A bit of sage advice went a long way for California State University, Dominguez Hills alumnus Steven Moreau (Class of ’80, M.S., clinical science: medical technology) when it came to navigating a career that has evolved from being a microbiologist in a clinical laboratory to the president and chief executive officer at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.
It was something his late father would often tell him: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it. And it doesn’t matter which path you take because what you do is you make the most of whatever path you choose.”
This has been a guiding principle throughout Moreau’s life.
Even as an undergraduate student without much direction, Moreau knew education would lead the way.
“I had no idea of what I was going to do and I had no aspirations of what I was going to be,” Moreau recalled. “When I was at Cal State Fullerton, I took a microbiology class and it was the first class I got an A in, and I said, ‘this must be something.’”
After transferring from CSU Fullerton he earned a bachelor’s from San Diego State University.
“What am I going to do with a degree in microbiology?” he recalled asking himself.
He decided the best application was to work in a hospital setting in a microbiology laboratory or clinical lab. That was his first path. So he completed his internship training and took a job in a lab.
“I was the only employee in the clinical lab on the night shift at San Diego Hospital, with 300 beds. And I had to do everything from run to the emergency room, draw blood, run to the nursery, do baby heel sticks, blood gases, I had to do cross-matching blood for emergencies, and run to the critical care unit—all one my own,” he said.
Within a year, he went on to become the microbiology lab supervisor at Hemet Valley Hospital, and two years later the clinical lab director. But while reviewing regulations for an impending state inspection, he learned that the state required clinical lab directors to have six years of experience or a master’s degree.
Moreau recalled telling the hospital CEO, “I think we have a problem, you just made me the lab director and I don’t meet the California state law.”
Luckily, there was a simple solution: On every shift, appoint someone who did meet the state requirements.
But moving forward Moreau knew he would need a master’s degree, so he enrolled in a CSU Dominguez Hills satellite program in medical technology offered at the time at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Loma Linda, commuting from Hemet a couple evenings and a weekend day each week for two years to earn his master’s in medical technology with a focus on management.
“It was an incredible experience for me. Having that program close enough that I could drive to enabled me to begin, what turned out to be, a life-long commitment to learning. I didn’t have the skills I needed, I gained those skills and gained a degree of confidence by learning with the people in my class and with the instruction I had,” he said. “I knew that learning was the key to growing.”
Education was also key in making the transition from clinical lab management to hospital administrator.
To accommodate his wife, Anne, who after their three children were born went back to nursing school in Riverside, Moreau took a position as lab director at Riverside Community hospital in 1982. An opportunity arose to become an administrator for the hospital.
“For the second time in a row, I was asked by the administrator to step into a bigger role to manage more people and more resources, but both times, I needed to get an advanced degree,” Moreau recalled.
With an MBA from the University of Redlands under his belt, he was promoted to vice president in the late 1980s. Next came his first assignment as a CEO, opening an acute rehabilitation hospital in Bakersfield.
“Both times that I went back to get a master’s degree, I was applying what I was learning every single day. Whether it was a research program or management classes, either way …I was applying it,” Moreau said.
With a combination of executive management and clinical skills he was the perfect choice for his next move to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, where he would lead the development of Hoag’s five centers of excellence in cancer, heart and vascular, women’s services, orthopedics, and neurosciences, growing the hospital’s regional presence.
“At a time when everybody else was going into managed care, I was given the opportunity to build big programs and to help build the reputation for quality at Hoag,” Moreau said.
After three years, Moreau became Hoag’s chief operating officer, a role left vacant by Larry Ainsworth who had recruited and hired him in 1991 and left to be the CEO at St. Joseph Hospital. Moreau remained among the top brass at Hoag for another 11 years.
Moreau admitted he had his eye on the CEO spot at Hoag, but with the hospital’s shifting strategies, he instead seized an opportunity—and the challenge—to serve as president and CEO at San Antonio Community Hospital, a faltering 300-bed facility in Upland. Within three years under his leadership, the hospital was rated by Thomson Reuters among the top one hundred in the nation.
“Being the CEO …helping to rejuvenate that organization and building a new team of executives and changing the culture there toward a quality culture, that was probably, if not my best professional experience, close to the top,” he said.
Then in 2010, with the retirement of his mentor, Moreau once again stepped into Ainsworth’s role, this time at St. Joseph Hospital, a 525-bed nonprofit institution, which is part of a 14-hospital network owned and founded by the sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.
“I love the values of St. Joe’s. It’s an incredibly strong values-driven organization. The sisters legacy and their presence creates a culture of caring that is unmatched in my view,” the hospital’s CEO said.
The Claremont resident, who spent his early years in Inglewood and was influenced by the free-flowing ‘60s, said he wasn’t particularly interested in going into the business side of things. But he went to college knowing he would find a path.
“Even when I was a microbiologist, even when I was working in a clinical lab, it never even occurred to me that I would ever become a hospital CEO,” Moreau revealed. “…If I would have known that, I would have gotten a business degree in the beginning.”
Even so, his education led him down the path to success.
“I think you gain confidence with competence,” he said of his education.