Health care administrator Richard Cordova ’72 offers a view from the top

Health care administrator Richard Cordova ’72 offers a view from the top

President's Associates

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Portrait of Richard Cordova
Courtesy Photo

Richard Cordova ’72 didn’t always know what he wanted to do in his career.

When he started at Cal State L.A., the President and Chief Executive Officer of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — who has been heralded as one of the most powerful people in his field and most influential Hispanics — wanted to be an engineer.

“Those chemistry classes just killed me,” he recounted, chuckling.

What the eventual business administration graduate did know, though, was who he wanted to be: a leader. Even from the earliest age in school, Cordova took on leadership roles; he went from safety president in sixth grade and class president in seventh, to fraternity officer in Sigma Nu his final year at Cal State L.A.

Cordova says he likes leading and he enjoys inspiring others onto greatness. And as a hospital administrator is able to affect change.

“Hospitals are very diverse, and as a health care administrator you are in a unique position. You lead all of these different people — I talk to the nurses, to the doctors, to the custodians, to the scientists,” he said. “You are a jack of all trades, an expert in none.”

His expertise, at least in administration, his dedication to health care, and his expansive involvement in his community on leadership boards and in volunteering has garnered attention over the years. He is a Fellow of the American College of Health Care Executives — the highest level achievable — and he has been recognized three times in the last four years in business and industry magazines as being one of the top executives in his field. (Most recently, in April 2008, he was selected as one of the Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare Magazine.)

Cordova’s professional success is due, in part, to his determination, intelligence and the leadership skills he acquired over the years, he said. It’s also a reflection of his foresight and knowing when to seize an opportunity.

His career path in health administration, for instance, sprouted from a county management training program and the fortuitous placement on the health budget team for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

“There were six students in the two-year training program: two white students, two African American students, and two Latinos. We worked in accounting, budgets and management, creating reports for the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “… They assigned us to various budget teams and they assigned me to the health department — that was where I got my start in health care.”

Since then, Cordova has worked consistently in the health care, transitioning between the areas of health care advocacy, public health, nonprofit health care, and leading teaching hospitals.

There have been many accomplishments along the way that he is proud of, he said. Cordova has overseen the construction of hospitals, established new channels for providing health care and pushed for greater diversity and representation throughout his profession.

Among his top accomplishments, he said, was his post with the Department of Public Health for the city and county of San Francisco in the 90s. As the executive administrator of the Community Health Network in San Francisco, he worked with a network of providers to create the Community Health Network and San Francisco’s Public Health Authority, which developed a Medi-Cal managed care organization for the city and county of San Francisco.

“That was very important medically, socially, politically,” Cordova said, emphasizing that the project involved a number of organizations and interests. “It was very satisfying.”

The work he does today, builds upon his past successes and challenges. A progressive building, research and community outreach program at Children’s is coupled with personal goals for growing diversity in the executive suites and the obstacle of confronting the most challenging economic downturn in his career.

“It’s going to be a difficult two-year period,” Cordova said. “It has all come to a head; I have never been faced with so many challenges at once. … But you listen to staff and physicians, you lead and your team will come through for you.”