James Harnar

Director at Daniel Hanley Center for Health Leadership

Degree(s): BJ '75

Whereabouts: United States, Portland, Maine

What do you do?
I am executive director of the Daniel Hanley Center for Health Leadership, an independent, statewide nonprofit organization based in Portland, Maine. We’re working to build a culture of greater collaboration among health and healthcare organizations. We believe it’s the only organization of its kind in the country. I followed a long and winding road to my current role. After J-School, I worked as a newspaper reporter in Durango, Colo., for three years before joining the Navy, spending the next seven years as an active duty public affairs officer. I was transferred to Maine in 1982 and left active duty three years later. I then served as vice president of public affairs at the Maine Hospital Association for 14 years and CEO of the Maine Health Information Center for four years. I was highly involved in developing one of the nation’s first statewide electronic health information exchanges. I plan to retire in the spring of 2015 and expect to devote more time to sailing my 38 foot sloop, skiing and volunteering.

How did you get your job?
In 2002 I was asked to help establish an organization to carry on the legacy of Dr. Dan Hanley, a well known physician leader who had passed away the previous year. I became part of a small group of family and professional colleagues who built the organization from the ground up and served on the board of directors. In 2005 I became part-time executive director. By 2010, we were able to to build the organization to a point where it could support a full-time executive director, and I was asked to fill that role.

What is the best professional lesson you learned at the J-School?
I was not a very engaged student. I didn’t want to sit in the classroom or study. I wanted to do things. Very early on – working at the Missourian – I was out on the streets covering real stories. I remember being huddled behind a police car during an armed bank robbery and covering a major fire in the middle of the night downtown, with Tom Duffy at the City Desk demanding information FAST. Working at the Missourian, I learned to build trusting relationships, dig out information fast, write clearly and succinctly and meet deadlines. All of these lessons have served me well for the past 35+ years and helped me advance quickly in executive leadership roles.

What advice do you have for current students?
Develop the ability to break down complex issues and ideas into clear, concise language. As the world becomes more complicated and dynamic, every element of our society needs people who can help make sense of it all. Build relationships with other students, faculty and sources in the community and then work to keep these relationships alive once you graduate. I didn’t maintain J-School relationships after I left and could have benefited in many ways professionally if I had. I regret that.

What is your favorite J-School memory?
My first reporting class with Steve Weinberg is really memorable. He was an extraordinary teacher who helped me develop some fundamental skills I’ve used every day in my professional life: the ability to quickly grasp and then capture in writing the essence of an incident or meeting or conversation; to understand the fact that everyone involved in that incident or meeting will have a different perspective (he used the scene of a car accident to convey this). I wrote Steve recently to thank him for his very effective classroom teaching. He taught the importance of being precise in the use of language and to cut out fluff and make every word and every sentence count.

Updated: February 13, 2020