Bringing service and financial leadership to the highest levels of her organization02/16/2017 06:00AM | 2230 views
Born Leaders: Hispanics and Latinos who mindfully tap one or more of the six elements of an “immigrant mindset” can attract greater opportunities for success. By nature, immigrants see opportunity everywhere; more easily adapt to changing conditions; pursue their passions to uncover endless possibilities; do their jobs as if they owned the business; form strong bonds to treat colleagues and friends as family; and willingly share that success with others to keep the prosperity cycle going. Born Leaders tells their stories.
The first time you meet Ana Guerra, it might be during City of Hope’s (COH) welcome program for new employees. Guerra enthusiastically guides doctors, researchers, scientists, office staff and everyone in between to understand the organization’s culture, live its values, and “feel they are important and all have a place here.”
Guerra relishes her volunteer job with the world-renowned cancer research and medical center. But it’s not all she does at City of Hope. Her primary role is as a high-level financial officer charged with overseeing the facility’s financial business operations and capital expenditures for projects totaling more than $1 billion annually. If COH decides to build a new building wing, improve handicapped parking or take on other capital projects, Guerra’s office oversees related financial analysis and planning. But whether volunteering, or working her day job, “service” is key to her success.
“I consider myself a servant leader,” says Guerra, who now holds a BA in business administration and an MBA. “I bring forth service, and treat everyone as my customer, whether they are my vendor, my colleague or my boss. That’s what I teach everyone when welcoming them to City of Hope. At the end of day, we service everyone and treat everyone with respect, care and love.”
Growing up near Los Angeles
Guerra’s story began much like that of other first-generation U.S. Latinos. Her mom emigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico to Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley area at 23, seeking better opportunities to support her then two young daughters. With a visa and the help of relatives and friends who settled in the area, she found waitressing jobs, was able to raise her children and eventually gained residency. Once in the U.S., Guerra’s mother had four more children, including Guerra. She had married, and “always had three jobs,” Guerra says. Despite the challenges, it proved an encouraging foundation for her daughters to pursue well-paying satisfying careers with their mother’s support.
“My mom really pushed us all to make a better life for ourselves. She didn’t want us to have three jobs,” Guerra says. “She stressed the importance of education. She got me and my sisters through college.”
Guerra developed a knack for math and numbers while attending school in the U.S. Taking her mom’s message to heart, she continued to pursue her love of mathematics and accounting while living in Mexico with her grandparents during middle school. Her mother felt fluency in Spanish and Mexican heritage would benefit her daughters’ careers. Guerra then returned to the U.S. for high school, and by 9th grade already excelled at trigonometry. She graduated with honors and eventually won a scholarship to a local community college, but was unsure of her career course.
“I thought I would be an attorney, and then a registered nurse,” she says, always attracted to a career of service. “I then focused on hospital administration.” Guerra earned her AA degree in accounting before completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration.
Pursuing a stellar career path
Along the way, Guerra worked as an office administrator and staffing recruitment manager for healthcare, and as staffing coordinator for nursing administration at Kaiser Foundation Hospital. For several years, she moved up the ranks within Kaiser, serving as financial analyst for its Foundation Health Plan and eventually in senior internal auditing positions. In 2008, the not-for-profit COH recruited Guerra to serve in the facilities division of its Comprehensive Cancer Center, under the vice president and chief operating officer to oversee capital improvements and related financing.
Notably, Guerra’s natural immigrant mindset has helped her excel by truly embracing her job as if it were her own business.
“I audit everything and I’m an auditor at heart. I treat the funds that come in for each project as if they were my own. I reconcile every single dollar,” Guerra says. “I take pride that it’s all clear,traceable and transparent. If I am demanding, it is because I believe the money should be spent wisely. The sole reason we are here is for our patients.”
Many efforts Guerra oversees fall under “Patient experience,” to directly improve related safety and convenience, and include more than 100 projects annually that range in cost from $5,000 to $80 million.
“From the moment they drive into our parking lot, there might be projects that address patient experiences,” such as the cafeteria, cafeteria food, a remodeled check-in desk, among others.
Her analysis and reconciling efforts have also brought City of Hope more than $300 million in savings for projects brought in under budget, she says, relying on practices she learned previously in her career. “I am very proud to bring over processes and best practices that bring light to savings, put it in writing, and show the value we bring here.”
Other duties include overseeing about 30 financial staff, project managers and engineers. Guerra also oversees 47 business accounts, and has “closed” or completed more than 480 projects in nine years at COH.
Her tendency to treat her colleagues as family and share her success with others, also speaks to an immigrant mindset.
“The most important thing is relationships,” she says, noting that her mother gained jobs, documentation help and many other benefits from the friends and colleagues around her. Without that support, life would have been impossible in Los Angeles. Guerra continues to pay forward that approach to life. She encouraged her sisters to attend college, and even helped two of them get jobs in medical financial management and accounting.
“The inside joke is that I am the leader of my family with my sisters and my kids,” she laughs. And helping others is also the yardstick she measures her own success by.
“The best recognition comes when I am able to mentor or bring someone below me up for greater success,” she says. “That is a reflection of myself. That is how I see that I am succeeding, that I’m a successful leader.”
Embracing a passion for service
So it’s not a surprise that this high-ranking financial officer moonlights as a volunteer facilitator to welcome new City of Hope employees.” Volunteering is her passion, says Guerra, who is married and a mother of three daughters herself.
She’s also a leader with Latinos for Hope, COH’s outreach to patients and the community, which includes delivering Thanksgiving and Easter baskets to pediatric patients. Guerra also helps by translating some of potentially confusing medical information for Spanish-speaking patients and family members.
Landing in the right place
Before landing at COH in 2008, she knew little about the research and medical facility, nor its fight against cancer, diabetes, HIV and other major diseases. But she was persuaded to leave her previous job for new opportunities, despite being happy in her previous position.
Shortly thereafter, Guerra’s mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Successful treatment by City of Hope saved her mom’s life, Guerra says. Now Guerra understands that her role, at a higher level, is giving back to efforts to cure the disease.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she says. “My inspiration is my mother, who is a cancer survivor. I could do finances anywhere, but in doing it for City of Hope, I feel I’m helping the effort to cure cancer for all of us, our families, and as a legacy for my three daughters and grandbaby.”
Guerra herself was also recently diagnosed with early thyroid cancer, which is among the most successfully treated cancers. She’s armed with the knowledge and resources to fight the disease, with her mom as inspiration.
“I am now her caregiver and she is my role model,” Guerra says.