Annual Breakfast Series gives an intimate ‘View’ inside the life of Donna Shalala


Donna Shalala

Arriving bright and early at 8 a.m. inside the intimately elegant Forge Restaurant, 60 University of Miami alumnae and public health policy aficionados were in for a morning treat on Wednesday, October 17th . UM President and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala was the featured speaker at this year’s highly-anticipated “Breakfast with a View” series, hosted by the Women’s Business Council of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Finvarb Group.

Dr. Shalala enthralled guests with personal stories of her many years serving under the Clinton administration and working with top academic institutions across the United States. Modeled after the popular television show “The View,” the event’s warm conversationalstyle format allowed for an up-close-and-personal session with one of South Florida’s most revered public figures. Dr. Shalala delved into her years of experience with unique students, the Clintons, serving in the Peace Corp, graduate school, balancing family and work life, and being a vital part of the women’s movement.

Despite her achievements, Dr. Shalala insists “I was lucky enough to start my career in New York, so I had that New York- D.C. connection. It wasn’t a planned career; it was really opportunities and friendships, interpersonal skills and willingness to take risks.” She attributes her success to the emergence of the women’s movement and her large Lebanese family: growing up with 11 siblings, including a twin, her impressive extended family gave her the social and teamwork skills to thrive in often chaotic, high-stress environments.

A testament to her spontaneity and love for her students, one story stood out above the rest: last spring, former president and colleague Bill Clinton made a surprise appearance in her Policy and Economics of Health Care class at the University of Miami campus as an impromptu President’s Day treat. She had asked the President to come meet her 350 students before the two went to dinner during his trip to Miami; he ended up teaching the entire two hour class!

Regarding the University of Miami’s recent move into the top national college rankings, she said “I see Miami on its way up; I saw it 10 years ago, and what it needed was the self confidence that great cities have and it needed first class, world class institutionswhether it’s the Arsht Center, the museums coming up, FIU, other universities, or UM…world-class institutions anchor you to the community and supporting these institutions becomes important to the identity of the community.” She explained the importance of wellrun education campaigns by telling of the University of Miami’s success in raising more than $1.4 billion; currently, they are three years into a $1.6 billion campaign called Momentum II, which has already raised $1 billion and is going to finish way ahead of schedule.

“Here’s how you raise money: find out what people are interested in, listen very carefully and tell them stories, and tie the moneyraising to metrics…that is, we can demonstrate how $1.4 billion helped raise us to top rankings,” she said. “You have to ask! Most people are afraid to ask- if you ask for too little, you will be in trouble forever.”

She emphasized the vital importance of enhancing UM’s medical school, citing the need for state-of-the- art research facilities and doctors that will provide Miami and South Florida with one of the greatest world-class medical centers, preventing people from “flying over us” to be treated at John Hopkins, Mayo, or the Cleveland Clinic. “We deserve it,” she proclaimed.

“President Shalala was certainly one of the most inspirational women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting,” said interviewer and author Ellen Brazer. “With humor and charm she enchanted all of us. President Shalala is proof that one person with fortitude and vision can and does change the world.” Brazer was joined by fellow interviewers Michelle Villalobos of MiVista Sales and Marketing Training, Consulting and Speaking and DeAnne Connolly-Graham, Chair of the Women’s Business Council.

“We were thrilled to have Dr. Shalala as our guest,” Connolly-Graham added. “Her innovative leadership and determined commitment to the University of Miami have made her an icon in our community, and we were honored to have the opportunity to hear her reflections and insights.”

Dr. Shalala’s parting advice? Do not be afraid to make mistakes, as one cannot succeed at complicated jobs unless they are willing to fail, and maintain a balanced life- not merely for oneself, but for surrounding colleagues as well. “A President hires you for your judgment, not your stamina. You must be rested to have good judgment!”

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