"I'm sitting in front of the TV, working on the computer, and there's a weatherman on," he said. "He starts talking about this big snow storm coming our way."
Nagowski, having spent almost his entire life in western New York, was ready for what was to come. In Buffalo, where six inches of snow might be considered a light dusting, he regularly cleared his driveway and walkway before work.
"I got my shovel in my car," Nagowski said. "I got my hat, my gloves. I got my boots. I set my alarm 15 minutes early because, you know, you might have to dig out."
The following morning, he headed out the door ready to battle the inevitable mess this menace of a storm surely left in its wake.
There wasn't one.
"The ground was just wet," he said.
Not that Nagowski was longing for Buffalo's brutal weather. In the eight months that he's been on his new job, the weather has been one of the benefits. Then again, very little has gone wrong for the CEO since taking over for Richard Parks at Cape Fear Valley in early January. Nagowski, who had been the president of his hometown’s largest hospital, Buffalo General, jumped head first into his work, continuing to improve the health system's finances and overseeing ongoing construction. One of the more remarkable accomplishments has been a surge in recruitment. Nagowski said Cape Fear Valley recently recruited six new cardiologists – including two doctors whose specialties include the electrical functions in the heart – two new orthopods, and a new pediatric endocrinologist, a first in Fayetteville.
"That's really important because everyone is beginning to understand the impact of things like diabetes have on our population," Nagowski said of the pediatric endocrinologist. "Well, children have diabetes, and children are not little adults. They have special needs. There's a special approach to them.”
Along with life at work, Nagowski and his family have enjoyed a relatively easy transition to life in the Cape Fear region. He and his wife Kim have roots firmly planted in western New York – they’re both Buffalo natives – and their children, 18-year-old Ashley and 15-year-old Nicholas, were born and raised there. But they are settling into their new home in the Gates Four community. Ashley is a freshman at Methodist University. Nicholas just began his sophomore year at Jack Britt High School.
"I think the transition has been as easy as it can be," Mike Nagowski said. "We've lived in Buffalo for almost our entire lives so certainly we've got wonderful friends and a large portion of our family still in Buffalo."
But the Nagowskis also had strong ties in North Carolina before they even moved here. Kim Nagowski's parents and brother live in the Charlotte area, and the family often visited from Buffalo. In fact, Mike Nagowski always planned to wind up in North Carolina. He envisioned working in Buffalo until retirement and moving south.
"I just got here 20 years earlier," he said.
It’s not the first time that he took an indirect route to his ultimate destination. His road to the health industry started in the unlikeliest place – the Marines. Nagowski enlisted when he was 17. After four years, Sgt. Nagowski emerged from the service with a degree in computer programming. Health administration was not on the radar. He eventually earned his master's in business administration at St. Bonaventure University and became director of information systems for a large international company. After a while, Nagowski began to change roles, taking on more and more marketing tasks for the company. He soon became the company's director of marketing.
That's when Nagowski's life took a major turn.
First, the president of the company he'd been working for, a man named Richard Federico, left to head a local hospital. Federico had been a mentor since the two men met, and he offered Nagowski a job as the hospital's director of business development. About the same time, Nagowski had to endure the pain of watching his mother, Dorothy, die from cancer.
While Nagowski says that there wasn’t one certain lightbulb moment, he suspects that those two events led him into health care. "I wish I could tell you that I had this master plan to be the CEO of a top-200 health system," he said. "But I'd be lying."
What started as a business development job at Millard Fillmore Health System soon changed. Before he knew it, Nagowski had run or managed just about every department.
"Things just moved very quickly," he said.
By now, thanks to a life seeking new challenges and experiences, the 42-year-old is quite used to change. That's a good thing, given one big change that has nothing to do with the new job or a new city. The Nagowskis recently welcomed their daughter, Tory, to the family in June. They adopted the 1-year-old from Vietnam.
"It has been tremendous," Mike Nagowski said. "She's always laughing. She's always smiling.
"My big thing is Oreos, so I eat about a dozen Oreos a night. She gets in one or two in bits and pieces. So she knows Dad is all about the Oreos."