When Jacinita E. Titialii's parents moved their family from American Samoa to the United States in 1958, a friend who was a lawyer provided pro bono services that helped them buy a house.
Titialii grew up believing lawyers were people who helped other people.
So after receiving two bachelor degrees from the University of Washington in 1982, Titialii (pronounced Tee-tee-a-lee-ee) went on to law school.
Reality set in quickly.
"I came home and told my parents that most people don't like lawyers," the 40-year-old Titialii says now, laughing at her naivete.
Nevertheless, Titialii pursued her career, intent on being the kind of lawyer who did good.
She has succeeded both professionally and personally. And much of that success stems from an inner drive to take risks by expanding beyond her world and her job.
"I was always impressed by her eagerness to learn," said Bruce Busby, former chief executive officer of Hillhaven Corp. who is now retired.
Titialii's first contact with healthcare law came at Hillhaven, a Tacoma, Wash.-based nursing home chain formerly owned by National Medical Enterprises and now merged with Vencor. NME was the predecessor company to Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., where Titialii is director of venture development.
After getting her law degree in 1985 from the University of Washington at Seattle, Titialii was hired by Bogle & Gates, a Seattle law firm.
Her experience there in real estate and securities law prompted Hillhaven to recruit her as senior counsel and assistant corporate secretary. In those posts she worked on securities filings, bond refinancings and the eventual spinoff from NME.
She gained a reputation for being assertive, sharp and ethical.
Albert Milstein, a Chicago attorney, sat across from her in a deal involving the sale of several nursing homes. He tells a story that shows how Titialii will go the distance to get a deal done. "She flew in from Seattle anticipating a one-day meeting," said Milstein, a partner with Winston and Strawn. "By the time she left it was five days."
Titialii is no longer satisfied to be the legal eagle on a deal. She wants to do the deal, a chance that Tenet gave her beginning in January. Tenet officials were aware of her talents because she had served as vice president and senior counsel at its dialysis subsidiary, Medical Ambulatory Care, in 1994 and 1995. While there, she worked on the spinoff of Medical Ambulatory into Total Renal Care.
Tenet wanted Titialii to rejoin the company, but she said she would only come if she was more than a lawyer. They consented, and now she helps drive the acquisitions that will guarantee growth of the 75-hospital chain.
"I said that I wanted to be on the business side," Titialii explained.
Based in Dallas, Titialii accepted the offer even though it pried her from her beloved hometown of Seattle, where she had ingrained herself over the years. A past chairwoman of the Seattle Arts Commission and director of the Seattle Symphony, the former art history major became involved because she wanted to "give something back to the community, which is how our parents raised us."
As hard-driving as Titialii is, she keeps her life in perspective. Last year, she left her career for six months to take care of her mother, who was dying of liver cancer.
Although some friends questioned her decision to quit, she told them simply that her job was a job, but "this is my mother."