Northwell Health’s Michael Dowling Kicks Off Fordham’s New UC Dublin Partnership
Gabelli100 | Dec 02, 2020 | Michael Benigno
By Claire Curry
Appreciating what you have, believing that you can make a difference, and having a positive outlook for the future are the most important characteristics of successful leaders, according to Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health.
“We need to read history, about others who have been successful—Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, FDR,” said Dowling, who heads up the healthcare enterprise that employs more than 74,000 and yields annual revenues of $13.5 billion. “If you study those people [you can] understand how it is that they made such an impact. They believed that something in the future was going to be better than it is today.”
Dowling shared his thoughts on leadership, the impact of the COVID crisis, the power of empathy, and his vision for the future of healthcare and Northwell Health with Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., dean of the Gabelli School of Business, who interviewed the CEO during a virtual conference on Nov. 12. The event marked the launch of a new partnership between the Gabelli School and the University College Dublin’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. Two information sessions recently took place regarding the partnership, one hosted by Fordham, the other hosted by UCD.
1+1: A Gabelli School & UCD Smurfit Partnership
“We are very excited to launch our 1+1 graduate partnership, which connects our students with our two leading business schools and creates new networks in the financial and entrepreneurial cities of Dublin and New York,” said Gerardine Doyle, associate dean of UCD Smurfit, who kicked off the conference.
The “1+1” program makes it possible for graduate students to complete two MS/MBA programs on an accelerated, two-year schedule, one at each institution in New York and Ireland.
Doyle remarked that Dowling was an especially “fitting guest” to mark the occasion of the program’s launch. The Limerick native similarly attended college in both Ireland and New York. In fact, he is a Fordham University alumnus who also taught and served as assistant dean of the Graduate School of Social Services.
Dowling addressed students in the virtual audience, urging them to recognize how fortunate they are to have the opportunities made possible by participating in exchange programs like the 1+1, and understand their obligation to give back.
“Ask ‘What do I want to do with my life?’” he said. “‘Do I want to exist or do I want to make a difference? Do I want to improve the lot of the community around me?’” Understanding one’s good fortune and looking ahead with hope, he said, are how people can successfully lead and inspire others.
Leaders Emerged During the COVID Pandemic
Asked about what it was like to oversee a huge healthcare organization through the COVID-19 crisis, Dowling credited the employees on the front lines, including one nurse he met who continued her shift despite the fact that her own mother had just died on the same floor she was working on.
“Leadership is not just about the people at the top of the organization,” he said. “It’s understanding that there’s leadership at every level.” Pointing to the nurse’s courage, resilience, and tenacity, Dowling said that what he does is not as important as what she did—and in the throes of the pandemic.
Rapaccioli mentioned the healthcare disparities that were spotlighted by the pandemic, asking what the CEO envisioned for the future.
Dowling, who has passionately spoken out against gun violence and racism in the past, commented, “I know the problem and I’m not going to leave it to someone else. How do we improve access, improve health… how do we work with those communities and learn the right way from them? Whether you’re in healthcare or not, if you’re a leader who wants to make a difference, you have to be asking yourself ‘What’s my role in this?’” The “new normal,” he said, has to be created collectively and through sound leadership.
Out of Challenges Come Opportunities
Dowling discussed how innovation has been fueled by the pandemic and how COVID-19 has forever changed our relationship with technology. He believes it will enable us to make great strides in healthcare delivery, in areas such as telehealth and virtual care.
He also noted the effectiveness of remote workforces which have made organizations significantly more productive. “We didn’t get screwed up with bureaucracy during COVID because we couldn’t,” he said, adding that many business processes were and will continue to be streamlined because of the increase in remote work.
Dowling hopes that Northwell will become a place that is as good at preventing diseases as it is treating them.
“I couldn’t be more excited when I get up in the morning to go to work,” he said. “And remember: it’s not work. You’re pursuing a cause. That’s what it’s about and it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. I am in the business of improving the community and improving the lives of others. That makes it worthwhile and that’s the reason you can be optimistic and inspiring.”