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Career Advice From Sanford Grad, Top Young Healthcare Exec

June 9, 2015

by Carol Jackson and Tavarius Felton

Delvecchio Finley MPP'02, the 36-year-old CEO of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, has completed a lot of things that many people his age dream of. He managed to leave public housing in Atlanta behind, eventually earning a master's degree in public policy at Duke.  Since then, he’s risen swiftly in health care. Today, the 36-year-old Finley is CEO of one major medical center, Harbor-UCLA, and he's recently been tapped to lead another, Alameda Health System.

He’s becoming known as a turnaround specialist – a guy who can take a struggling health care system and make big changes that matter.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is a teaching hospital located in Los Angles. It is what’s known as a safety-net organization – it helps people who have nowhere else to turn. When he came on as CEO the place was in trouble.

The hospital “was facing the toughest period of the organization’s existence,” Finley remembers. The place was on shaky ground with Medicare and Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicare). The chief medical officer had recently been removed.

“I came in eyes wide open; I knew the situation I was coming in to. But I came to Harbor because of the organization’s core mission, and the values. That certainly resonated with me on a personal and professional level,” he said, recalling that he was born in a similar institution in Atlanta.

Finley was able to turn around Harbor-UCLA Medical Center with business acumen, political savvy, and one simple idea. Early on, Finley decided to use his own personal story as a way to encourage staff members to see the patients in a new way.

“As you might imagine, my personal story kind of parallels many of the patients that we serve as a safety-net organization,” he said. He told the staff that the people that the organization served were like his own family members, his cousins, his friends.

“And so I approach what I do and how I serve them, in a way that I would want my family and my friends to be treated,” he said.

That approach has served him well. The American College of Healthcare Executives named Finley their 2014 Young Executive of the Year.

In a recent conversation with Modern Healthcare (audio here) Finley offered five tips for people who hope to advance in their field.

  1. Take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to expose yourself to various aspects of your field. For example, if you’re in finance, try to get on a project that’s in quality. If you’re in Human Resources, try to connect what you do to operations.
  2. Truly own your career. Don’t wait for others to steer you.
  3. Seek out the advice and guidance of people who’ve been where you want to go. Find out how they did what they did.
  4. Always look for opportunities to serve. Offer your time and talents to others. Being motivated to find resources or make connections helps others and helps you to grow. And that pays dividends immediately and over the course of your career.
  5. Create a strong network of family, friends and mentors.

"For me, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would not be where I am today, without the support of my wife, and my family and friends and mentors who inspire and encourage me all the time, and yes hold me accountable to being the best person I can be,” he said.

In August, Finley will begin a new position, as the top executive for Alameda Health System in the California Bay area.