Michael Dowling has had a long and winding road to get to the top office at Northwell Health, based in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in 1968 at 17 after spending several summers in New York on a student visa. During those early years, he mostly worked as a laborer, often clocking in 120-hour workweeks to pay for his college tuition and support his family overseas. After graduating with a masters in social policy from Fordham University, he taught there for four years, until he received a phone call that would lead him to make his riskiest move yet.
WHAT WAS YOUR RISKIEST MOVE? When I got a call from the office of the newly elected governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, asking if I would join the state government and take on a position.
WHY WAS THAT RISKY? I was doing well at Fordham, teaching public welfare and health issues. I had not been involved in government. The job was in Albany, 150 miles away. I didn’t even have a car. I didn’t even know how to get there. When you go into government, if it doesn’t work out, you’re out of luck. I had never met the governor. I remember saying to myself, “What do they see in me? What have I done?” But that’s what innovation is all about, people taking risk. I had a big interview down in the World Trade Center. I walked in thinking, “Well, this is not going to go anywhere.” They probably thought the same thing, but I had kissed the Blarney stone so it went well.