The board of directors of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade picked very well with the choice of Michael Dowling as grand marshal for the 2017 parade.
Dowling, 66, a Limerick native, is CEO of Northwell Health, one of the largest employers in New York State.
Janitor or surgeon, every Monday Dowling insists on meeting all the new hires personally and imparting his wisdom to the over 200 new workers hired per week.
He told Irish America magazine about his management philosophy. “You have to be perpetually optimistic. And I always tell employees this – don’t ever say you can’t do something. Everything is possible.
“We have 200-250 new employees every Monday, and I always meet with them. There are usually a lot of young people in the room, and one of the messages is to encourage them that no matter where they are at the moment, no matter what their current situation is, they can end up doing what I’m doing. Because I didn’t expect to be standing in front of them as the CEO of an organization, so one of them can do that too.”
Dowling is considered a true pioneer and innovator in the field of healthcare. Some believe he would be a fitting choice for secretary of health in a Clinton administration, but that discussion is for another day.
Dowling did not reach such an exalted business position by the usual business way. There is no Wharton or Harvard in his background.
Rather he is that rare phenomenon, an emigrant Irishman who arrived penniless from Ireland at age 17 and proceeded to jump at least two generations and work his way to the very top.
He came from tough circumstances in Ireland. His father was ill much of his childhood while his mother was deaf.
The phone calls home were emotional. As Dowling recalled, “My brother would communicate what I was saying to my mother, who was deaf, and I would hear her in the background saying, ‘What did he say? Is he all right?’ That was the hardest.”
Dowling says he was especially driven by a local wealthy farmer he worked for a time with who told him he had no business hoping to get to university with his low station in life.
“After that I said, ‘I’m going to college. I’m going to college. I’m going to college.’ I was determined. Negative things can be the greatest positive motivators. Because if you tell me I can’t do something, that’s when I become determined to get it done,” he said.
Dowling came to New York and proceeded to split the atom in terms of his meteoric progress.
He worked at every job imaginable during the day but at night studied at Fordham University where he soon distinguished himself as one of the brightest minds on campus.
After graduation he went to work academically at the university where his talent came to the notice of future Governor Mario Cuomo.
The son of Italian immigrants who often recalled his shopkeeper father’s feet bleeding from standing so long in their little store had much in common with an emigrant from a tough Irish background himself. Soon Downing was working for the future governor.
When Cuomo was elected governor of New York in 1983, he asked Dowling to come on board as director of health, education and human services.
The way he has propelled Northwell Health has been little short of astonishing. And he’s never forgotten where he came from.
The parade could not have picked better. Dowling is the perfect choice to lead us up Fifth Avenue next March.