“Balancing life and career is never a cakewalk. My secret has always been a strong partnership at home. Very few people get to the top alone, so we need to make it a habit of honoring our spouses, male and female. My husband, Chuck, and I have been married 40 years and we have raised a strong, values-oriented family. That’s not luck. That’s a powerful partnership.”
Annette M. Walker serves as president of City of Hope Orange County. City of Hope chose Walker, a nationally recognized health care executive, to drive the development and growth of a robust cancer network throughout Orange County, and state-of-the-art cancer center in Irvine.
Walker comes to City of Hope from the nation’s second largest not-for-profit health system, Providence St. Joseph Health. She served as president of strategy for Providence St. Joseph Health and chief executive of St. Joseph Health. In 2017 she was named one of the top 25 women in U.S. healthcare by Modern Healthcare magazine. Walker was responsible for system-wide strategy, marketing and business development across the seven-state Providence St. Joseph Health system.
Among Walker’s many accomplishments was the development of wellness capability for both consumers and employers throughout Orange County. These centers focused on medical care as well as services for helping people adopt healthy lifestyles, and were designed to reach people where they work and live.
In addition to the Modern Healthcare recognition, Walker was named one of Becker’s 130 Women Leaders to Know (2018), Los Angeles Business Journal’s Executive of the Year (2017), Orange County Catholic Foundation’s Bishop’s Award winner for Exemplarily Business Integrity (2017) and Orange County Business Journal’s Innovator of the Year (2016).
What is your backstory?
I’m a health care executive who doesn’t go for the status quo. American health care has become extremely complex, but there are so many good things we can accomplish when we keep our eye on the prize, which is making our communities healthy and improving the lives of others. On many occasions, I’ve been able to start with a greenfield full of possibilities and develop improvements in health care services. For example, in the early 1990s my team introduced a medical information card that allowed consumers to have access to their data from anywhere. In the 2000s we changed the way Americans access wellness programs, bringing them closer to where people live and work. Now, I’m focused on delivering leading-edge research and discoveries to prevent and treat cancer and diabetes.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading the City of Hope?
I am continually impressed by the people who are in my field. One evening at a City of Hope dinner, I was seated next to the noted geneticist Arthur Riggs, PhD, who engineered synthetic human insulin. He and his wife were gracious and terrific conversationalists, but he never mentioned his achievements. The next morning, I was at a meeting where he presented his work and I was overwhelmed when I realized what he had accomplished. This humble man had made an incredible difference in the world, saving millions of lives, even many in my own family. It was astounding and humbling to know that we are work colleagues.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
One of my biggest challenges was early in my career when I was trying to move from middle management to executive leadership. At the time, I had four young children and was constantly questioned if I could handle both my job and family. (I’m fairly certain men with four kids didn’t get this question very often!) Fortunately, I had a wise sponsor — -who incidentally was male — who believed in me, never questioned my abilities, and supported me as I moved up.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
To lead is to inspire. We may carry titles like executive vice president, but we really should be reminded every day that our real job is to lead people. The higher you go in an organization, the more you need a strong team. You are less the doer and implementer and your success depends on how others perform. It has been my experience that most people need someone to discover their talents. It is our job as leaders to do this and help unlock peoples’ potential. If you can succeed in enabling others and have them to focus their talents and energy on the organization’s mission, watch out. Amazing things will happen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have been fortunate to have had several people in my life who believed in me. One was my sixth grade teacher, a Sister of St. Joseph, who took me to visit the campus of California State University, Fullerton. She told me I was capable of going to college and doing anything I wanted, instilling in me a quiet confidence that I have never lost. Early in my career, I was a clinical lab scientist and, frankly, having a job to help support a growing family was more important than senior leadership for me at the time. But I was very fortunate in enjoying the support of men and women who saw my potential as a leader, and they helped me push through the biases and obstacles that many women encounter, particularly those with children. These people believed in me and sponsored me as I worked my way through several management and executive roles. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to pay it forward by sponsoring others who have potential.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
Balancing life and career is never a cakewalk. My secret has always been a strong partnership at home. Very few people get to the top alone, so we need to make it a habit of honoring our spouses, male and female. My husband, Chuck, and I have been married 40 years and we have raised a strong, values-oriented family. That’s not luck. That’s a powerful partnership.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
As you assume more responsibility, you get more flexibility, but the downside is you never clock out. The responsibility or concerns are with you 24/7 and managing your physical and mental well-being becomes more challenging. However, the health care field always pulls you back to consider what is most important. You recognize that with this responsibility, you’re having an impact on the future and helping to create a better world for your children and grandchildren.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
- Find a company that mirrors your values and has a worthy mission — If you want to be a leader, you must lead with values you believe in and pursue efforts that are purposeful — that’s how you make a difference in the world.
- Focus your efforts — It’s important to set priorities. Learn to distinguish between where your absence will be missed versus where your absence will never be forgotten.
- Get a sponsor — As you move through leadership, don’t think you have to do it alone. Find someone who does not only gives you advice, but can create opportunities for growth. This type of relationship is invaluable.
- Stop Apologizing for Balancing Work and Life — Get your work done and allow yourself to leave for the school performance or soccer game. We must honor our priorities and make deposits in all the bank accounts: work, partner, children, self.
- Create the Best Alliance — Know that the most crucial alliance you will form is with your spouse, so pick a good one and form a solid partnership. A partnering spouse provides not only another level of support at home, but also at work.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
Being trusted with the honor and responsibility to lead health care organizations is an accomplishment. Health care was very top-down and institutional, hospital-centric, and all about illness. Today we’re developing healthier populations through vital preventive services, helping consumers better manage their health, and solving big problems –like access to cancer breakthroughs — for communities. Health care in the U.S. is changing, and I’ve played a part in this revolution.
That said, while I am proud and humbled that I have been trusted with the responsibility to lead people and steward organizations in pursuit of their mission, my greatest sense of pride will always come from being able to have an incredible family and marriage.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Consider this quote from Madame Curie: “We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something.” Everyone has a gift to do something he or she believes in. If you’re starting out, pursue that gift. If you’ve already established your place, be a sponsor and bring out the gifts in others.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
You can follow me on Twitter Annette Walker
About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Medium magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live