A Conversation with C. Frank Igwe, PhD (Fels ’07)

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Bill Rivers (Fels ’16) sat down with C. Frank Igwe, PhD (Fels ’07), CEO and founder of Moravia Health, for a conversation on service, leadership, and what his time at Fels taught him about both.

Moravia Health is a full service Medicare & Medicaid Home Health Agency, licensed by the State of Pennsylvania. Founded in 2012, it serves over 150 patients in the Philadelphia area. 

Bill Rivers: At the end of last year, you made a gift of $75,000 to Fels. You said the school fundamentally changed your life’s trajectory, that it shaped you into the person you are today. How did Fels do that?

C. Frank Igwe: Fels gave me balance. I have a nontraditional story. My undergraduate degree was engineering; I had a follow-up master’s degree in business administration. In those disciplines, your mind is on one side of the spectrum – numbers, math, the bottom line. The world of nonprofit administration, of politics, of public service, never even crossed my mind. Fels opened the door to that new world.

For the first time, the focus was taken away from Frank doing as well as he could for Frank. Life became purposeful. I realized I could use my skills and talents for more than moneymaking. I could use them to help other people.

Was there a particular professor or class that typified that transition for you?

Dr. Mulhern. Hands down. He taught a class on the art of politics and public leadership that was simply amazing. You have to understand, he and I seemed diametrically opposed. Dr. Mulhern is a distinguished, older white gentleman. At the time, I was this rambunctious, young black guy in baggy clothes. Dr. Mulhern looked like a guy straight out of central casting. But in so many ways, he was how I wanted to be. He was the blueprint. That quiet confidence. I never heard him raise his voice. Up until that moment, I had never been in a class where the teacher could control the whole room without ever raising his voice. He has a presence about him. He commands respect.

I’m proud to say I never missed a class at Fels. I went to every seminar. I threw myself into it. I went in with the hope of learning something. I was willing to read. I was willing to work.

You run a highly successful business. You serve a community of elderly people who depend upon your company for their health and safety. Your employees count on you for their livelihood. How do you respond to crises that come up in business?

I think the first step in responding successfully to a crisis is to surround yourself with an excellent team. Dr. Mulhern always used to tell us this. You’ve got to have the right people around you. You cannot do everything by yourself. You have to know when to delegate assignments or responsibilities.

Moravia Health has over one hundred people working for us right now. There’s a reason I introduced you to my staff when you arrived. That’s because they are the greatest asset we have. I know what everyone on my team is capable of doing, and also their limitations. That’s important, because as a boss, I have to try to minimize shocks and surprises in day-to-day operations, and knowing what to expect from each of my employees helps me in that regard.

How do you manage uncertainty?

Well, we all must play the cards that we’re dealt, but as much as possible, in everything you do, begin with the end in mind. To paraphrase Sun Tzu’s Art of War, ‘Before the first shot is fired, the battle should already be won.’

Of course, unexpected things will happen, but in my business specifically, and life in general, I build contingencies into the system. God forbid, if I’m not here tomorrow, the company won’t fold. Every person, from director of marketing to the in-home care provider, knows what they need to do in the event of an emergency, big or small. In our executive suites specifically, we lean on each other. We don’t operate in silos. As president of the company, if need be, I can step in and carry out any responsibility, from payroll and billing, to being the receptionist. You have to be able to do everything in this company, right down to vacuuming the carpet. And I have vacuumed the carpet in this office. As the leader, I can’t be above doing even the most mundane tasks. The people follow the leader. If they see that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, they’ll follow you – even in uncertain times.

Speaking of following the leader, Philadelphia just elected a new mayor. What hopes do you have for the incoming administration?

Jim Kenney was my professor at Fels. In fact –

[Igwe plays the first few seconds of a voice message from Mayor Kenney on his cell phone. He laughs.]

Well, it may be too soon to say. I do know him as my professor, and I know he is genuine. He is honest and he cares. While the jury is still out, if I was betting a man, I’d bet the house on him.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for Philadelphia? For your company?

The biggest challenge for Philadelphia and the future of the company go hand in hand. Philadelphia has a growing population of vulnerable senior citizens. I see the coming demand as stressing the system. I spend most of my days worrying about issues of scalability. Every day, we get new clients coming in. The standard for quality of work at Moravia Health is high. We have a good name in the community. But there’s a trade-off between numbers and quality. The bigger you grow, the more you run the risk of not having that personal touch for each client. My days are largely spent managing this tension between quality of care, and quantity of patients we service.

With so much responsibility, do you ever get overwhelmed?

You have got to get passionate about what you do. I’m Igbo. In our culture, we talk in parables, stories, and clichés. Here’s one: When you do something that you love, there’s no difference between work and play. Moravia Health is not a job for me. I love going to work. I love what I do. It’s fun.

That’s the environment I try to foster in the office. If you don’t love what you do, you can’t work here. I can often tell early in the process individuals who will contribute positively to the business, and I tell them to take a few weeks to get a true feel for the company. Figure out if the position you are hired for is the right fit for you. If it isn’t, let’s try to put you in another position that suits you better. I try to fit people where they belong, instead of trying to put square pegs in round holes. When you do that, people love coming to work.

A lot of what you’re saying about motivating a team reminds me of the Fels Performance Management class. Would you say that you spend much of your time now on performance management?

Absolutely. Every day, our people deliver presentations to potential clients. We measure the calls that come in, and the number of clients that we enroll. But we also measure turnover. How many people do we lose? Our turnover the last two, three years has been virtually zero. Every time we give a presentation, we end it by saying, “Don’t believe anything we just told you, give us a month, and then you decide for yourself.”

We also actively measure the quality of service we deliver. Every 30 days, our nurses and director of human relations make calls to the houses to find out what we can do better. Do our clients like the service they’re getting? In addition to the calls, one of our nurses will go to the home and visit with the client in-person every 60 days, to lay eyes on the client, and document what is working, and how we can constantly improve service.

I think our quality of service in Philadelphia is unmatched.

Do you have any words of advice for current students?

There is an old saying that goes, “Do well by doing good.”

As I said earlier, I had a winding, nontraditional path of self-discovery on the way to Moravia Health. My first few years, post-graduation, were spent doing business management consulting. Although those years were financially rewarding, they were personally unfulfilling. My days were spent thinking “If I die tomorrow, and all my tombstone read was ‘He helped billionaire companies save another few million in costs’, is that how I want to be remembered?” The answer was a resounding NO.

Now there are people who would love that life, and more power to them, but you have got to understand what makes you tick. As for me, I love knowing that I am having an immediate impact on the lives of the elderly and vulnerable within my community. I love living a life of service.

Here’s one last cliché: “Knowledge of other people is wisdom, but knowledge of yourself is enlightenment.” With that in mind, interrogate yourself, especially in the waking moments of the day, before you are aware enough to censor your thoughts. Pay attention to your first thought. If it’s ‘Damn, I have to go to work again’ then you’re probably in the wrong job. But if you jump out of bed, ready to tackle the day, then odds are that you’re on the right path.

Life is too short to just exist…you must live.

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326

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