September 26, 2022 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business
Gareth Forde MD, Phd, MBA is a practicing OBGYN at Kaiser Permanente living in Irvine, California, who started his first business at 18 years old. “I’ve always been involved on the business side of things and started a number of companies over the years,” he says. “My first business was selling snow cones in front of the Walmart near my house.”
Forde’s journey to Southern California started far from the Golden State. “I grew up in Florida and migrated,” he says, “mostly for educational purposes.” After getting his bachelor’s degree at Florida A&M, Forde went to graduate school at Jackson State University with his PhD, and then to medical school at the University of Minnesota. In 2014, he completed his next academic pursuit, this time at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business for his business degree.
Even with his expansive collegiate background, Forde counts UCI’s Health Care Executive MBA program as a singular educational environment. “It was one of the best academic experiences of my life,” he says. “In part, I think it’s because the MBA pulls in a diverse group of people from different backgrounds. Medical schools attract people who want to be doctors. My PhD program pulled in people who wanted to become biophysicists. But the business school pulled in people who wanted to be successful in business, and that’s a wide group. At the Merage School, I met many interesting people who had thought about life in ways I had not, so I learned quite a bit there.”
As a result of his experience, Forde recently founded a private equity healthcare company that focuses on growing healthcare businesses, so they’re able to improve the quality of the services and care they provide to their communities including those historically underserved. “We help them to be more effective and cost-conscious so they can provide better patient-centered care.”
Forde’s impulse to help others is exemplified by his work while attending the University of Minnesota. “While in medical school, I realized that it’s a very tough journey to get that far,” he says. “Along the way, there are a disproportionate number of students from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds who don’t make the journey. Part of the reason is not having exposure to the profession, or even the mentorship, to make it happen.”
This lack of exposure prompted Forde to start the Minnesota Future Leaders Program in 2008 with fellow students. Today, it’s one of the nation’s largest medical pipeline programs. “We’ve helped hundreds of students find their way to medical school and health professions through this program,” he says. “So, doing that sort of got written into my DNA.”
Once Forde got to UCI, his path crossed with Dean Ian Williamson’s, which led to a conversation that sparked an exciting new partnership. “Ian is such a visionary,” Forde says. “The more I got to know Ian, and the more we began talking about creating opportunities at UCI, we started discussing the Future Leaders Initiative, which the University was already contemplating at that time. I have such a passion for this work, so it was wonderful to collaborate with them to start something here.”
At the time, the Future Leaders Initiative (FLI) was developing into a 6-week, interactive workshop series that would invite local high school and community college students in underserved areas to receive advanced professional training and mentorship in the realms of entrepreneurship, business, and technology. Forde was eager to invest after discussing the potential for impact with Dean Williamson, and his passion contributed directly to the program’s launch on June 25, 2022.
“The Future Leaders Initiative focuses on high school and community college students who want to be leaders in business and their communities,” says Forde. “At this age, the reality of life starts to set in for many students, and they’re at the point in their life where they’re capable of making better decisions about their life.”
On August 6, 2022, the inaugural Future Leaders Initiative program concluded with a graduation ceremony in the courtyard of The Paul Merage School of Business, where Forde watched 47 of these young students walk across the stage, shake hands with Dean Williamson, and receive their FLI diplomas in front of their families, friends and faculty mentors made during this defining summer.
“There are a lot of ways we can be impactful in life,” Forde says. “But there’s something rewarding about creating a program that opens up the floodgates for people who wouldn’t otherwise have those opportunities and creating opportunities for these kids to improve themselves. I’m thrilled to be part of that.”
For more information about UCI’s Future Leaders Initiative, visit: https://merage.uci.edu/programs/pre-college/index.html