Not your conventional chief financial officer

Jim Staten enjoys working as a part of a team. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Jim Staten has been told — more than a few times — that he’s not a typical chief financial officer. He takes it as a compliment. He is calm, energized and balanced and enjoys building solid relationships and working as a part of a team.

Though his decades of experience in consulting, health care finance and health systems certainly qualifies him as USC’s new CFO, you’ll find him as comfortable talking about organizational values, leadership theory and change management as he is about balance sheets or mergers and acquisitions. USC’s core values, like the appreciation of diversity and team spirit, are a big part of what drew him and his wife to relocate from Connecticut to Los Angeles.

During his term as CFO and senior vice president at the Yale New Haven Health Systems, Staten built a firm reputation as a steady and thoughtful leader whose holistic approach to the organization’s long-term success helped produce strong financial growth and margins in a challenging health care environment. When he joined the health system in 2000, revenues were around $950 million. Today its top-line revenue is nearly $4 billion. His strategic positioning skills and intuitive business sense were key ingredients in guiding his former employer through the complexities and ambiguities that currently exist in health care finance.

In his new role at USC, Staten will oversee a wide range of financial operations for the university, including budget and planning, treasury services, the university comptroller, financial and business services, Keck Medicine of USC finances, capital construction and facilities management services, and information technology services.

What have been some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned during your career?

I think that would be the importance of a good team. I’ve learned that the best leaders don’t operate in a vacuum. They listen to their teams and stay open to new possibilities and points of view. They need to be decisive but can’t think they have the answers all the time. They watch out for their own blind spots. You have to lead in a way that promotes open dialogue, letting those who work for you know that they can never offend you by respectfully disagreeing or debating with you. I think it’s important to listen, especially to people who have new ideas. It is essential also to measure and reward this way of thinking and its results. One of the programs I started at Yale New Haven Health System was a two-year financial management fellowship that recruited new MBA graduates from the best schools to rotate among 10 different areas of financial and corporate services, bringing new perspectives and ideas to our processes. Sometimes we learned as much from our fellows as they learned from us. In the end, I learned that my job as a leader is to help shape the direction in those areas that I am responsible for, trust the team, step aside and support/monitor for success.

Why did you decide to join USC?

It all comes down to the core values for me. At Yale New Haven Health, I led the effort to define and clarify a set of core values that could be embraced by a larger and evolving, more integrated culture with new employees and physicians that had joined the health system. So when I first heard about the USC job, I looked online and found the USC Trojan Family core values. I read them and thought, “Wow. If this is how it is to work there, I’d love to be part of it.” Then I met with USC President C. L. Max Nikias, members of the Board of Trustees and the leadership team, and I sensed that they not only walked the talk, but that they also had big aspirations for the university. USC is truly on an upward trajectory. I was sold.

What are you most excited about working on?

I plan on spending my first 100 days primarily focused on Keck Medicine of USC, understanding the higher education business and trying to meet as many people as I can to get better acquainted with the USC way of life. I call it my listening-and-learning tour. And I’m excited to take part in the Keck Medicine of USC Strategic Development retreat at the end of February, as we pause to refresh USC’s strategic plan in health care. I’m impressed with USC’s health system accomplishments to date and sense a real positive momentum for continued improvements.

I’m also excited to have technology as part of my remit at USC. In today’s world, technology supports the successful execution of the business, and I’m looking forward to working with the ITS team in advancing the area throughout the university and health system. And while health care is a huge part of USC’s revenue — and growing — I’m also really looking forward to learning more about how funding works for the university’s other areas, like USC Athletics and the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

What are the trends you see for the future delivery of health care?

This is a difficult environment to grow a health care business, and future success depends on scale and integration. Today, health care is too expensive and our aging population means that more of us need access. In the next five years or so, health care in the United States will be likely delivered by fewer and fewer health systems. I think about my four sons, who range in age from 18 to 23. They won’t access health care the same way my generation does. They want instant access and information. I don’t think we know yet exactly what health care of the future will look like, but I know it will be different than what we have now. We need to prepare Keck Medicine of USC to lead in these new delivery models as well.

Tell us something about you that we won’t find on your very impressive resume.

I come from a large family. I’m the oldest of nine children. My mom was one of 10 children, and we all grew up in a house that my great grandfather built in northern Westchester County in New York. My father worked for General Motors in Tarrytown. I love sports and played shortstop for my college baseball team. I was team captain my junior and senior year, and thought I might have been drafted in 1980. But when that didn’t happen, I took a job at the public accounting and consulting firm Pannell Kerr Forster in New York City. That’s where I met my wife, JoAnne. We’ve been married for 25 years.

We’re very excited to make this move from Connecticut to Los Angeles. I first came to Southern California after I graduated from college. I spent about three weeks out here, studying for the CPA exam and driving up the coast. I loved it. Since then, JoAnne and I have tried to come to California on a regular basis for vacations or to attend events or conferences. When I told my brothers and sisters that we were moving to Los Angeles, their first response was “what took you so long?”