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Mission Critical: Cheryl Campbell (GEMBA’16) Brings Decades of Leadership and Healthcare IT Expertise to the Department of Health and Human Services

As Assistant Secretary for Administration for the Department of Health and Human Services, Cheryl Campbell (GEMBA’16) will tell you no two days on the job are the same. 

One day she might be strategizing a way to prevent or respond to cyber attacks on sensitive data. The next she’ll be leading a meeting on labor relations. A day later, she’ll be crafting new work models for an organization that employs more than 80,000 people. 

It helps that by the time Campbell was appointed to the role in 2021, she already had extensive experience working with HHS — on the other side of the table. 

“I’ve worked in almost every operating division within HHS as a contractor supporting them in their mission and critical engagements,” Campbell says. In fact, Campbell had led private sector teams responsible for the technical rollout and support of Medicare.gov, the Affordable Care Act, and other massive public-facing efforts. 

“It’s an exciting scenario to be on one side of the perspective helping to build the systems that drive the mission of Health and Human Services. And then coming in on the other side as the political appointee and actually implementing it from a mission-critical perspective,” Campbell says. 

In addition to private sector experience with HHS, she’s calling upon her 30-plus years of accumulated experience as an executive leader with particular expertise in healthcare information technology. During that career, she has earned numerous accolades, including being named a “Healthcare IT Game Changer” by ExecutiveBiz and one of the top 50 Global Executive MBAs by Poets&Quants.

Campbell came on board at HHS during the middle of the pandemic, when all employers and employees were experiencing rare challenges, not the least of which being in an unexpected telework environment. To help solve those challenges at HHS, she uses her organizational management expertise.

“I think about my experiences in private industry. How do you implement transformation without breaking things at the same time?” she says. “Doing so requires accepting that the traditional model of everyone in the office five days a week is not likely to return, then asking critical questions about new ways of operating. What new processes and technology are needed to support new ways of working? When is remote work most appropriate, and when is in-person interface needed? What do employees of different generations expect?”

Perhaps most important: What best practices will work across a large, varied organization? “We put forth some models that allowed us to take that across our enterprise,” Campbell says. Doing so was no easy feat considering HHS has multiple divisions across multiple geographies with different needs and different styles of operation, much like in a corporation. “I think my private industry experience helped me gain the ability to help drive this effectively for HHS.” 

HHS and other federal organizations face similar shifting talent concerns as private industry, too. So Campbell spends a great deal of her time and energy developing strategies for the future of HR recruitment and retention.

“The exciting part of this 21st-century workplace is this: What we’re talking about is not only how do we attract and retain talent from an HR recruitment perspective and talent management perspective, but then what do we change in the work environment?” Campbell says. To her, that means considering everything from employees’ paths to upward mobility to an expanded hiring pipeline, both in terms of geography and through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Campbell herself is the first female and person of color to serve as Assistant Secretary for Administration. “I live that every day. Most of my career I’ve usually been the first. In the technology fields, in the business arena, that’s sort of been my MO for a very long time. I think it’s not an issue of being the first — it’s making sure I’m not the last. The door is open. Let’s keep the door open.” 

This story was originally featured in the Georgetown Business Spring 2022 Magazine.

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