MEET CHRISTINE ZACK
Infinity Business Magazine chooses a local professional quarterly to spotlight in "Business Professionals You Should Know." When we decide who to spotlight, it is not always based on what business they own or their entrepreneurial skills, but we choose someone who not only has business experience that they can share with others but also possess qualities that we find admirable and that support and help grow the local community.
We had the privilege to sit down with Christine Zack, President & CEO of Capability Health & Human Services. Christine, while at first meeting, her youthful energy and personable demeanor are her trademark qualities but she is also an amazing businesswoman whose professional experience and knowledge have paved the way to lead such a remarkable organization.
IBM: Where were you born and raised?
CZ: I am an East Coast girl who grew up in a small college town in rural Pennsylvania called Selinsgrove, which the locals affectionately call “The Grove.” My childhood home backed to fields and forests and we had a neighborhood pond that we ice skated on in the winter. I spent a lot of time outdoors, playing hide and seek, building treehouses, hiking, sledding, skiing and snowboarding in the winter and swimming or floating down the local creek during the summer. Given this experience, it is no surprise that I still love outdoor activities and that Las Vegas is such a great fit for me as an adult. I appreciate all the indulgent amenities including the restaurants, shows, hotels, stores, and now professional sports that Vegas offers, with the ability to engage in outdoor activities year-round and the proximity of West Coast ski resorts with powder instead of the icy conditions I encountered on the East Coast.
IBM: Who was your biggest influence growing up?
CZ: My cousin, Cas Ruda, who is four decades older than me, was my biggest influence growing up. Cas was an executive in the electrical manufacturing industry and subsequently launched his own medical supply company. I credit Cas with instilling my early negotiation skills – from demonstrating how to give the ushers a tip to get better seats at Muppet Babies on Broadway in New York City as a young child to negotiating the best price on a pair of Doc Martens at Bloomingdales when I was in high school, Cas not only taught me how to negotiate, he always inspired me to think outside the box. Through the successful launch of his medical supply business in his 50's and subsequent sale of the business in his 60's, he also demonstrated that it is never too late in life to reinvent yourself and try something new.
IBM: You earned a JD in Law from Tulane Law School - Was it always your goal to focus on Healthcare Law? If not, what was the driving goal that you went in that direction?
I always wanted to attend law school and announced during a family gathering at a very young age that I was going to be a corporate attorney, but I never envisioned a career in healthcare. By the time I reached my sophomore year in college, I shifted focus away from corporate law and intended to graduate from law school and become a lobbyist.
During the spring semester of my final year at Tulane Law School, I interviewed with former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's office in Washington, DC and was informed that a Legislative Assistant or Counsel position would be available after the August recess. Based on this information, I moved to Baltimore after graduating from law school and instead of taking the bar that summer, I did government relations consulting work in anticipation of accepting a position with Senator Landrieu's office in the early Fall. When the process with securing a position in the Senator's office took longer than expected, I randomly applied for a junior attorney position with Integrated Health Services through a posting in a Maryland legal newspaper that sought an attorney with two years of healthcare experience. Unbeknownst to me, the two years I spent during law school working on healthcare cases for a plaintiff's firm near New Orleans, was the exact experience the private equity real estate investors who had recently acquired Integrated Health Services were looking for in the candidate for the position. I was hired as Corporate Counsel in September 2003 and passed the Maryland Bar in 2004. This first position leads to nearly 15 years working on the acquisitions of both publicly-traded and privately-held hospital, rehabilitation and post-acute care chains and ultimately working in the portfolio companies of these senior-focused provider organizations. Initially, I held legal roles, but I was eventually promoted to more business-oriented positions including Senior Vice President, Chief Risk Officer of Fundamental and Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer of Mariner Health Care. While I also spent a year as the Chief Strategy Officer for a digital health company in Los Angeles, I have developed a passion for the provider side of healthcare. The CEO role with Capability Health presented an opportunity to oversee the operation of pediatric healthcare services and to focus on preventive healthcare.
IBM: What Brought you to Las Vegas?
I began traveling to Vegas for work in 2003 when I was overseeing litigation against hospitals and skilled nursing facilities previously operated by affiliates of Integrated Health Services. In 2006, I was involved with the acquisition of THI of Baltimore, Inc., which, despite its name, did not have any healthcare facilities in Baltimore but had a large footprint in Nevada with hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation companies in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, Sparks and Carson City. Post-acquisition by Fundamental Long Term Care, I assumed risk management responsibilities for the entire THI of Baltimore portfolio, including the Nevada facilities. While I was based in Baltimore County, Maryland, I was flying out to Las Vegas every other week because Southern Nevada was a special focus market. During a time period that I jokingly refer to as my quarter-life crisis, I was given the option of relocating to Nevada on a short-term basis by one of the owners of Fundamental and seized the opportunity to move my snowboard gear, some clothing and a newly acquired baby blue 2007 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail, a purchase fueled by the aforementioned quarter-life crisis, into the JW Marriott in Summerlin! After a few months, I realized that life was easier in Vegas. While there was still snow on the ground in Baltimore and I was enjoying Lake Mead from a colleague's boat, I realized that Vegas was meant to be my long-term home. By May 2007, I had moved all my belongings and my beloved dog into a home in Summerlin. Through my escapades with the motorcycle, I met my husband, Judd Gundersen, who is Las Vegas City Firefighter and commercial pilot. While I am still very much an East Coast girl at heart, I now enjoy life with Judd, our son Bergen, and our two rescue dogs in Green Valley and you will frequently hear me say – “West is best.”
IBM: As the President & CEO of Capability Health & Human Services, what are your goals for the organization?
CZ: Creating organizational goals is a team effort that is supported by a clearly defined philosophy and vision. At Capability Health, we focus on Quality Services driven by Innovation and Fiscal Responsibility and Growth that includes Meaningful Impact and Services to an Increased Number of Individuals with Profits Reinvested into Programs, Services & People Operations.
Capability Health has many goals involving launching new and enhanced programs and services, tech initiatives and increased collaboration with other organizations, including both for-profit and non-profit companies and public sector entities. However, we do have one enormous goal that we call our Big Crazy Dream. Capability Health wants to ensure that every child in Nevada aged birth to 3 who has a developmental delay receives a diagnosis and Early Intervention Services within 5 years. We announced this initiative in mid-December 2019 and we are looking forward to partnering with a research institution to study the obstacles we must overcome in order to achieve our Big Crazy Dream, including awareness and de-stigmatization campaigns targeting both pediatricians and parents. We recognize that Early Intervention Services, which includes physical, occupational, speech, nutrition and feeding therapy and educational support, have the ability to reduce lifetime healthcare costs and reliance on governmental programs as adults while providing an immediate impact on the lives of children and their families. It is our ultimate goal that children who receive early diagnosis and Early Intervention Services mature into young adults who attend college or launch into careers in the community, which is why it is so important that all children in the State have the opportunity to receive these services.
IBM: What advice would you give others who are looking to work in or start a non-profit organization?
CZ: Non-profits are businesses that reinvest their profits into the programs, services, and people who support the respective mission of the organization. With the exception of where profits are directed, I don't believe in structuring or operating non-profits differently than publicly-traded for-profit companies. In both scenarios, transparency and public trust are paramount to achieving the goals of the organization.
I recommend a strong business background and experience with corporate governance. This can be attained through executive-level positions with complex for-profit or non-profit companies or in the public sector and through involvement with for-profit and public sector boards and committees.
Regardless of your chosen sector, resilience and a passion for your work, your team and your customers or constituents are what will ensure the success of the organization and your own personal success.