Q&A with John Wolf

Financial Analyst Retires After More than 20 Years at Stanford

"I have truly loved my time as a 'financial archaeologist' for the Department of Medicine," John says.

John Wolf, chief financial analyst for the Department of Medicine, on a hike in Peru at the dig site where he works as an archaeologist (on his days off, of course)

John Wolf, clinical financial analyst for the Department of Medicine, has been a fixture at Stanford for over 20 years. 

On the occasion of his retirement, we celebrate his work with a brief Q&A that still manages to highlight some of the extraordinary work he’s done (on and off campus) in the past few decades.  His journey to Stanford may surprise you—among other things, it includes stints in government, politics, and archaeology. 

We're grateful for John's years of service, amazed by his career, and wish him all the best on his next adventures.

Q: What is the official title of your position in the department?   

Clinical Financial Analyst.

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of your job? What does your day-to-day look like?   

I prepare various reports and datasets related to the clinical operations of the department. These include the annual MGMA (Medical Group Management Association) survey, the faculty review dataset, the Monthly Activity Reports that are distributed to each of our clinical divisions, and the DOM Comp dataset that is the basis for our faculty bonus program.

In addition, there are a variety of division specific reports and other ad hoc reports. My day entails much Excel screen time.

Q: How long have you been with the Department of Medicine? What’s changed throughout your time here?

I joined the Chair’s Office in August 1997 (24+ years). Much has changed. Faculty numbers have grown dramatically (particularly in primary care and hospital medicine), from under 200 to now well over 600. I started when most of our financial and personnel applications were created in-house (SUFIN, etc.). This was before the switch to Oracle. Of course, personnel have come and gone. When I leave, Mike Polochak will take on the mantle of the longest serving employee in the Chair’s Office.

Q: Tell us a little about your journey to Stanford. What did you do before this job?

My journey has been long, varied, and interesting. Prior to my return to school in 1989 to study anthropology, I worked in politics and government for twenty years. I have done every job there is in a political campaign, from stuffing/licking envelopes to campaign manager. I have been a delegate to two national conventions and a member of the credentials committee for a third. I have worked on local, state, and national campaigns. As for government service, I have been a researcher and legislative assistant for the Oregon House of Representatives, Executive Assistant to the Oregon State Labor Commissioner, and Caucus Administrator (Senior Staff Assistant to the Majority Leader) for the House Majority Office of the Oregon Legislature.

Immediately before returning to university studies, I was a Contract Federal EEO Investigator, working as a private investigator and conducting internal investigations of civil rights complaints filed against the United States Government. I was a sworn federal agent, taking the oath all federal law enforcement agents take, to uphold and protect the Constitution and laws of the United States.

In 1996, while on leave from the PhD program in the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University, I went to work as a fiscal assistant for the Department of Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). At that time Tom Jackiewicz was the director of finance and administration there. When Judith Swain became the Chair of the Stanford Department of Medicine, she hired Tom to be DFA here. Tom and I had worked well together at OHSU and he asked if I would like to join the department and here I am.

In 1999, I was accepted into the PhD program in the Stanford Department of Anthropological Sciences. I met with Dr. Swain, Dr. Ed Holmes, who was Associate Dean for Research at the time, and Tom Jackiewicz. Each approved my wish to enter the program and continue my work for the department. Thus, I returned to my studies.

Q: Have there been any moments in your work with the Department of Medicine that stand out as particularly memorable or rewarding?

There have been many rewarding moments. Under the leadership of Dr. Swain and the direction of Tom Jackiewicz, I was directly involved in the creation of the first departmental-wide faculty incentive plan. The plan and the detail work that I perform to support it has “evolved” significantly. The creation of DOM Comp, led by Cathy Garzio and Julie White, with the vital aid of Jack Zeng and his IT team, definitely stands out as a memorable achievement.

Q: You spend time as an archaeologist in Peru each year. What is that experience like?

I have been an anthropologist for more than thirty years. My primary sub-field is archaeology and my second is physical anthropology. I have been a part-time adjunct at Foothill College since 2008. I primarily teach lecture and lab courses in physical (biological) anthropology, although I also teach cultural anthropology and medical anthropology. I am also a faculty member of the Honors Institute at Foothill.

Since 2000, I have worked most summers as an archaeologist at Chavín de Huántar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the north central Andes of Peru. This Stanford project has been under the direction of Professor John Rick, now an emeritus professor. In addition to Peru, over the last 30+ years I have conducted archaeological investigations in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific, and Guatemala. My technical specialties include field survey and excavation, site and laboratory photography, human osteology, forensic analysis, and ceramic analysis. My theoretical focus is the emergence of social and political complexity. My geographic focus is the Pacific New World (from Alaska to Patagonia, from the cordillera to Pacific Ocean).  

Q: What are your plans for retirement?

I will continue to teach at Foothill. Because of COVID, we have not been able to conduct field operations in Peru for the last two years. I look forward to that changing, I hope, in the near future.

Q: You’ve been at Stanford for a long time – any advice or parting wisdom you’d like to share with colleagues?

Take advantage of all training opportunities. The more you learn, the more you will be able to do for your department/division. That will open more doors. I have truly loved my time as a “financial archaeologist” for the Department of Medicine.

Photos from John's Adventures in Peru

John Wolf (known locally as Lobo) with his archaeology crew in Peru

A view of Chavin de Huantar, the dig site for John's archaeological work

Another view of Chavin de Huantar

Lobo hard at work