If the goal in strategic planning is “to begin with the end in mind,” then few facilities fulfill that ideal better than Nemours Children’s Hospital in Lake Nona. If ever a hospital was built for the patients they served, this jewel in the crown of Orlando’s emerging Medical City would qualify. But great institutions and great physical plants are built with vision and leadership, not brick and mortar. To many, the visionary leader that turned the dream of Nemours Children’s Hospital into a reality was John Lord, though he would be the first to deflect attention to the contributions of others.
The president and CEO of Nemours, Dr. David Bailey, said, “I don’t think we would be where we are today if it weren’t for John.” But that role of promoting and leveraging his talents to advance the quality of life in Central Florida is something Lord has done for decades. As he once said, “Volunteering isn’t an option, it’s an obligation.”
Currently, Lord is Chairman of the Board of the Nemours Foundation, which is the charitable entity that receives annual investment proceeds from the Alfred I. duPont Testamentary Trust. But he came from an inauspicious background and is actually a true native, born and raised in Orlando.
Finding . . . Rather, Making His Niche
Lord didn’t consider himself an academic standout in high school. But a major change came when, “arriving at 4 a.m. at an island resort known as ‘Paris,’ my life was forever altered. The Marines helped me become a young man — it was an unforgettable experience,” Lord reminisced smiling.
After the Marines, he searched for a career where he could support a family. He reflected, “Banking appealed to me, yet I can’t explain why it did.” So he made the rounds to the various institutions, but none showed any real interest since he hadn’t completed his baccalaureate degree. However, a small bank in Winter Park had an opening for an installment loan collector. Lord said, “One of the officers there had the frank opinion that ‘If you wanted to be on the credit side of the industry, you needed to know how to collect a loan before you make one.’”
It was the foot in the door that Lord needed, and one in which he took full advantage of, telling the personnel director, “If you give me a chance, I’ll outwork these college boys.” Which he did by taking every opportunity within the bank and the community to demonstrate his skills and determination. By the time he was 35, Lord was president of the bank. “The guy that owned the bank at the time referred to me as his ‘Horatio Alger story,’” however Lord didn’t think he fit the profile. “If you want to succeed, are willing to put in the work and have just above average intelligence, there is every opportunity,” Lord said. “I always surrounded myself with people who were smarter than I was, and I never let that intimidate me.”
Opportunities for Others
Lord was able to ride the banking merger and acquisition wave of the 80s and 90s all the way to the top, he said, “Not only surviving but thriving.” It was also from that position that he implemented efforts to diversify the leadership in his banks. It was something he took personally, coaching potential executives, many of which occupy positions of prominence today. Retiring in 2000 from Bank of America, as the Orlando-area market president and small business/premier banking executive for the State of Florida, he then moved into what Lord considers the most important mission of his life.
Lord served on countless charitable and corporate boards and became involved with Nemours as a representative of the former corporate trustee, NationsBank, and as a member of Nemours Board of Managers. With his connections in this community he carried the flag as Nemours met stiff resistance to building a hospital in Orlando. Lord explained, “The fear was that we would cannibalize the skilled pediatric staff in other area hospitals or duplicate their services, but the opposite has happened. We are additive to existing services, offering care that children used to have to travel to get. Also, we have recruited from physicians from outside our area that bring skill sets and training that didn’t exist in this market.”
One of the recruits was Dr. Steven Frick, a nationally-known surgeon and one of the most outstanding in his field. He met with Lord and expressed reservations about leaving his position with Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Lord simply gave him a blank pad of paper and said, “Describe your ideal department, and we’ll build it around you.” Frick is currently the chair of the Department of Orthopedics at Nemours.
Lord concluded, “Even the resistance we met worked for good. We would have been in a different location, instead of the Medical City, and we would have built at the height of the building boom.” Not surprising, as Lord has spent a lifetime turning the improbable into opportunity.