Cambridge chooses non-profit executive to be next city manager

A non-profit executive with a decade of professional experience in various leadership roles in large public service health organizations will succeed retired city manager Louis DePasquale, Cambridge city councilors decided on Monday evening.

Cambridge resident Yi-An Huang, executive director of clinical operations at Boston Medical Center, became the top pick in an eight-to-one vote among advisers.

The City Manager of Cambridge administers all aspects of a city government which employs 3,564 people and has an annual budget of approximately $800 million.

“Work to which I feel called”

“It’s the kind of job I feel called to, more than being part of a company that sells the most products or generates the most profit,” Huang said in a June 1 interview before the municipal Council. “I have seen how much difference good leadership can make, and while I feel the city of Cambridge has many strengths, it also feels like an opportunity to reassess, strengthen the organization and to set ambitious new goals.”

Huang told councilors there are “huge parallels” between health care and city government.

“I see similarities in the complexity of operations and service delivery,” he told advisers. “I see the complexity of budgeting and managing finances.”

He added: “It is imperative to be sustainable and strong and to have resources to continue to invest, but also to find ways to invest money in our mission and our objectives in ways that do not generate income.”

Serving the public — especially vulnerable populations — is perhaps where the most obvious similarities lie, Haung said.

Huang’s resume notes that he “managed day-to-day operations in multiple hospital departments with more than 250 doctors, 300 unionized employees, 20,000 surgeries and 300,000 annual patient visits.”

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“In my current role overseeing clinical operations at BMC Hospital, I am currently managing a $100 million operating budget and a $12 million capital budget across multiple departments and service lines,” says the Haung’s resume. “In a previous role, I stepped in to manage the retail pharmacy team which was a $150 million business.”

Huang graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and from Harvard Business School with a master’s degree in business administration.

“I would love to serve and contribute to this city that I love and where my children are growing up,” Huang told advisers. “I have a personal stake in the future of this community, and it would be a privilege to serve and shape the future of the city.”

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Praise of Huang

Huang will face challenges and opportunities in the areas of environmental sustainability and climate issues, equity, inclusion and diversity, alternative transportation and affordable housing.

Fifty-three people signed up for public comments at the special meeting – during which more than 25 people spoke in favor of Huang. Testimonial after testimonial, Huang was presented as an accomplished and knowledgeable professional who is adept at listening and building relationships. Many said he would bring ‘a fresh look’ to Cambridge Town Hall’s corner office.

Cambridge resident Carol Weiss – an elderly person who identifies as living in the city – humanized Huang in her testimony, noting that he does more than buy groceries for his family.

“He knew I was alone and didn’t have a car. One day he offered to drop by once a week and we could go to Market Basket together,” she said. “That was many years ago. Sometimes he brings his young son with us. He drives me home and he brings the groceries.”

The city council vote ends a five-phase, six-month city manager search led by Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon and administered by Randi Frank Consulting, LLC. The leadership company has built a leadership profile based on public feedback gathered from over 30 hours of focus groups and hundreds of community members. He helped identify and capture 30 candidates, which the executive company and a selection committee narrowed down to four finalists.

“For me, Yi-An Huang answers every point here, both professionally and personally. I was impressed that I was blown away by his answers on his candidate questionnaire,” Mallon said. “I wanted to know more about this person, and he did not fail, both during the night of the finalists and during the interview with the city council.” She added that he really shines when candidates hang out with city workers.

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Huang beat Cambridge Town Deputy Manager Iram Farooq, Hopkinton Town Manager Norman Khumalo and Chelsea Town Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher. Neither Farooq nor Khumalo received a single vote.

Councilors Paul Toner, Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern backed Fisher out of the gate. Toner and McGovern, before the vote was official, switched to Huang in an act of solidarity.

Like several people who spoke during the public comments, Simmons made an impassioned statement in support of Fisher. Since the city manager position was created, Simmons pointed out that 11 men have held it.

“It is high time for us to break the status quo,” she said. “It is high time to appoint a woman and a woman of color who truly understands that the needs of this community are great.”

It all comes before DePasquale, who has been city manager since 2016, retires in July after more than 45 years as a civil servant at Cambridge. Most of that time was spent in Cambridge’s finance department, crunching the numbers as budget manager and deputy city manager for finance.

Melissa C. Keyes