every single construction manager has on their plate that week, what their challenges are, if they need anything or need to talk about any issues. I want them to tell me what their plan is, rather than the other way around. My role is to keep everyone grounded in terms of what’s possible and not possible.”
“I take a no-BS approach,” he continues. “You’ll always know where you stand with me. I’ve always appreciated that in other people I’ve worked with.”
When it comes to working with contractors, he takes his cue from Stanford’s senior leadership. “Rather than call them contractors, we consider them our partners,” he says. “If the contractors aren’t successful, we won’t be successful. At times, I need to be an advocate for them.”
Toftely has been with Stanford since 2019 in the capacity of consultant. At the time of this interview, he was in the process of selling his consulting company to accept a full-time position with Stanford as its director of construction.
“I just like it here,” Toftely says. “It’s one of the best healthcare facilities in the country, and we get to build really cool stuff. Right now, we’re remodeling 21 ORs and wrapping up the first phase of a large general bed renovation. These projects are part of the $1.7 billion 300 Pasteur Drive Renewal Program, a complete refresh and modernization of the existing adult hospital. It’s a privilege to work on these projects that will have a profound impact to the health and well-being of the community.”