On the Road Again

Janice Head Traveled Many Miles To Land The Top Spot At Kaiser Permanente Hawaii

January, 2004

When a headhunter phoned Janice Head in the mid ’90s with an opportunity to relocate from Utah to San Francisco, she respectfully declined the offer with a simple, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Although the offer was for a high-level management position with Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, she and her husband, who had retired from the military, had just bought a new house, which they hadn’t yet even moved into.

“I told her, ‘Thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t take a new job at this point.’ And then I went home that evening and told my husband about it,” explains Head, president of Kaiser Permanente’s Hawaii region. “We didn’t discuss it very long. He simply told me, ‘Call her back, you have to take this job,’ and those have come to be the most career-changing words ever spoken to me.”

Head spent just three weeks in her new house before shipping off to California to begin her career with Kaiser Permanente, as the director of nursing for four medical centers in the Bay Area. It turned out to be a pivotal move for Head, whose career quickly picked up steam. Once under the Kaiser umbrella, Head moved quickly through the ranks, progressing within the organization and moving from the Bay Area to Orange County, and eventually Los Angeles, where she ran four hospitals with 700,000 members. Each move, she says, was not only supported, but encouraged by her husband and his persuasive catchphrase: “You have to take this job.”

There was one move, however, for which Head did not need to have her arm twisted. “When I got the call last September asking if I’d be interested in applying for the regional president’s job in Hawaii, it wasn’t hard to say yes,” she says. “Hawaii is a very high-performing region, by all measures – it’s always been considered kind of the gem in the company.” Last year, Kaiser’s Hawaii division ranked as the state’s seventh-largest company on Hawaii Business’ Top 250 list, with 2002 gross annual sales of $632 million and 3,663 local employees.

Head says the move to Hawaii has been the most natural transition she’s made, and the people have made it even easier. “I was somewhat concerned about being a mainlander who came in to take over this position – someone who really wasn’t familiar with the culture. So I came in intent on being very observant and sensitive, but people have been so warm, helpful and embracing,” says Head. “They’ve been accepting of my leadership style, which has been to step back, take everything in and make sure I’m grounded in our capabilities and challenges before I make decisions.”

Her top priorities for the region are Kaiser’s capital-building plan to add and expand facilities, and implementing electronic medical records to integrate all of the organization’s functions on a single, common platform. These are significant projects, which should result in a more efficient and profitable health care organization, but Head says her real motivation is Kaiser Hawaii’s 235,000 members.

“There is such fulfillment in knowing that you’re really making a difference in a person’s health and mental well-being,” says Head, who worked as a nurse in Germany, and briefly in Illinois, before starting on the management track. “You touch a person’s life at their most vulnerable moments, and that really is a privilege.”

Head enjoys the cultural diversity Hawaii offers, and has every intention of finishing the rest of her career (about another six years or so) in her current capacity as president of the Hawaii region. Beyond that, she and her husband, Richard, (who recently began teaching at Chaminade University) are undecided on where they’ll eventually settle down and retire. She hints at Kauai, where the couple began vacationing several years ago, but says she is prepared for whatever lies ahead. “We’ve gone from Colorado to Germany, then Illinois, then Utah, California and now here … ” says Head. “I’m not sure where we’ll be after this, but let’s just say we’ve become fans of Willie Nelson’s ‘On the Road Again.'”

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Jacy L. Youn