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UCLA

"Do the Right Thing"

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By Dan Gordon '85

Published Aug 23, 2011 12:00 AM


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Dr. Gerald Levey. Photo provided by UCLA's Health Sciences Media Relations Office.

Rebuilding the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was "the most
challenging thing I have ever done,"
says Dr. Gerald Levey, who stepped down last year as vice chancellor of medical sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Yet somehow it came out perfectly, which is incredibly satisfying," he says of the project that took 14 years to complete.

Building a hospital wasn't something Levey had in mind when he began interviewing for the UCLA job. But a few months later, the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged UCLA Medical Center beyond repair; soon it was apparent that the mammoth task of rebuilding a world-class hospital would consume much of Levey's time.

When Levey left his post, he left behind
a legacy of accomplishment. Now he is sharing lessons drawn from his experience in Never Be Afraid to Do the Right Thing: A Leadership Guide in an Age of Change and Challenge, published this month by Second River Healthcare Press.

"The traits I identify are as relevant to business or government as they are to medicine," he says. "I wanted to share how a successful leader makes decisions, and the role of the leadership team in achieving the institution's goals."

The enterprise Levey led from 1994 to 2010 was massive: a medical school with some 2,000 faculty and a health system consisting of four hospitals and more than 75 clinics. Through challenges that included reductions in state funding as well as construction of the new hospital and four other state-of-the-art research buildings, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was named the best hospital in the western United States by the annual U.S. News & World Report survey every year of Levey's tenure.

With Levey at the helm, UCLA's health systems also realized great success in fundraising, capped by a $200 million gift from entertainment executive David Geffen in 2002 that endowed the medical school — at the time the largest donation ever made to UCLA.

Designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei and his son, C.C. Pei, the hospital broke new ground for its delivery of state-of-the-art medical treatment in a compassionate environment where the patient comes first. The facility features an open design flowing with natural light, and private patient rooms provide panoramic views of outdoor space.

Among the traits that Levey identifies as integral to effective leadership: a strong work ethic and passion for the job, high moral and ethical principles, humility and acceptance of responsibility. "Leadership ultimately is about caring for people in your organization," he adds. "In my final days on the job, what really hit home was that people felt they were part of something."

"If you were on his team, you did beyond your best," says David T. Feinberg, associate vice chancellor and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, and one of Levey's former protégés. "He trusted you and expected extraordinary results, and that made it easy to deliver."

It was Feinberg who suggested the title of the book, after Levey's favorite business admonishment. "When faced with any tough decision, he did what was best for our institution," Feinberg says. "What really stands out is his integrity."

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