In times of uncertainty, Alexandria Hien McCombs and her children still take part in a daily ritual that she learned from her dad, a veteran of the South Vietnamese Navy. “There are so many things you can’t control,” McCombs says. “But there is one small thing you can do in the morning: make your bed. It’s a symbolic act that has a powerful effect.”
It’s a view shared by Admiral William H. McRaven, who in a 2014 commencement address said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” In fact, when McCombs’s children forget to, their mother will ask them “What would Admiral McRaven do?” She hears, in unison, a small reluctant chorus saying, “Make your bed.”
It may seem an odd place to start, given McCombs’s incredible journey of immigration to the United States and subsequent successful law career in the healthcare space, but it’s an important one as McCombs considers her next opportunity. Given the lawyer’s wide variety of healthcare legal experience—from the hospital to the large specialty physician practice group to the health insurance and the healthcare technology spaces—there are any number of places she may decide to write the next chapter of her career. But for now, McCombs is focused on taking the first step.
Inspired by Action
McCombs’s passion for healthcare runs deep. After immigrating to the United States and being sponsored by two churches in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, McCombs contracted a viral infection that left her unable to walk for nearly two months. Her family couldn’t afford crutches, so McCombs crawled around the house, having to call her parents to lift her into bed. Her parents spoke little English, so her older sisters acted as interpreters at the hospital. Dr. Elam Stoltzfus, the kind and gentle pediatrician who successfully treated her, left an indelible mark. “We were treated with dignity, just like anyone else,” McCombs remembers. “I think that made us believe in the promise of a better future in America and in truly generous people here who cared regardless of your race, class, or status.”
The lawyer’s persistence in taking adversity head-on is certainly a family trait. Her father, who had been a commander in the South Vietnamese Navy, was now working multiple odd jobs to support his family, motivated to seek a better life for his children. “He wanted us to devote all of our energies and talents to getting the best education we could,” McCombs says. “He thought this was the best country for us to be able to do it.”
The proud father, who McCombs would later find out consistently skipped lunch that he couldn’t afford and would tell his coworkers he was on a diet, hung each and every diploma his children earned in the family hallway. “That was the reward for the sacrifices he made,” the lawyer says.
“We were treated with dignity, just like anyone else. I think that made us believe in the promise of a better future in America and in truly generous people here who cared regardless of your race, class, or status.”
Moving to Make a Difference
McCombs has built out an impressive résumé of healthcare legal experience all across the board, most recently as the chief legal officer at Dallas-based Signify Health. The legal leader, who readily endorses servant leadership and ongoing coaching with her direct reports, says she’s excited for her next chapter.
“I really love the general counsel’s purpose because, for me, it’s a combination of a tactical and strategic role,” McCombs says. “My experience has allowed me to cultivate both the subject matter expertise and the confidence in diverse areas, and it enables me to be an effective part of the executive team to help shape and grow a company.”
Developing that confidence, McCombs says, has been key. “I try and lead with what is in the best interest of the company’s patients and employees,” McCombs says. “I always use those as guideposts. It’s very exciting to be part of a business team and help shape a company in a positive way.”
The attorney says she’s looking for the right innovative healthcare company for which she can apply her extraordinarily diverse set of legal and leadership skills. “I think the most exciting part for me is to help a company either develop a new business line or enter a new market,” McCombs says. “All of those require tremendous research and analysis into federal and state laws, but most importantly, communication and creative recommendations for the business.”
McCombs has lived the life of a refugee, and immigrant, a patient, a motivated student, two-time general counsel, and a continually evolving and effective leader in the healthcare space. Adversity and the unknown were a reality both she and her family accepted as part of the norm a long, long time ago. As McCombs prepares for her next challenge, she says she keeps the lessons taught to her by her father’s meticulous naval training close at hand. No matter the situation, no matter the challenge, start the day prepared for anything ahead and make your bed.