An original IPPSter gives back: James Hudak’s gift establishes a named professorship in health policy

November 8, 2019

“I want to use my money, not to change my lifestyle, but to change the world,” says James Hudak, MPP ’71. “And I believe that education is the way.”

“Most Ford School graduates work in the public sector,” Hudak continues, “and do not make a lot of money. I happened to do well in the private sector, so I wanted to give to the Ford School.”

Hudak has done many good things for the Ford School, including student and faculty support and a recent gift to WeListen, a student group that facilitates dialogue across the political spectrum. Hudak has also served on the Ford School Committee literally longer than he can remember, including more than 20 years as chair. He was instrumental in the Ford School’s raising $47 million as part of U-M’s recent Victors for Michigan campaign. Michael Barr, the School’s Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy, calls Hudak “a great and wonderful friend to the School.”

Paula Lantz

Our friend is now doing yet another good thing: establishing the James B. Hudak Professorship in Health Policy here at the school. The inaugural Hudak Professor is social demographer and associate dean Paula Lantz.

For Hudak, the drive to help the disadvantaged began more than 50 years ago, when he watched a city burn.

In 1967, Hudak came home to Ohio from Yale, looking for a summer job. A Chrysler plant in Detroit hired him as a water pump inspector, but uprisings in the city that summer closed the plant. “I watched Detroit burn,” he recalls. “I thought, someone has to do something about our cities.

Back at Yale, Hudak saw a poster: “Do you want to solve impossible public policy issues?” The ad was for a new master’s program at the University of Michigan. This was what Hudak wanted to do. He came to Ann Arbor with his wife and their new baby in the fall of 1969; a HUD Fellowship helped with tuition and provided a stipend. “The Master of Public Policy was brand new,” Hudak remembers. “We all wanted to go out and solve big problems. We have all had positive careers in public service, consulting, or teaching. We have made a difference in the world.” (This year of course marks the silver anniversary of that first MPP class’s entrance into the school.)

Hudak’s first jobs did indeed involve cities. He did an internship with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments about problems in Detroit, and later, as a consultant, tackled a strategic plan for Detroit, when Coleman Young was mayor. “Detroit is one of the most segregated cities in the country,” Hudak says. “Racism is rearing its ugly head in a big way now, but the issue has always been with us. The problems in center cities are as bad as or worse than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Hudak also worked internationally, including on a Japanese-Australian study to create a city of the future. In South Africa, he helped envision what the country’s post-apartheid urban future might look like. He returned to the United States in 1989. “Thirty-seven states were in deficit,” he remembers. “They had no money for what I did.”

But Andersen Consulting took him on to work with their health care clients. “They figured, here’s a guy who worked with Japan and Australia, maybe he can do something with doctors.” It turned out he could.

Pathologists at Kaiser Permanente had fought for years over doing lab tests locally but expensively, or sending them away, losing time but saving money. No one had thought of Hudak’s solution: if results were needed right away, get them locally; do everything else regionally. “This is a good example of using my public sector skills in the private sector,” Hudak says. “Thus, I started my health care career!” Six years later, Hudak was Global Managing Partner for Andersen’s Health Care Practice. His education at U-M helped.

“One of the great strengths of Ford,” he points out, “is you learn basic business analysis and how to deal in a complex political environment. A public policy degree equips you for both the public and private sectors and for going back and forth between them. I would encourage undergrads today to consider a public policy education to equip themselves for the complex future we face.”

Hudak subsequently held positions at UnitedHealth Group, CRC Health Group, and as Chairman and CEO of California-based Paradigm Management Services. “I can’t hold a job!” he jokes. “But I have a strong desire to make a difference in the world.”

“Paradigm was able to get vastly superior outcomes for badly injured workers and reduce lifetime costs by 40 percent. This showed me that the American health care system could be better. Health care in the U.S. is more expensive than anywhere else,” he declares, “but with some of the worst outcomes. I thought the best way to make an impact on the field would be through a professorship in health policy at Ford. Moreover, Paula is a tremendous scholar and teacher. She is all about improving outcomes for disadvantaged populations.”

Says Lantz, “I am thrilled to be honored in this way. Jim and I have both dedicated our careers to defining policies and other interventions to make health care more affordable and to address the disparities we have by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geography. Jim will be a great expert who can help with my research.”

Given Jim Hudak’s energy and dedication to service, one might wonder, is he really retiring? Well, not quite. He has just become treasurer-tax collector for the County of Napa, CA, where he lives. “It is telling of Jim’s commitment and values that he is back in the public sector,” says Dean Barr. Jim Hudak himself says, “Once again, I am finding it fun switching between the private and public sectors—given the kind of education I received at Ford!”

Below is a printed version of this edition of State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View previous editions.