John is the national vice president of strategy for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy for Kaiser Permanente. He is responsible for providing leadership in the development and implementation of key strategies to help deliver on Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to improving the health of communities. His focus is to ensure alignment and integration of major priorities and business plans across several functional areas, including care and coverage programs for low income people, partnerships with safety net providers, community health initiatives, environmental stewardship, research, health policy, diversity and international programs.
John has been with Kaiser Permanente for 18 years and has previously been a director in national strategic planning and a management consultant focused on business planning. Prior to Kaiser Permanente, he worked in consulting in health care around issues related to strategy and board governance.
He serves on the Advisory Council for the Association for Community Health Improvement as part of the American Hospital Association, was a Fellow in America’s Health Insurance Plan’s Executive Leadership Program and was named a DiversityMBA Top 100 Under 50 Diverse Executive Leader in 2013. He is a graduate of executive leadership programs at Harvard Business School and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. John earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego and a master’s in public health from San Diego State University.
1. What career advice would you provide to young people?
One bit of career advice I would give is to try and diversify your skill set and knowledge as much as possible, which will position you to be able to take on a broader range of responsibilities in the long run. This is especially important in working at a large and multifaceted organization such as Kaiser Permanente. There are so many functions and activities required to run KP, from analytical, project management, writing, presenting, designing across areas like IT, Finance, Legal, Health Plan, Care Delivery, Human Resources, etc. The more you can develop different “muscles” and seek opportunities to get exposure to as many components of KP as possible, the better you’ll be able to understand our operations and serve our mission.
Related to that, try to never really say ‘no’ to any assignment that may be offered to you, no matter how small it may seem or if it might be beneath what you think your skill level is. You never know where taking on some work may lead you. You might get asked to attend a meeting and take notes and feel like taking notes is too basic for you. Still try and take it on since you don’t know what you might learn in the meeting, who you might meet, or what new and more interesting assignments may come from it.
2. What is the biggest life lesson you’d like to share?
One life lesson I’ve experienced and seen for others, especially as it relates to career, is that so much of the path you end up on ends up being unplanned. Our society tends to push us into certain directions or asks that we have our life course figured out at an early age. We can do all the planning we want but you just never know where life is going to lead you. Now, for some, they figure things out really early, get on a path and march down that path to their destination. For the rest of us, a lot of it is made up as we go. After 10, 20, 30 years, you look back at where you started and where you are currently and, often, people will say they didn’t totally plan that all out and had no idea they’d be in the job they’re in, living where they’re living, etc. So give yourself some room for the unknown and that it may be okay if you don’t always know “where you’ll be in 5 years.”
3. What causes do you support? Volunteer efforts?
In many ways, my work and job are my cause. I’ve grown to appreciate that I went from having a career to really thinking that it was a calling. My work in Community Benefit for KP is about addressing the conditions that shape health for people and communities. And this goes beyond whether they have access to care or get good treatment — it’s about addressing what creates health and trying to tackle those issues that get in the way in our communities. This could be about food, safety, housing, schools, economic opportunity, and more. I’ve worked my whole career in health and healthcare now and will be committed to fixing these social issues for as long as I can work,, Also, I have two sons, 10 and 7 years old. They have been a huge focus of my life and consume the rest of my energy and time.
4. What does being Asian-American mean to you?
I am a refugee from Vietnam and came to this country with my family seeking an opportunity to live a “good” life. I have really existed on both sides of the “Asian” and the “American.” And that means constantly trying to understand what shapes who I am, what I believe, the values I want to live. It’s meant completely fitting in and not fitting in at all, sometimes in the same place on the same day. As I’ve gotten older and have started making that “good” life for myself, I think about what got me here and who do I owe that to and who might I be able to help. And I feel a tremendous responsibility to try and understand that better every day.