John Camperlengo | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Managing Like a Marine
Everyone remembers a year of their lives that was particularly eventful, full of highs and lows. For John Camperlengo, General Counsel of Gentiva , that year was 2010. “I was named General Counsel of Gentiva and moved to Atlanta,” he says. “That was a high. Three days before we moved, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in September. That was definitely a low.” Like the Marine he had been, Camperlengo soldiered through these events - as well as a number of other challenges - by making use of lessons learned in life, law school and the United States Marine Corp.
Camperlengo’s company, Gentiva , is the world’s largest home healthcare and hospice company and has been called “a gentle giant” by investment research firm Morningstar. By providing home health services to over half a million patients annually from 380 locations in 39 states, the Fortune 1000 listee makes $1.7 billion in annual revenue primarily by providing care at the location that their patients greatly prefer – their homes.
John Camperlengo was born in Manhattan and grew up on Long Island in the Village of Massapequa Park located in the town of Oyster Bay, New York. He attended the local public schools and played both basketball and baseball in high school. He was especially good at baseball and served as team captain. “I was always a huge fan of Dodger’s catcher Roy Campenella ,” said Camperlengo, “his life was inspiring. To go from one of the best catchers ever to being paralyzed and to maintain such a great attitude. His autobiography ‘It’s Good to Be Alive,’ was very important to me when I was a kid.” Camperlengo not only identified with, but lived the uncomplaining, positive approach to life as he worked his way through undergraduate school at St. John’s University in New York by working heavy part time as a freight forward driver at Kennedy International Airport. He did full time work in his last year. Majoring in History he – somehow – also completed the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class. He received his commission as a Marine Corp officer at graduation and was able to defer active service for three years to attend law school at Seton Hall. On graduation, he entered Marine Basic in Quantico, Virginia. He was the only lawyer in a group of 225 other lieutenants.
US military writer Rod Powers has said that “Without doubt, Marine boot camp is more challenging -- both physically and mentally -- than the basic training programs of any of the other military services...” and “…it has been said time and time again by former Marines that Marine Corps training was the most difficult thing they ever had to do in their entire lives.” Camperlengo agrees: “It was very demanding…but I forged relationships there that I’ve maintained ever since.” And it was all to a purpose - to learn leadership. “The privilege of leading, being entrusted with the most precious asset that people have – their children – probably shouldn’t be easy,” he says.
Camperlengo spent from 1988 until 1992 on active duty and served in Operation Desert Storm. He was stationed with the Marine Expeditionary Force in Saudi Arabia until the move into Kuwait in 1991. “I remember running for cover after a Scud missile launched and thinking ‘I bet my law school friends aren’t doing anything like this,’” he said. After the war, Camperlengo was detailed to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where he worked as a prosecutor until leaving active duty. He stayed in the Marine Reserve, however, where he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2008.
His first legal job in the private sector came when he joined the Law Department of Prudential Securities in 1992. Initially, he worked primarily on broker-dealer cases and arbitration with the New York Stock Exchange with a little securities work thrown in. Then, an extremely large project came along. Prudential had been involved in the sale of limited partnerships in the early to mid-eighties that did not work out as well as contemplated. The SEC got involved and Prudential eventually settled with investors, agreeing to pay hundreds of millions. The company set up a claims fund and Camperlengo was placed in charge of the arbitration function. He had 44 attorneys and 21 paralegals working for him on this matter alone. The team spent two years performing thousands of arbitrations. ‘The payout was huge,” he says, “and this was the most difficult thing I had done to date in the practice of law.” Even so, he felt that it was good experience. “This was my introduction to legal personnel management,” he said. “You have to remove all obstacles to great performance, that’s the first thing, and then you have to always remember that people are involved – processes are great – but a process is just a tool.”
In 1997, Camperlengo helped put together a compliance department for Prudential’s insurance group – it needed a world class financial services compliance department at that time – and he was part of the team that developed it. “It was a real cultural change for many of the employee agents,” he said.
Camperlengo joined Gentiva as Senior Counsel in September of 2000 and soon became healthcare counsel for the specialty pharma division. In 2002, the company sold specialty pharma and decided to focus on home healthcare as its core business. He became Deputy General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer in 2005 and then in 2006 the company purchased the Healthfield Group, which brought it to Atlanta. Healthfield performed home healthcare and hospice care from 130 locations in eight southern states. “Buying Healthfield was a great move. It was more entrepenurial than Gentiva so there were some major cultural differences,” says Camperlengo, “And it required all of our leadership skills to integrate the two companies and cultures, which we accomplished.”
As part of his job, Camperlengo insisted that the business embrace every aspect of compliance and that compliance be totally immersed in the business. Gentiva receives much of its revenue for care from Medicare, Medicaid and other federal healthcare programs so compliance is key and “we resist the ‘everybody else is doing it’ mantra,” he says. Non complying companies are often excluded from participation in these programs or placed, by settlement, under a CIA or Corporate Integrity Agreement, which operates as a consent order. “ Gentiva has done well with its program and we seek to be the industry leader in sound business practice and ethics,” says Camperlengo, “. Our goal is 100% compliance.”
Starting in 2006, Camperlengo began visiting Atlanta from company headquarters in Long Island about once a month. By 2008, he was visiting two or three times a month. In 2010, one of the most eventful years of his life, the company relocated headquarters to Atlanta and Camperlengo moved here in August as General Counsel. He certainly had his hands full. In addition to the stress of moving and his mother’s cancer diagnosis, Gentiva faced a number of challenges. As with any large company, there were a number of legal issues that would have to be dealt with. “We had am SEC investigation followed by a number of related securities actions, and several wage and hour class action cases,. In addition, we were in the process of buying Odyssey Healthcare. Raising a billion dollars to purchase Odyssey. With all of this going on at work and the challenges of moving, life during 2010 was interesting, to say the least,” he said.
The acquisition of Odyssey went through as planned and the other cases mentioned have nearly all been settled or dismissed. With Odyssey, Gentiva became the largest home healthcare and hospice provider in the US, achieving a definite milestone for the company. Nearly all of the legal challenges were dealt with, or settled, to the satisfaction of the company. Camperlengo managed through these issues with the confidence gained from his experience both as a lawyer and as a Marine. “You face challenges and deal with them,” he said, “ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. You need a straightforward approach.”
Camperlengo has enjoyed his time at Gentiva and is still excited about the company today. “We have some of the most dedicated caregivers I’ve ever met,” he says. “I get to meet with them all frequently.” Every quarter, each member of the management team spends time meeting customers and doing sales, so the operational part of the business is not abstract to him. “Our operators strive to do right by both the patients and employees, all in a culture of compliance.”
Camperlengo and his family have enjoyed living in Atlanta and are proud to now call it home.
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