Donna Galluzzo

Dialogue with an Adventist home care business executive

The announcement came in the mail as a nondescript postcard. Mark Finley, the world-renowned evangelist, was coming to town to hold an evangelistic series on Bible prophecy. That postcard, and the ensuing events, changed Donna Galluzzo’s life for good. Donna was one of seven siblings in a Catholic family. Her mother was a religious person, and when she read the postcard announcement, she was determined to attend Finley’s lectures.

The family was fascinated by what the Bible had to say about the future. After one year of study, some of the family members, including Donna, were baptized. Donna was 16 years old and a sophomore in high school.

When she was ready for college, she chose Atlantic Union College, the closest Adventist school to her home in Meriden, Connecticut, but she later transferred to Loma Linda University (LLU) in California, where she completed a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics and became a registered dietitian. While working in a hospital setting, Donna obtained a Master of Science in nutrition. Later she moved east to complete a Doctor of Philosophy in nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut, having obtained the first doctoral fellowship offered by Novo Industri A/S, a European pharmaceutical company. Since then she has built on her academic foundation, professional values, and Christian commitment to achieve a strong reputation in the business of home care, and remained on the defining edge of her profession. Donna is married and shares with her husband the joyous journey they have travelled, full of twists and turns, and unexpected opportunities and challenges.

One such fork in the road proved critical. Instead of taking the teaching opportunity offered to her upon graduation, Donna chose to go into business temporarily so she could have more flexibility in her schedule to raise their children. The opportunity came in the form of turning around a failing home care business. She not only turned it around, but also made it a successful statewide venture that grew from a handful of employees to more than 1,100 employees. Eventually, she merged that home care agency into one of the largest not-for-profit home care systems in the nation. Today she is known around the country as a dynamic visionary and an effective CEO in the home care industry.

Donna is married to Gianfranco Galluzzo, an attorney, and they have three young adult children — all in college preparing for careers of their own.

Dr. Galluzzo, how did Adventist education impact your career?

During my years at LLU, my philosophy of life, my commitment to God, and my choice of a career began to crystallize. I intentionally chose to live my life on two basic principles — bring honor to my Lord through my work and to live in a state of gratefulness and appreciation. Academically, the Adventist way of life led me to choose nutrition, as it was a relatively young science and research was continuing to unfold. The university’s atmosphere was challenging and wholistic: while it aimed for academic excellence, it dared students to reach for the best in worship and service, in thanksgiving and thanks living. The Adventist-ness at the university challenged students to make significant decisions about major areas of their lives within the parameters of what God would have us do. Unlike most learning centers, LLU, with its Christ-centered core, encouraged me to reflect those ideals in my faith, life, and work.

Along the Loma Linda journey, I was fortunate in having professors who were interested not only in my studies, but also in my life and faith. Among them were two key mentors: Drs. Kathleen Zolber and Georgia Hodgkin. They led by example, giving me a vision for a bright future and the courage to continue when difficult situations threatened to derail my progress. LLU taught me much more than nutrition, my chosen profession. It taught me to use my career as a tool to create rainbows in the lives of others by reflecting God’s love, much the way a prism produces rainbows on the wall when light shines through it. And while working in the health care field, the Adventist fire that was nurtured at LLU gave me the opportunity to look beyond helping others solely with their physical health. For me, it was about “making man whole — mind, body and spirit.”

Following your master’s degree, you earned a doctorate studying lipids (fats). What career did that lead you into?

I was offered the chance to join the teaching faculty at a university. Instead, I chose to go into business temporarily, so I could have some flexibility in my schedule to raise our children. The opportunity came to turn around a failing home care business. It was a decision that changed my professional career to that of being a serial entrepreneur. At first I found myself in unfamiliar terrain, but the prospect of traveling on a new path excited me. I accepted the challenge of running a business. Again, mentors proved invaluable — chief among them being my incredibly supportive husband and business colleagues in an organization called Young Presidents Organization. I became like a sponge soaking up the newness of the world of business and was determined to learn from those around me.

Interestingly, God gave me one of my greatest lessons through the actions of my youngest son. To me, problems are really our opportunities. One day, sitting in the office, all I could see were problems. It seemed that all my financial reserves were gone, I didn’t have a clue about which way to turn, and I was discouraged. There were 1,100 employees and thousands of patients depending on the company, and I, as its owner and CEO, was stumped. I went home to cook supper and gave my son a maze to keep him occupied for a good stretch of time. To my dismay, he completed it within minutes. When I asked him how he finished so quickly, he turned the paper upside down and pointed to the end, indicating he started at that point. It was an aha moment for me: be clear about your end-point, and map out your route to the starting point.

How has your business and influence grown through the years?

Over the years, and as market opportunities arose, my work branched out from being a home care agency to establishing multiple businesses, including: joint ventures with various hospitals; an outsourced billing organization that processes millions of claims annually; a case management/care transition company that managed over two million lives throughout the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii; and a consulting company that assists health care providers with their strategic and operational needs, including areas such as new technologies, mergers, acquisitions, compliance, and innovative educational programs to address market opportunities. In addition, I serve on multiple nonprofit and for-profit boards, both within and outside of health care. Through my work, I have had the privilege of traveling to distant lands and meeting with presidents, queens, princes, the famous, and the influential. But, and much more importantly, this unlikely career path has given me an opportunity to touch the lives of those around me who may be sick or poor or in need.

As a leader, to what do you attribute your professional and managerial success?

Leadership positions came my way, not because I was a born leader, but because there was a need and I, as inadequately equipped as I was, accepted the responsibility, trusting the enabling power of God’s grace, and moved forward in faith. Regardless of the outcome, I have learned not to be elated with success or dejected by failure. Instead, I use those results as a lesson for character development and for walking closer to my Lord. With an honest inventory of my strengths and weaknesses, I have been able to hire individuals that complement me and round out a team. Giving talented people tools with which to perform their jobs was also an important strategy. I am always amazed at what a group of committed, determined individuals can do if they have a mission and a vision for service, for living their faith through their careers. Creating a high-performing team, where the whole is better than the part, is one of my greatest professional joys.

We all have dreams of what our careers will be. What were yours?

Regardless of what I ended up doing, my vision has always been to influence others positively, by reflecting my spiritual and faith philosophy. As a business owner and with that focus, I help establish a corporate culture and have been able to integrate many values and activities, strategically and tactically. Thus I can help my employees develop wholisticaly, including that important dimension of spiritual growth and consciousness. For example, I encourage clusters of employees to meet together to pray or share a devotional thought. Personally, one practice that has outweighed all others is the observance of the Sabbath. For most of my adult life, I have toiled a minimum of sixty hours a week, but the one shining and immovable commitment during all these years has been to remember the Sabbath day. It is a practice that has been paramount to maintaining or, at times, regaining my balance and worldview. It allows me to commit and remember my dedication to honor God with my being and my doing. That, in a way, is the core of my dream.

In your life, you have accomplished much: served many U.S. presidents, brought about changes in U.S. health care, organized first-class home health care, built orphanages and schools around the world, served on the boards of major companies. What does the future hold for you?

I am not sure what the future holds for me, but I know who holds the future. That’s a most important and basic principle in life. If one knows and one is committed to the principle that God holds the future, one can live in the sunshine of that hope. There is nothing to fear, except that we forget what God has done in the past. While I am not sure how God will use my time, talents, and skills, I do know that I want to honor Him in my life and that I want to do it in a way that brings well-being to others. To that end, I continue to be surprised with the people and opportunities that come my way. I do look forward to what God has in store in the future and what He will do to create my history.

What counsel would you give to young people who are still in the valley of decision about their life and career?

Three suggestions. First, make sure that God is the center of your life. A life yielded to God fully and unreservedly cannot fail; it can only find enormous source of strength. Second, be close to Him in prayer and study of His word. There you find strength and wisdom to live. Third, take the message of the Sabbath seriously, not only as a day of spiritual rest and regeneration, but also as God’s invitation to participate in life with creativity and enthusiasm, humbly encouraging others in your sphere of influence to do the same.

Georgia Hodgkin, Ed.D., RD, FADA, professor and associate chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics, School of Allied Health Professions, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, USA.

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