Healthy Outlook: Unique career path leads attorney to find niche as hospital system general counsel


by Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

For as long as she can remember, Michelle Johnson Tidjani felt compelled to make a difference. While attending Cornell University, where she earned an undergraduate degree with honors, some debate team and advocacy experience would lead her to the field of law. 

“Becoming a lawyer would enable me to give voice to issues that matter,” says Tidjani, a graduate of University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. “To the extent that helping others is a core value for me, practicing law, particularly in health care, reflected perfect personal-professional alignment.”

Though she began as a litigator and thought she would continue on that path, an early opportunity to do some health care work representing physicians and hospitals struck a chord with the native Detroiter.

While she enjoyed communicating with physicians, Tidjani was also drawn to conversations with hospital executives and others who were not in crisis.

“I have always enjoyed strategic discussions. Working through the legal issues to support a particular business outcome, where possible, is incredibly fulfilling,” she says.

Currently, Tidjani serves as Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Henry Ford Health System, providing executive leadership from a strategic and operational perspective for the following areas: Office of the General Counsel covering all legal affairs for the health system, the business integrity (internal audit and corporate compliance), information privacy and security, the governance Office and the risk finance and insurance office.

In her prior position, she served as the Deputy Chief Legal Officer for the Cleveland Clinic.

When it comes to work, her mission is clear.

“Each day is an opportunity to make a difference – a difference in the life of the patients and members we serve, the leadership team at HFHS, and the team that I lead,” says Tidjani, whose biggest challenge is time. “There is never enough time to do all that I’d like to do but when you see the right decision from a strategy I know I’ve been a part of, it’s incredibly rewarding. That to me is worth all the time and energy that is spent collectively with a great team.”

When asked about her advice for young professionals, the happily-married mother of two says: “You have to own the narrative of your career. It’s really what you make of it. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do. Make connections and make them work for you.”

A recent quote she heard really resonated with Tidjani: “If you’re not at the table, you may be on the menu.” As she explains, “Lawyers have a unique opportunity to sit at the table. It’s important for us to make a difference, and to do so, you need to be a part of the solution. Often times we are unfairly characterized as preoccupied with obstacles to projects. Clearly, identifying risk is critical, but also understanding the business well enough to craft thoughtful and compliant solutions is, at the end of the day, the shared objective not only for the business team, but for legal counsel.”  

Tidjani, who wishes she knew 25 years ago that law could be as enjoyable as it is for her, credits others for helping her get the job done along the way.

“I’ve had a lot of great mentors. I am in no way self-made,” she says. “I’ve had great partners, colleagues, and leaders along the way, so I feel very fortunate in that regard.” 

Nina Ramsey, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Henry Ford Health System, is among those colleagues and the admiration and respect are mutual. As Ramsey explains, “Tidjani is brilliant in her discipline, but beyond that, she’s a business thought leader first. She thinks from a holistic perspective; it’s how she approaches scenarios we face every day and then applies her legal discipline to provide solutions.”

According to Ramsey, Tidjani comes from a humble beginning.

“She’s very much rooted in who she is, and she looks at all situations from the perspective of the individuals we impact,” Ramsey says. 

“She is smart, compassionate, and purpose driven, with a heart for those she leads as well as the people in the community we serve. In a mission-driven organization such as health care, this is essential.”

Lastly, Ramsey adds: “In the midst of the serious nature of our work she also finds ways to bring joy to all of us with her quick wit and great sense of humor!”