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Pepperdine | Graziadio Business School

Elizabeth Vilardo, MBA '99

Graziadio Spotlight Stories

Elizabeth Vilardo

Why did you choose to get your MBA at Pepperdine?

I was the Chairman of the Board of our medical group and we were having some significant strategic issues which I was discussing with a patient – actually during an exam - and my patient said, "you need to go to business school at Pepperdine." I was intrigued by his recommendation and it turns out that Pepperdine fit my needs perfectly, both in terms of the time commitment and where I was in my career at the time.

Describe your MBA experience at the Pepperdine Graziadio.

Getting my MBA at the Graziadio School was one of the best experiences I've ever had in regards to personal growth and the student experience. I loved forming new relationships with other leaders and working through problems together. It was fascinating working with other professionals who were in very different industries than me, but faced very similar business challenges. Pepperdine Graziadio has programs that are suited to varying levels of experience which was important to me because not everyone pursuing their MBA is in the same stage of their career.

I also loved that Pepperdine teaches students about the concept of public good – that corporations have a responsibility not only to their shareholders, but to their employees, to the environment, and the community in which they operate. This commitment to the "whole" is unique. I think that anyone who is interested in pursuing their MBA should consider Pepperdine. In addition, Graziadio knows that students are its customers, and as a result the school is very responsive and designs the curriculum, research, projects, as well as internship and mentoring programs with the student in mind. In terms of my education, when compared to other schools (and I have attended many) I had the best student experience at Pepperdine.

How are medicine and business similar?

As a physician you are charged with learning about your patients' symptoms, prior health, family history, as well as the environment they live and work in. Once you know the entirety of the problem you can determine the diagnosis and devise a plan. It is the same thing in business. In business school you are taught to collect all of the information, analyze the findings and come up a solution. I think that the rigorous coursework and methodical thinking taught in business school fits very well with medicine.

How has your MBA helped you in your career?

Getting my MBA taught me to think more holistically and gave me a framework for dealing with business issues. You may not be aware, but in general doctors think we know everything - at Pepperdine I learned that there actually is an entire separate science to business. Working with students from different backgrounds – both personal and professional – taught me to look at a problem from multiple angles and to approach finding a solution from a broader lens.

What is the biggest challenge of running an organization that has 1,500 affiliated physicians, 5,000 employees, and serves nearly one million patients?

One of the biggest challenges I face as CEO of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation is communication, especially internal communication. I've learned that if my message is not clear I am not going to get buy-in, so I really strive to make sure that I communicate why we are doing things not just that we are doing them. This applies to communication with my staff and colleagues as well as patients. A good example is if you say to a patient you need to lose weight all they hear is "I'm fat," but if you say "I care about your health and I think exercise is an important way to become healthier. If you exercise your blood pressure will go down, your blood sugar levels will improve, and you will lose weight." Chances are you will achieve the same (or a better) outcome, it's just that you took a different approach and you gave them the why. The same thing is true in business. It's critical that we are communicating in a way that connects to what motivates and inspires people.

You were named a "Top Doc" by San Francisco Magazine four times – that is quite an honor. Which of your skills, attributes, or successes do you think contributed to you receiving this awarded so many times?

I was one of the first female physicians in leadership and I think a large part of my professional success has been because I was an extreme extrovert and I am able to connect with people. You have to have superior technical skills to move up the career ladder, but in order to be an effective leader you have to know how to connect with and relate to other people.

About Elizabeth Vilardo, MD

Elizabeth (“Lizz”) Vilardo, M.D., became chief executive officer for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) in September 2015. Dr. Vilardo is an internal medicine physician who has held a series of leadership positions, including serving on the boards of Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and nine years on the board of Sutter Health.

Dr. Vilardo is the fourth CEO of PAMF since the organization was founded in 1930 and the first female CEO. She is an active leader in the community and has served on several nonprofit boards, including Y Silicon Valley, Youth Outside, Women’s Achievement Network and Development Alliance (WANDA), and Healthier Kids. Dr. Vilardo received her M.D. degree from the University of California, San Francisco, and completed her residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Vilardo earned her MBA from the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School in 1999.