Perez sees end of glass ceiling

Climbing the corporate ladder has always involved a mix of skill, timing and networking. But in a world where mergers and acquisitions can change the road overnight — nowhere is this more obvious than in the field of health care — what does it take to move ahead?

The Business Press recently sat down with someone who has climbed that proverbial ladder — health care industry expert and local business leader, Karla Perez. As regional vice president of the Valley Health System and corporate vice president of the Acute Care Western Division of Universal Health Services, Perez was promoted 14 times in 27 years before assuming her current positions in 2009.

“I’m probably a poster child for promotion from within, but I have to tell you UHS has that culture across the company,” Perez said.

According to its website, UHS is a diversified business model with 25 acute care hospitals and 225 mental health facilities in 37 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the United Kingdom. It also has an Independence Physician Management program, a physician network with direct employment which offers physician practices expertise in several services including billing and collections.

“UHS has a strong desire to invest in our employees, and we therefore spend a great deal of time with mentoring junior executives — looking for high potential employees across the company,” Perez said.

Perez came to Valley Hospital in 1983 to complete an eight-week internship requirement and earn a degree in medical record administration from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Instead of leaving at the end of her internship, she stayed and within six months was promoted to director of medical records.

So how did she go from medical records to regional vice president?

Perez credits “three tips which interestingly enough Alan Miller, CEO and chairman of the board of UHS, shared with me very early on when I was a junior executive about how do you get noticed in a corporation and how do you become a leader. I call them the 3 i’s:”

1. Integrity: “I think that is probably the most important characteristic that one can have — to be honest, to be credible, to be trusted. Tell people the right thing at the right time even if it’s not what they want to hear.”

2. Intensity: “To me, intensity is about the energy you bring to your job. I can’t teach you that — it has to be part of your fabric — of who you are.”

3. Intelligence: “It isn’t about IQ or SAT scores or GPA — it’s about do you have the intelligence to surround yourself with the right people, the intelligence to know what resources are available to you and to use those resources to the best of your ability to make appropriate decisions.”

Perez also explained some leadership intangibles.

“I was a cheerleader in my past life, and that comes in real handy because there’s a lot of aspects to leadership. You have to be able to motivate.”

Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations for the Howard Hughes Corp., acknowledged that trait in a recent email, saying: “Karla Perez is a strong and dynamic leader, but those are not the only qualities that make her a business standout. She is fun. Her quick wit and ready laugh make meetings both productive and entertaining.”

Staying positive when problems arise is another intangible leadership trait. How does Perez handle them?

“All the CEOs of the hospitals (within Valley Health System and Acute Care Western Division) report directly to me,” Perez said. “I hold them accountable for the business of running their hospitals. If there are issues, I challenge them to fix them.”

For Perez, it is less about what or who caused the problem but more about what to do to fix it.

Sig Rogich, president of Rogich Communications group, said Perez “works overtime to solve problems and solutions. Her openness, cordiality and professionalism is second to none, and those qualities make her one of the best executives I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with throughout my career.”

And Rogich should know – he has been active in business, media and crisis management in Nevada and nationally for more than 40 years.

So does Perez believe the glass ceiling still exists for women?

“I don’t think today,” Perez said.

“I remember once, when I was first starting out, I had a superior who said to me at one point, as a female (that) I was going to have to work harder than everybody else to get ahead,” she recalled.

But times have changed.

“My daughter would even question why you would be asking that — her and her generation, there is clearly no difference anymore,” she said. “There are a lot of women in very powerful high-ranking positions and I think — who knows — we might have our first woman president.”


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