Nancy Leidelmeijer - Co-founder - My Story
Born in Los Angeles, California to Dutch Indonesian parents who moved our family back to The Netherlands when I was eight, I spent several years after high school kind of directionless. I started school in Los Angeles County, but, speaking no Dutch at the time, was made to repeat a grade when we moved to The Netherlands. That put me a year behind my peers. I was unfocused, unmotivated, and done with high school, I was positive I was never setting foot in a school again.
After high school, I moved back to the states, drifting from one adventure to another depending on where the wind and friends took me. While wandering, I took what jobs I could – mostly retail – but I even learned to drive a truck. Things went on like this until one day, while bagging oats at an organic food warehouse, I had the thought, “I’m bagging oats! I mean, they’re organic and all, but still…! I’m going to be 30 soon and I’m bagging oats! I need to do something with my life!” I was actually only 24 at the time, but a sense of urgency was starting to set in.
I started taking college classes with no idea what I wanted to study. I declared a sociology major at some point but did not enjoy my sociology classes. Finally, I dropped the major, with my advisor remarking that I was the first student she’d known to drop a major with an A average. “Thanks,” I said, “…but my heart isn’t in it.”
I switched to accounting. Finally, after college in Santa Rosa in 1992, I quit my oat-bagging job, packed my car, and headed back to Ventura County determined to start the next chapter of my life where it all began. I checked into a Motel 6, called an employment agency, and started heading out on interviews. One week and two interviews later, I had two choices – a steel tubing company, very corporate and very stuffy – or an extra-help position at Ventura County Public Health. While the county job was temporary, which meant I’d be out job-hunting again in a year, the fact that the interview at the county wasn’t really an interview factored considerably into my decision. The interview at the steel tubing company had been stuffy and formal. I felt awkward, anxious, and completely shocked when I got the call offering me the job.
The county interview, on the other hand, went something like this: I walked into Rod White’s office, noticed his pictures of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and said, “I like your pictures,” which led to a two-hour conversation about politics, at the end of which Rod said, “So, about this job… can you start on Monday?”
Now, number crunching is what it is, but what I found fascinating at the county job was the department in which I worked. Public Health, with its nurses and outreach programs, was just the kind of touchy-feely thing I could get into.
Toward the end of my stint at Ventura, Rod, sorry to lose me but with no permanent position to offer, mentioned that there was another temporary position at the county, but at the medical center. I took it, but it was not the same. I missed Public Health.
After a couple of weeks at the medical center, I ran into Connie, a woman I’d known from the Public Health position. She told me to come by because she had something to give me. It was a recruitment paper for a position in the Santa Barbara County Public Health department. Yes! But my excitement quickly fizzled when I realized the application deadline had expired. I had just missed it. Desperate, I called the Human Resources number on the paper and explained that I’d only just heard about the position. As it turned out, the deadline had been extended by a week, but, “today is the last day.” I jumped into my car and raced up to Santa Barbara, hoping that the traffic gods were on my side. An hour later, I was filling out the application.
I was invited to take the test for the paraprofessional accounting tech position. Silly me, I showed up at 8:00 a.m. on the day of the exam thinking I was the only one invited. As I watched hordes of people exiting the auditorium where the test was administered, I realized I was one of – sheesh, I had no idea how many. My group entered. I sat down, opened the exam booklet, and felt like I got punched in the stomach. “Wait, what? This is… this is like a college exam!” I wasn’t expecting to have to think. I’d been doing this job for a year now. I expected to breeze through the test. Between the horde of others taking the exam and the difficulty of the questions staring up at me from the booklet, I choked. After 15 minutes, I told myself, “You’re here. You can walk out or try. Just do it.” I took a deep breath and began.
We had been allotted two hours for the exam. I was the first person to walk up and hand mine in. The proctor said, “Are you sure? You have another hour.” I knew I was as done as I was going to be. “I’m sure,” I replied and walked out.
I received a letter telling me that I’d passed the test. Woohoo! I was in “standing 1.” What did that mean? I decided to call and ask. “Well, only three people placed in standing 1. And you’re number one of the three. You got a 98.7 percent.” I was at the top of the list. Now I really said, “WOOHOO!!”
I interviewed with Suzanne Jacobson, the woman who would be my boss and my mentor for the next 23 years. The first thing she said to me was, “First, let me congratulate you. It was a hard test.” Seriously.
Over the years, I learned a lot from Suzanne, but one thing stuck out. Suzanne said, “If you’re going to be a good accountant, you have to learn your business.” Suzanne’s feeling was that there is a tremendous disconnect in Public Health between the fiscal people and the program people. She encouraged me to go out and meet the nurses, social workers and case workers. It was the best advice I ever got. Meeting the nurses, the programs managers, learning about the clients – the mothers and children – really understanding from the ground up the contribution we in the field of Public Health were making made me hungry to do my job well. Understanding how the numbers I crunched made it possible for the nurses, case workers, and program managers to touch more lives ignited in me a passion to do my job well.
Another thing Suzanne said was, “This job will be as big as you can grow it.” She didn’t need to tell me twice. I didn’t want to be just an accountant. I wanted to be an expert in my field. Learning as much as I could, I eventually became the program manager for the Targeted Case Management program, in addition to conducting my regular accounting functions.
One of the highlights of my career at Santa Barbara was being invited to join a team tasked with creating an electronic case management system for our county. The team included information technology experts, nurses, case managers, program managers, and me, the fiscal expert and the manager of a major case management program. It was my job to ensure compliance with state and federal tenets, while we all committed to developing a system that would documentation as streamlined and user-friendly as possible. The finished product, while dated at this point, continues to service Santa Barbara County nurses and case managers to this day.
As the years went on, I had the opportunity to serve on several statewide committees and workgroups. I taught many seminars at the various conferences held each year, teaching everything from financial reporting and audit compliance. People from counties throughout the state started asking for my help. Of course, if I could assist other counties in better serving their clients while ensuring compliance, I was happy to do so. I started consulting on the side nights and weekends. Eventually, the demand was simply too much. I had to make a choice. Either stay in my comfortable day job, which I could do in my sleep after 23 years or venture out on my own and spread my hard-earned wealth of knowledge as far and wide as I could. It was a little scary, but it was also kind of like that moment when I was taking the test 23 years earlier – I could let fear paralyze me or take a deep breath and just do it. And I did.
Through a mutual client, Todd Mueller and I were introduced. Todd had built Ventura County’s electronic case management system. That system earned Ventura 100% compliance during a recent state audit. This piqued my interest in forming a potential partnership to develop a state-of-the-art electronic case management system that could be a game changer. One of the most popular electronic case management systems being used by counties is using antiquated technology and was anything but user-friendly. Todd and I both wanted to create a system that was developed using the latest technology, user-friendly, and 100% compliant across multiple federal and state case management programs. Together we’ve achieved just that.
I think back now to that pivotal moment in my life when I had two choices – a corporate job in a for-profit company where the size of my benefits package would have been my only real reward – or the touchy-feely world of Public Health, a world that, if one feels passion for it, will be rewarding every day knowing the effort has made a difference in the lives of others. So many people who inhabit the world of Public Health have that passion and inspired it in me. It’s a passion that has lasted over 25 years, and I don’t see it dying any time soon.