In a world where people constantly compare themselves to others, Matthew Cook says he relies on his inner compass. “Every advancement I’ve ever attained in my career has always stemmed from me just trying to do the best job I truly can and not analyzing others,” he maintains. Indeed, holding oneself to a higher standard is something the new President of Riley Hospital for Children, states he has always done.
It takes a lot for a person to leap across the country and carve out a new life for themselves, but Matthew Cook says he never looked back. When asked why he took on the role, a job so far from his East Coast roots, he’s quick to toss out a key word: passion. “What struck me immediately about Riley is its passion. Anyone I spoke to, people connected or disconnected to the organization, even people on my flight over for the job interview, they were so positive about the hospital. I was struck by people’s genuine and immense belief in Riley—their passion,” recalls Cook, who was serving as the Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning and Business Development at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) at the time.
While it’s common for the American public to have an affinity for children’s hospitals, Cook says the Riley reactions he experienced meant something more. “It’s not uncommon for people to hold children’s hospitals in high regard, in my experience, that’s the norm. But the reactions I witnessed felt like they were on a higher plane, a level above what I’d heard before. It was inspiring,” he says. Hearing others enthusiasm for the brand only piqued Cook’s interest in the role. “As an outsider you think, I want to be a part of an organization where people have that kind of dedication.”
A strong work ethic is an essential component in any good leader and Cook is no exception. “I learned the importance of hard work from an early age. I grew up in the art business, it was a family business. My parents were art dealers. I would come home from school and then go to right to work to help my family. I think I picked up my work ethic from that experience.”
Cook first relocated to Philadelphia for college, leaving his childhood home on Martha’s Vineyard in the long view. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton’s School of Business, Cook ultimately turned to consulting full-time.
Landing into a leadership role, he says, was initially unintentional. “I’ve always been an individual that felt that I need to do my work and I need to do a good job. I never lobbied for the next step--that just isn’t me,” Cook says. “I was in consulting for a long part of my career and then came to a point where I wanted to make a leap and become a part of a larger organization. I was consulting for CHOP and a role developed that suited my skill sets and needs,” he recalls. “They all knew me at the hospital and we had already worked together so it all came together serendipitously.” Cook spent four years at the facility before accepting his current role at Riley.
On the leadership track, Cook says he learned some lessons quickly: “I found I wasn’t a hierarchal person. I liked connecting with different levels of the organization. I wanted staff to feel like I’m approachable—that they can have a conversation with me. I didn’t want to be squirreled away up in the administration suite, difficult to reach, never to be seen,” he says. “As leader, I strongly believe in accessibility and transparency.”
The happiness and success of his staff has always also been a priority. “It’s essential to offer feedback and guidance to help people advance in their careers,” Cook says. “This is extremely important when it comes to supporting and leading a team. You need to be investing in others, showing people how to advance and succeed, even if it means that person has to move on. It’s about how do I as a leader help make that individual successful? And understanding that things are not always about me.”
Leaving the land of the Liberty Bell was a bittersweet experience for Cook. At the time the new President was appointed, Philadelphia had been his home for 30 years. Still, though he’s barely been on staff for a few months, Cook is quick to say how much he’s been enjoying his time in the Hoosier state, at the hospital and how much he’s looking forward to his future at Riley. “Everyone has made me feel so at home since I arrived,” Cook says. “I’m very happy to be here.”
-- By Sarah Burns