When we last visited with Nancy Ardell in these pages in 2019, she reflected on her more than two decades of experience in the legal space of the healthcare industry. At the time, she was at Chicago-based senior living provider Enlivant, where she served as executive vice president and general counsel. “Always be open to opportunities,” she told writer Clint Worthington. “You never know when you’re going to find that dream job.”
Which is how, after a career spanning more than a quarter century, this lifelong Chicagoan finds herself in Tampa, Florida, where she serves as chief legal officer for Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute (FCS), responsible for legal, risk management and compliance.
“We love Chicago,” she says. “Florida was never on our radar. We had never been in Tampa, but we came down to visit, and you know what, it’s pretty nice down here.”
When the opportunity to join FCS emerged, Ardell had just wrapped up a hospital merger, underscoring for her the positive impact legal services can have on an organization, especially those that are in a transformational stage. “I enjoy the challenge of rebuilding teams and fostering collaborative relationships to help businesspeople and clinicians understand how the legal team can be a resource, make their lives easier, and mitigate risk for the organization.”
Founded in 1984, FCS has a hundred locations throughout the state of Florida and 4,200 employees. Ardell joined the privately held and physician-owned organization roughly a year and a half ago. She defines her role of chief legal officer as “problem solver.” As a strategic partner to the FCS board, CEO, and president & managing physician, she and her team focus on being effective communicators, synthesizing complex situations and information, and ensuring accessibility to different audiences.
She credits her liberal arts education with nurturing and developing her critical thinking and writing skills. “Everything else follows,” she says.
Though Ardell began her career in banking, her mother inspired a switch to law. While Ardell was a senior in high school, her mother returned to law school and ultimately served as a judge for eighteen years.
“That was very liberating to me,” she says. “My mom was excited about what she was doing, and it was becoming clear to me that banking wasn’t going to be my long-term career. I learned that if you find yourself looking for a new challenge or interest, pursue it; make a change. I went into law school thinking some area of the law would call to me. That never really happened, but I enjoyed law school quite a bit. I enjoyed writing, negotiation, and bringing people together with appropriate resolutions. Turns out those skills work really well in-house.”
What Nancy Ardell likes best about her position are the partnerships and ever-expanding oncological research the organization spearheads. “There is a lot going on that introduces me and my legal team to many new and interesting issues. I enjoy working with our board and executive team on long-term strategy.”
FCS has embarked on a Just Culture initiative to empower its employees. The Just Culture journey is a “company-wide, top-down” training program. “It’s a way of making sure we’re engaging people throughout the organization to identify issues, speak up, and propose solutions with the confidence that they will be treated fairly,” Ardell says. “We are making sure we continue to develop a terrific corporate culture where we can effectively recruit and retain employees. Our patients benefit from dedicated and happy employees.”
Just Culture is consistent with Ardell’s own leadership style. “I encourage problem solving and open communication,” she says. “When I came to the company, there was a bit of dysfunction on the legal team. I expect everyone to develop productive relationships among one another and with others throughout the company. The sign in my office that reads ‘Work Hard, Be Nice’ is a good daily reminder. Jobs are more rewarding if we can solve problems together.”
Nancy Ardell encourages young lawyers to communicate in their authentic voice. “Learn how to effectively communicate instead of speaking with someone else’s voice. Your colleagues will respect your authenticity,” she advises.
There is another key piece of advice she offers young lawyers: “It’s never too late for a new adventure.” As someone who moved from Chicago to Florida for an exciting new opportunity, she would know.