Randy Oostra is not the Hollywood version of a corporate CEO. And that's a good thing.
I met with him in his ProMedica office in West Toledo last week. If he has his way, and he is determined to have his way, that office will soon be downtown. And, in time, he will be joined by roughly 700 more ProMedica employees — on a campus that incorporates the long-abandoned steam plant and Key Bank’s large riverfront building.
This move represents the greatest single act of faith, and investment, by business in a generation. I wanted to find out what put this idea in Mr. Oostra’s head and also a little more about what makes him tick.
He told me the idea began with a desire to combine seven ProMedica buildings. Mr. Oostra said he thought, “It would just be good to get everyone under one roof.” Then he thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be in downtown Toledo?”
Mr. Oostra is an Iowan by birth. But he has become a fiercely loyal Toledoan. He and his wife raised their children here. He marvels at our natural and cultural assets and at our failure to fully appreciate and leverage them. In the absence of a vision, he said, negativity will creep in. His vision? A city that bustles, has pride, and deals with its problems.
A nonprofit that is in the healing business ought to be about giving back, he said. “We have the ability to bring people together.” Moreover, he contends CEOs in a position to make things happen have a responsibility to do so.
Mr. Oostra didn't want his headquarters in a skyscraper, but in a place where different departments and disciplines would interact. He liked the idea of restoring the steam plant because it is an “architectural gem.” He also thinks we under-utilize the city's access to water. He imagines a parking garage that would be underground but rise one level above the ground and give access to the river on one end, while being fronted by small retail shops on the other. “We wouldn't do that,” he said, but some other entity with expertise will step up. He added that ProMedica still has a lot of collaborative work to do. But he leaves no doubt that the parking riddle can be worked out. “People respond when asked, usually in gracious ways.”
Mr. Oostra quoted Geoffrey Canada: “Nobody is coming to save us.” It's up to Toledoans to deal with “the social determinants of health” in their community — schooling, housing, and nutrition are three big ones. If we care about public health, or our kids being able to learn by kindergarten, we have to solve the hunger problem, he said. With America's leading advocate for ending hunger worldwide, Tony Hall, Mr. Oostra is hosting a summit on hunger in Washington later this month.
Before this meeting, someone who knows Mr. Oostra told me, “He is a very religious man.” I asked if he sees himself that way. “Yes,” he said quietly, neither flinching nor boasting. “I'm Dutch,” he added. He believes being an executive is a calling.
Mr. Oostra was tie-less that day, modest, low-key — a very humble honcho. There are different types of charisma. Mr. Oostra’s is the quiet charisma of clear thought and action.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.