Go Big. Go BOLD. And Bring World-Class Care Close to Home: An Interview with Annette Walker

I met Annette Walker, President, City of Hope Orange County, when we were paired up by Women Business Leaders in Healthcare (WBL.org) for a closing session of their annual summit. WBL is a wonderful organization where I have met some of the most generous, inspiring, and supportive women anywhere, particularly in healthcare. WBL didn’t realize the favor they were doing for me by asking me to interview Annette, who as it turns out, is not only BOLD but a woman with an amazing track record of big accomplishments, personally and professionally. The interview was great fun and Annette, completely inspiring. (Scroll down to listen to a couple excerpts of our conversation.)

Annette and I met up again the other day – this time for a hard hat tour of the new City of Hope Lennar Foundation Cancer Center, under construction now and slated to open in mid-2022. This $1 billion development is a “world-class cancer campus of the future” and network of care that delivers advanced cancer care closer to where people live and work. The following list is representative of the sophisticated programs and services that will be made available, some for the first time in the region:

  • Unprecedented numbers and types of Phase 1-3 clinical trials that deliver groundbreaking treatments to cancer patients
  • World-renowned cancer researchers and clinicians who are developing new strategies for combatting even the most aggressive cancers
  • Highly targeted genomics and precision medicine techniques for the latest in personalized cancer medicine
  • Support services that are best-in-class for assisting patients and families, offering both high levels of expertise and compassion

This is a massive undertaking that Annette is leading. She was recruited to this role because of her BOLD vision and ability to get big things done. Her passion is clearly shared by her colleagues, as well as the kind construction guides who gave us the facility tour. Her enthusiasm and belief in the life-changing work that will happen here is on display and visible in every step she takes.   

In our WBL interview, Annette commented that “For goodness sakes, if you are going to put yourself out there, go big! Go bold! Make it matter!” This project is a clear manifestation of that philosophy. You see, the original plan was for a large but much more limited facility. For a combination of reasons, City of Hope and Annette could have settled for that concept. But, completely driven by her “make it meaningful” orientation, Annette challenged the organization to rethink their initiative. Instead of taking the safer, less impactful route, Annette turned that challenge into an opportunity and suggested something much bigger, more impactful, bold. In essence, she acted on what she believes: If you are going to put yourself out there, make it mean more!  She credits her boss, their many partners, and the City of Hope organization for rallying behind a much bigger concept that is now becoming reality with the construction underway.

Those of you who have read BOLD or some of my other columns know that at Aveus we define a BOLD leader as:

…someone who thinks and acts beyond the existing organizational limits, is imaginative, and is willing to take risks to get rewarding results.

BOLD leadership requires a set of characteristics: Curiosity, Confidence, Empathy, and Trust.  

In Annette’s case, I didn’t have to search for evidence that these qualities live within her. They were present in our conversation and exchanges with others we met along the way.

  • As we talked, Annette peppered me with as many questions as I had for her. Curiosity. Check!
  • She has a willingness to make big and hard choices, knowing she couldn’t possibly have all the answers and understanding that some gnarly obstacles will pop up unexpectedly. She has the fortitude to push forward, find new solutions, learn, open new possibilities, and grow stronger. Confidence. Check!
  • A wide array of stakeholders has been invited into this vision and building process. A short video at the City of Hope link above introduces some of these folks: doctors, nurses, researchers, employees from every area, and others involved in this endeavor. They describe what this project means to them and their community. More importantly, it is clear how hugely important and meaningful it was that they were invited in and asked their opinions. Empathy. Check!
  • That this cancer center of hope is happening, at the scale that it is happening, is a testament to trust. Annette is not doing this alone. She needs lots of others to see the vision and to bring ideas, money, sweat effort, and passion to the project. She never used the word, but as Annette described all the people that have come together to make this happen, one thing is clear: their belief in this work and in her leadership. Trust. Check!

I do these BOLD interviews because they inspire me. They give me energy. (That is the selfish reason!)  I hope they also inspire you to “Go Big! Go BOLD.” Put yourself out there! It is a rare treat to also see – literally see – the physical, tangible evidence of BOLD leadership. That’s exactly what I saw in my time with Annette Walker in Orange County, CA.

Some questions for your consideration:

  • When have you “put yourself out there” and had the experience of it making you stronger?
  • If you put yourself out there and it didn’t work out so well (sometimes it doesn’t), what did you learn from it for the next time?
  • What is in front of you right now that you can think “bigger, bolder” about?
    • If something is holding you back, what can you do to move past it?

Chris Mahai & Annette Walker at WBL’s 20th Annual Summit Paying It Forward: Leading with Purpose.

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.