Top 25 Emerging Leaders
Ije-Enu Udeze, 40
Chief of staff, office of the CEO, Kaiser Permanente
Young entrepreneur: At age 8 grew, cleaned and sold an African vegetable known as onugbu, or "bitter leaf," to the Nigerian community in L.A.
First job: At age 11, processed magazine subscriptions.
On the run: Considers running a self-investment and uses the time for meditating and strategizing.
When Ije-Enu Udeze says "I want to push you a bit," Kaiser Permanente executives in the room start to sweat.
"That's a precursor for saying, 'Get ready, I'm going to say something that might make you uncomfortable,' " said Bernard Tyson, CEO of the $55 billion integrated healthcare system Kaiser Permanente.
When Udeze "pushes a bit," it's to ask, "Does this really meet your objectives?" Or, "Is this what you want to be remembered for?"
Tyson nominated Udeze, his chief of staff, for Modern Healthcare's Up & Comer recognition and described her as a passionate individual trying to make a difference.
"That's how she rolls," Tyson said. "In conversations with Ije (pronounced 'E.J.'), she describes things from a member's perspective. She's very good at bringing the human voice into the room."
Udeze said she knows that perspective because she grew up in the system and her mother worked for Kaiser for more than 20 years.
"I have tons of friends and family who get their care from Kaiser Permanente, so I hear stories," she said. "I hear the good, the bad and the ugly. So I began to think about what are the root causes for some of these things."
A first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Nigeria and met at the University of Minnesota, Udeze studied economics at the University of California at Berkeley, earned an MBA from Pepperdine University and graduated from Harvard Business School's executive leadership program. She originally didn't see herself in healthcare.
"I don't do blood," Udeze said. "But healthcare always turned out to be the focus of all our conversations--everything came back to health and wellness."
Outside of Kaiser, Udeze serves on the board and chairs the mental health committee for Girls Inc. of Alameda County, a not-for-profit organization aimed at inspiring girls "to be strong, smart and bold." She has also started Utuh USA, an organization building infrastructure, fostering education and developing sustainable healthcare for a village in eastern Nigeria.
Tyson predicted Udeze's passion, empathy and people skills will take her far.
"I think she can continue to progress wherever she wants to go," he said. "She's respected because she respects." --Andis Robeznieks