Board of Directors

Lowell C. Kruse, MHA, Co-Founder and Chair

Senior Fellow, Heartland Foundation, St. Joseph, Missouri

Richard A. Norling, MHA, Co-Founder and Vice-chair

Senior Fellow, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, San Diego, California

Brian Lassiter, Secretary

President, Performance Excellence Network, Minneapolis, Minnesota

JoAnn Sternke, PhD

Superintendent, Pewaukee School District, Pewaukee, Wisconsin

Robert Fangmeyer

Director, Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at NIST, Gaithersburg, Maryland

Tommy Gonzalez

City Manager, El Paso, Texas

Richard J. Umbdenstock, FACHE

President  Emeritus, American Hospital Association, Spokane, Washington

Lillian Rivera, PhD

Administrator/Health Officer, Florida Dept. of Health in Miami-Dade County, Miami, Florida

Natasha Wright

Policy Coordinator, United States Dept. of Health and Human Services and Kruse Scholar Alum, Washington, D.C


Lowell C. Kruse

Kruse is the former CEO of Heartland Health in St. Joseph, Missouri. He retired in July 2009 after serving Heartland for 25 years as their CEO. Kruse came to St. Joseph in 1984 when the two existing community hospital boards had decided to come together and form Heartland Health to better serve the needs of the community and the broader region surrounding St. Joseph. With Kruse leading the way, he helped create the organization that became Heartland Health and grew it into not just the major employer in the region but also one of the top healthcare organizations in the United States. He describes the vision of the organization as, “Heartland Health and its service area will be the best and safest place in America to receive healthcare and live a healthy and productive life.” As evidence of the organization’s progress toward that vision, they were the 2009 recipient of both the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service.

During his career, Lowell served on numerous boards, committees, commissions and in leadership capacities in professional and civic organizations including State and National Jaycee Organizations, state hospital associations, American Hospital Association, Chamber of Commerce, United Way, State Commissions, health planning agencies, and similar organizations.   In addition, he has been the recipient of a variety of personal and professional awards and recognitions during his career.

Richard A. Norling

Norling is a senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which is based in Cambridge, Mass. He was president and chief executive officer of Fairview Health System and executive vice president and chief operating officer of Lutheran Hospital Society of Southern California. From 1997 to 2009, he served as chief executive officer of Premier, Inc.  With his leadership, Premier became the country’s leading voluntary alliance of nonprofit healthcare systems (involving more than 2,000 hospitals and thousands of other care sites nationwide), a winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and recognized as one of the 100 Most Ethical Companies in the world. 

Norling has served on the boards of the Healthcare Leadership Council, Malcolm Baldrige Foundation, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Express Scripts, PacifiCare Health System, and Blue Cross of California. For many years he has been a leader in the Organizational Development Partnership Network, based in Great Britain, which collaboratively studies the health-care systems of developed countries around the globe.

Norling serves on the boards of directors of Covenant Health Network, Patent Safe Solutions, Father Joe’s Villages, and Absolute Graphics Technologies, as well as serving on numerous advisory boards. Norling is also an independent business consultant, and a guest lecturer and advisor for graduate-level academic programs.

Brian Lassiter

Brian Lassiter has been president of the Performance Excellence Network (formerly Minnesota Council for Quality) since 2001. Previously, he was managing director for Ian Alliott Consulting, principal consultant for Norstan Consulting, corporate quality consultant for the St. Paul Companies, consultant for Price Waterhouse, and quality manage for Boatmen’s National Bank. In these roles, Lassiter has worked with dozens of organizations in a variety of industries to help them improve their performance and competitiveness.

From 1998 to 2012, Lassiter served on the board of examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. He has also served as a senior evaluator for the Minnesota Quality Award, as a judge for the Veteran’s Administration Baldrige-based Carey Award, a judge for the Baldrige-based American Health Care Association (long-term care) quality awards, and as a member of the board of directors for Goodwill/Easter Seals of Minnesota. He is chair of the board of directors of the Alliance for Performance Excellence, the national consortium of all state and local quality awards, and is also chair of Benedictine Health System, a long-term care system based in Duluth, Minn.

JoAnn Sternke, PhD

Since 2001, JoAnn has been Superintendent of Schools for the Pewaukee School District that serves 2800 students on a beautiful campus located west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The Pewaukee School District has been dedicated to using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, and in 2013 the Pewaukee School District was honored to receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.  With this commitment, the District pursues a relentless focus on using strategic planning, results data, and key work process identification to leverage improvement. In 2010 the Pewaukee School District was the first education recipient of the Wisconsin Forward Award, the highest level of recognition in Wisconsin’s performance excellence program. She serves on the Board of Examiners for both the Baldrige National Quality Program and the Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence.  In addition to being involved in these programs, she is an active member of the American Society for Quality.

JoAnn was recently recognized as Pewaukee’s Person of the Year in 2014 and Wisconsin’s Superintendent of the Year for 2013.  She was also honored with the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Women of Distinction in 2010.  For the past three years, the Pewaukee School District has been recognized as a Top Workplace by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one of very few educational institutions recognized with this honor.  Additionally, under her tenure the Pewaukee School District has also seen recognition in both Newsweek Business Week, and the Washington Post.   JoAnn earned her doctoral degree in Leadership, Learning and Service through Cardinal Stritch University where she also serves as a professor & site coordinator for the Masters in Educational Leadership Program and superintendent licensure program.  

Robert Fangmeyer

Bob was officially named director of the Baldrige Program in November 2013. He is only the third director to lead the BPEP since its establishment by Congress in 1987. Since taking over as director, Bob has led the expansion of product and service offerings, strengthened partnerships and collaborations, and is working to increase utilization of the Baldrige Framework in all sectors. Prior to being appointed as acting director in June 2013, Bob served as the program’s deputy director. As deputy director, Bob led the design, development, and implementation of a new business model for the program, planned for strategic capability and capacity needs, managed overall program operations, and ensured efficient and effective operations. Since joining the program in 1997 Bob has led many projects and strategic initiatives including creation of the very successful Baldrige Executive Fellows Program. Bob is a proven manager and creative problem solver. He has represented the program as a speaker at local, national, and international events. A former manager and owner of small businesses, he holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland.

Tommy Gonzalez

On May 20, 2014, El Paso City Council unanimously voted to name Tommy Gonzalez as El Paso’s second city manager. He began his tenure with the City on June 23, 2014.

Mr. Gonzalez has extensive experience in management and a distinguished public and private sector career that spans more than 20 years. He accepted the role as City Manager in El Paso after serving as City Manager for the City of Irving, Texas, for seven years. Under his leadership, the City of Irving received the 2011 Texas Award for Performance Excellence and the 2012 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest Presidential honor for performance excellence.  Prior to working in Irving, he was an Assistant City Manager for the City of Dallas, Texas, the City Manager for the City of Harlingen, Texas and the Interim City Manager for the City of Lubbock, Texas. In Lubbock, he also served in a variety of roles to include Deputy and Assistant City Manager, Assistant City Manager/Ports-to-Plains President, Managing Director of Civic Services, Assistant to the City Manager, City Council Chief of Staff, Budget Analyst, Assistant Director of Communication Services, Management Assistant in City Manager’s Office, and as a Graffiti Removal Coordinator.

Mr. Gonzalez also has a notable military career. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after serving in the U.S. Army for 22 years. He holds a Masters of Public Administration degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas and a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico. In addition, he is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt from the University of Texas at Austin.

Richard Umbdenstock, FACHE

Richard J. Umbdenstock became president and chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association (AHA) on January 1, 2007.  Previously, he was the elected AHA Board Chair in 2006.  The AHA leads, represents and serves more than 5,000 member hospitals, health systems and other health care organizations, and 43,000 individual members. 

Umbdenstock’s career includes experience in hospital administration; health system governance, management and integration; association governance and management; HMO governance; and health care governance consulting.  He has written books and articles for the health care board audience and has authored national survey reports for AHA, HRET and ACHE.  He received a B.A. degree in Politics from Fairfield University (CT), and a master’s in Health Services Administration from SUNY- Stony Brook.  He is a Fellow of ACHE.

As AHA president, Umbdenstock served as Vice Chair of the National Quality Forum, on the Board of Enroll America, and co-chaired the CAQH Provider Council.  He also served on the National Priorities Partnership.   His honors include the B’nai B’rith International 2014 National Healthcare Award; the American College of Healthcare Executives 2015 Gold Medal Award; the American Organization of Nurse Executives 2015 Honorary Member Award; the Federation of American Hospitals Inaugural Health Care Leadership Award; the National Center for Healthcare Leadership 2015 Gail L. Warden Leadership Excellence Award; the Seattle Business magazine 2016 Health Care Lifetime Achievement Award; and, the AHA’s establishment of the Richard J. Umbdenstock—Institute for Diversity in Health Management Executive Fellowship and the title of President Emeritus upon his retirement in 2015.

Lillian Rivera, PhD

Lillian Rivera is the Administrator and Health Officer of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County responsible for the oversight and supervision of public health programs throughout the county.  Dr. Rivera oversees a $70 million budget and nearly 800 employees in a county of 2.7 million people. Dr. Rivera holds advanced degrees in nursing, health administration and Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Executive Fellow. During her tenure, the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County won the Governor’s Sterling Award for performance excellence three times and the Sustained Excellence Award twice.  In 2016 Miami-Dade County was selected for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize and the Florida Department of Health was instrumental in this achievement.

Dr. Rivera has had a long and extensive career in the health care area in Puerto Rico, Tallahassee and Miami-Dade County. Dr. Rivera shares her passion for public health through community engagement.  She is an active and contributing member of many groups including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Roadmaps to Health; Public Health Accreditation Board’s Evaluation and Quality Improvement Committee; Florida Public Health Association; External Advisory Committee of the Florida International University, Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work; University of Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute Community Advisory Board; National Culture of Health Prize; and the Miami Children’s Initiative Board; and a board member of the Florida Institute for Health Innovation. She has held numerous leadership positions in organizations, including president of the Florida Sterling Council.

Dr. Rivera has been recognized for her work with numerous awards including the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Health Care Hero, In the Company of Women , Florida International University Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work’s Path Award, and the University of South Florida College of Public Health’s Outstanding Women in Public Health.   

Natasha Wright

Natasha is a member of the inaugural class of Kruse Scholars at the University of Minnesota where she graduated in 2013 with a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree specializing in policy and administration.  Natasha also holds a Master’s in Business Management from Wake Forest University (2011) and a Bachelor of Arts from Denison University (2010).  Upon completing her MPH degree, Natasha was awarded the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) and accepted a position at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.  There, she helped advance cancer research by creating an open source repository and guide for program developers to freely exchange scientific information and software.  Natasha currently serves as Policy Coordinator at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where she advises on policy matters impacting the Administration for Children and Families and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Throughout her education and career, Natasha has demonstrated a commitment to servant leadership and collaboration. She was awarded the Community Health Initiatives Scholarship (2011), the President’s Student Leadership and Service Award (2012), and the Outstanding Community Service Award in (2013).  She continues to volunteer as Chair of the PMF Community Service Subcommittee and has recently completed service projects with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the Gates Millennium Scholarship Foundation, Meals on Wheels, and Streetwise Partners.  Natasha is also a member of the Communities of Excellence 2026 Learning Collaborative Advisory Committee.

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