Ask The CEO

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Molly McCartney April 1, 2011


Barbara Zdravecky attended 12 years of parochial school in Pittsburgh and embraced the religious teachings about helping people and being charitable. But she rebelled against church doctrine opposing abortion and birth control as invalid "in a world in which people are suffering." Zdravecky, 58, was named head of the Sarasota-based Planned Parenthood (now Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida Inc.) in 1993, and voted top Planned Parenthood CEO in the nation in 2006. With an annual budget of $8.5 million, she oversees 100 employees and seven clinics that serve 26,000 patients in 15 counties. Her headquarters is in a new "green" facility in Sarasota’s Rosemary District.

Personal: I came here after graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1975. I got my nursing degree at Manatee Community College in 1980. I joined Manatee Memorial Hospital as head nurse of its psychiatric program, and I had been there for almost 10 years when I was asked to apply for CEO at Planned Parenthood in 1993.

Business background: I have never taken a business class. I was a good manager and smart enough to hire people smarter than me, and I trusted them to help me build my business background. My skills as a psychiatric nurse also helped me. You learn to listen, assess situations, deal with crises. You know how to pair people together to get the best team results.

Planned Parenthood is facing the loss of millions in federal and state dollars, and is under fire by conservatives. Your response? Our strategy is to try to make people understand the majority of what we do is preventive healthcare. There’s so much misconception by anti-choice operatives. It’s not all about abortions—it’s prevention—of pregnancy, cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, infection. We provide all the primary care for women who have no access to a primary care provider. We do vasectomies. No one else is stepping up to the plate to provide these services.

For every dollar we spend, taxpayers save $4 on the other side. Birth control is inexpensive compared to the cost of taking care of a newborn, AFDC, food stamps, Head Start. Over three million women will be thrown under the bus if we lose federal funding, and it will cost Americans so much more. We’ll have 400,000 more abortions if people have no access to birth control.

Hardest part of job: Trying to figure out in this down economy how to keep the doors open. Of our $8.5 million budget, we have to raise $1.5 million in contributions from individuals, foundations, community groups and other donors.

Easiest part of job: The joy of the relationships that develop from staff, board members, community and my supporters. There is extraordinary passion in this community for women’s rights, both from men and women.

Personal endurance: You get weary sometimes, but I have a very strong team. They continue to do their jobs and make sure patients have services. Instead of feeling beaten down, I’m energized, and I know what we provide, no one else provides. I read the writings of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. They bring me peace and help me stay centered, because the world keeps going, whether it is the bishop marching outside the clinic, the hate mail that comes in, or the young girl crying because she’s pregnant and afraid to tell her mother.

Filed under
Show Comments