By Jon Schwalbach
Michael Powers became Ventura County’s County Executive Officer in April of 2011. As our county’s CEO, Powers oversees a budget of $1.7 billion and more than 8,000 employees in 27 agencies and departments.
This Ventura native and Ventura High alumnus received his undergraduate degree in Economics and Business from the University of California, Los Angeles. Like many of this magazine’s readers, Powers proceeded to obtain his law degree. After graduating from Loyola Law School in 1989 Powers returned to Ventura to start his legal career. He began as an associate at Nordman, Cormany, Hair & Compton, where he predominantly handled real estate and commercial litigation disputes. Powers then served in the County Counsel’s office, where he was able to work on environmental law, construction law, and a wide range of other complex issues. While with the County Counsel, Powers first became familiar with health care issues. At this point he realized that he loved the legal profession, but he also loved the mission of the health care system.
Powers developed a passion for health care and transitioned to eventually become the director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency. He is extremely proud of the access to and quality of health care in Ventura County. While with the VCHCA, Powers admired the strength of the commitment of the individuals he worked with. Powers has strived to mirror that commitment in his role as CEO.
Legal experience has benefited Powers in his role as CEO, he says, because it has helped him to analyze difficult situations and communicate as an advocate for the County system.
“My legal background has helped me build analytical skills to identify the key issues of a project or opportunity and the importance of being organized and prepared,” Powers says. “In that same sense, it has helped me in communication to be sure to get to the heart of the point or points you need to make.” Powers also says that the broad spectrum of issues and experiences he had as an attorney have helped him approach and solve problems.
“The background also helps of course in those operational areas where laws play a big role, such as contracts, property, human resources, risk management, and complex regulatory areas and general business transactions,” he says. “I have also found that just having litigated influences the way you approach problems and disputes.” Powers credits his legal background for providing him with invaluable opportunities to practice relationship-building and partnerships. Although being a lawyer certainly can have its contentious moments, Powers found that actively seeking opportunities to cooperate with others was more productive. “My legal background has helped me understand the importance of finding common ground as a way to build partnerships,” Powers says. “Some say it’s not personal, it’s business. But I have always believed all business is personal – it’s about relationships. To build partnerships, especially where there may be disagreements, it is important to keep an open mind and try to understand all sides of an issue and to develop trust. You might not always agree, but it is important to avoid conflict where possible and to try to reach agreement and get things done.”
I asked Powers what aspect of his job he enjoyed the most. Without hesitation, Powers said, “the people I work with.” He clarified that since becoming CEO of the county, he has come to admire the caliber of people who work for the county and the collaborative efforts among the various organizations in the county.
“Our people go above and beyond, because it’s not just a job for them,” Powers said. He has been amazed at how county employees are able to take limited resources and use them to do good in the community. While Powers acknowledges that these are difficult economic times and that the demand for county services is at its highest, he remains confident that the people of this county will get the help they need because of the tireless efforts of county employees.
When he is not working as our county’s CEO, Powers can be found playing tennis, surfing, and spending time with his wife, Erin, and their two young sons, 3-year-old Charlie and 1-year-old Zacky. As a new dad, Powers finds himself unabashedly incorporating his kids into many of his presentations and speeches. He is currently teaching Charlie how to swim. Like his father, Charlie has taken a liking to the water. Powers has come to admire the fearless attitude his son displays when he jumps into the water, even if the pool is an unfamiliar and challenging new domain for him. Powers believes that he and other county employees will need that same gusto to lead the county through its future obstacles. Having county employees with such sincere enthusiasm for serving the public, Powers is confident that the county is ready to face any new challenges.
Jon Schwalbach was an associate at Ferguson Case Orr Paterson LLP until commuting from Los Angeles got the better of him. He is now an associate at Reback, McAndres, Kjar, Warford & Stockalper, LLP in Manhattan Beach, where handles malpractice litigation.