Q&A Jun 1, 2021

Q&A: Talking with Jacobs Global Health Market Director Nina Wollman

Q&A: Talking with Jacobs Global Health Market Director Nina Wollman

As we approach the one-year anniversary of establishing Health as an end market for Jacobs, we caught up virtually with our Global Health Market Director Nina Wollman.

Nina talks about Health as a growth market for Jacobs, the impact the pandemic had in accelerating that strategy as well as the impact it had on her personal work style in this virtual interview.

Nina, can you tell us about Jacobs' Health market and why it's an important part of our growth?

Jacobs has a more than 50-year history working in the Health market and its story is foundational to who we are as a company—Dr. Joseph Jacobs in fact started his career in the manufacturing of penicillin. Strategy-wise, however, our history has been a little disjointed. Like many of our clients, peers and industry leaders, COVID-19 caused us to do an introspective.

During the pandemic, Jacobs was able to do so much for our clients. We supported underserved communities by setting up testing centers for New York Health and Hospitals, helped U.K. rail set up a model for safe return of employees and passengers, and helped our biopharmaceutical clients under Life Sciences accelerate the manufacturing of vaccines. Great success stories all around. But it raised the question and challenge: Could or should we do more?

That led a team headed by Jan Walstrom to recommend developing Health as an end market for Jacobs. Why "health" and not "health care?" According to the World Health Organization, a well-functioning health system is built on having trained and motivated health workers, well-maintained infrastructure, and a reliable supply of medicines and technologies, backed by adequate funding, strong health plans and evidence-based policies. Jacobs provides solutions to support all of these elements.

What are the top segments in Health that Jacobs is focusing on growing in the next one to two years?

We are focusing on three primary solution areas for providing end-to-end solutions to the complex challenges that span the management and operational hierarchy and project lifecycle throughout the entire health delivery system:

1) Health System Governance - consulting on health system resilience and digital transformation.

2) Health System Advisory - consulting on how our clients optimize the operations of care and funding.

3) Health Infrastructure - to plan, design, build and operate the environment of care and deliver the supply of medicines and technology all with the purpose to improve health outcomes while accelerating and future-proofing delivery.

What was your first job?

Out of college, with a background in environmental science, I thought I was going to go into environmental epidemiology, so I stayed at the University of Oklahoma to lead research programs. One program I led dealt with the impact of confined animal feeding operations on air and water quality. After a year being soaked in water and mud (and smelling like pigs!), I realized maybe my life wasn’t meant to be spent in the lab.

What sparked your interest in environmental science?

A love of science in general. I love to understand how things work. At home that usually ends up with me taking something apart and then looking for help to put it back together!

Prior to your current role you were part of the Strategic Consulting team with a background in asset management. Can you explain what asset management is and how that is important for clients?

I started my career at Jacobs in asset management consulting—what used to be called “facility management,” looking at datasets and turning that data into information used for decision making. If you do a search for “asset management” you will find financial solutions pop up first. The concept is the same: How do clients get a return on their buildings and infrastructure investment?

What differentiates Jacobs is helping our clients think about the full cycle of their business, and what’s foundational to the mission of the organization. We bring a holistic view of not just how to improve their infrastructure, but how to optimize operations to effectively and efficiently deliver their mission.

What is your favorite part of your role now?

I love engaging with people to build and deliver on strategy—sometimes going outside the box and going further than where we ever thought we could go. This role gives me the opportunity to figure out what we could and should be doing and how to get there, much like I did with my asset management consulting programs.

What are the challenges in expanding Health solutions to all regions and geographies?

We look at the end-to-end solutions that Jacobs provides and if I were to hold it up like a sheet of paper, it would look like a slice of Swiss cheese. There are holes, or gaps, and those holes can be geographies, solutions or talent. That’s our biggest challenge and the key imperative to deliver through our strategy—how we take this Health strategy, gaps and all, apply it to the regions and grow. This global growth doesn’t come easy, it starts with us knowing who we are and where we are going—getting everyone onboard from the Executive Leadership Team to our college graduates, then taking that belief and getting out to our clients and the market. True passion is alluring to attract and retain top talent at Jacobs and to draw in our clients.

How has COVID-19 changed your life and the solutions Jacobs provides its clients?

Now, we are accustomed to being virtual, but it took time to get there. During a typical week prior to COVID-19, I would travel the globe visiting clients and team members. I could prioritize time to be in person, being present with people without the distractions of everyday life. Today, I travel the globe on a daily basis through video calls with clients and team members, but it’s harder to be present without the distractions of everyday life. I enjoy seeing those further away more routinely, but I do miss seeing them in person.

Personally, this new lifestyle has tested my ability to be an extrovert. It’s still a challenge in trying to replicate the personal interaction you get from face-to-face meetings with virtual interaction via video. We have to give each other and ourselves grace for technical glitches, cats walking across keyboards, lawnmowers in the background and family members of all ages who don’t care who that person is on the screen.

For Jacobs, we have always had a diverse portfolio of solutions to bring to our clients. That diversity has helped us weather economic storms and now a pandemic storm. It’s also caused us to ask how we can have ‘fanatical differentiation from our peers’ and a ‘radical integration of our capabilities and our own personal network’. I’ve often said COVID-19 is an accelerant, not a change agent. COVID-19 didn’t cause these changes, but it did speed them up.

You spent your childhood in other countries like Saudi Arabia. How did growing up as a child of a U.S. service member shape your world view?

My father was in the U.S. Air Force stationed in the Netherlands when he met my mother, who was a flight attendant for KLM Airlines. One thing both my parents valued was the opportunity to travel and embrace other cultures. I grew up seeing other cultures and understanding how to appreciate and be respectful of them. Now that’s come full circle working at Jacobs—as a company we’re pursuing that level of diversity and are interested in getting great ideas from people who are different than you.

People would be surprised to that...
Some people are surprised to hear that I am an introvert. Introversion and extroversion are not mutually exclusive—we can be both. I am always my best when I have had some “me time,” but I love my people and engaging with them.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the #OurJacobs family?

It’s been almost 22 years and as a family we have only gotten closer. I love the people I work with. That is what makes me get up to work every day—seeing the smiling faces of the people I get to work with.

Join the #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable.

We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. Let’s see the impact we can create, together.