John Sensiba: Man of the Year

He saved our hospital, leading ValleyCare through merger with Stanford Health

John Sensiba, managing partner of regional accounting firm Sensiba San Filippo LLP whose professional expertise helped rescue financially troubled ValleyCare Health System from bankruptcy, is the Pleasanton Weekly's Man of the Year for 2015.

As chairman of the ValleyCare board of directors during the hospital's tumultuous years starting in 2013, Sensiba led the complicated effort to merge the struggling nonprofit with Stanford Health Care. That included major reductions in personnel and expenses, including the replacement of ValleyCare's longtime chief executive, Marcy Feit, with Scott Gregerson.

As part of the merger agreement Sensiba and Stanford crafted, Stanford provided a capital commitment of $50 million during the first three years and agreed to guarantee ValleyCare's $85 million worth of revenue bonds in order to resolve bond covenant compliance issues.

"He was the perfect choice to be chairman of ValleyCare at the time given his background in accounting," said Nelson Fialho, Pleasanton city manager. "You couldn't have tapped a better person to lead that initiative. His fiscal background allowed him to navigate the troubled waters skillfully."

This wasn't Sensiba's first scrape with economic problems.

A few years ago, according to a report in the Silicon Valley Business Journal, his own firm was laying off personnel and losing clients to much larger rivals. He cranked up efforts to remain competitive with regional promotions, more sales calls and stressing the agency's commitment to "family, community and the firm."

Later, as chairman of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, he led that organization through a period of membership decline, conducting a nationwide drive to find new staff leadership that led to the hiring of Scott Raty as the chamber's new president. The chamber today is stronger, more active and through its political action arm, where Sensiba continues as a member, is considered one of the most influential organizations in Pleasanton.

Sensiba was honored earlier this year with the coveted Mayor's Award, presented by Mayor Jerry Thorne. In making the presentation, Thorne said Sensiba's dedication to community work reminded him of Winston Churchill's remark: "We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give."

Besides managing the 38-year-old accounting firm, Sensiba continues to serve on the Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare board as one of three community members, helps manage the Rotary Club of Pleasanton's annual Father's Day Spirit Run, where his firm is a key sponsor, and serves as an adviser to the Sunflower Hill board as it pursues permanent housing for those with autism.

He was the recipient of the Ed Kinney Community Patriot Award, received the Tri-Valley YMCA's Martin Luther King Award in 2014, received a Leadership Pleasanton Award in 2014, was Corporate Chair for the Walk to Cure Arthritis in 2015, was nominated for the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year award, selected by the Glass Hammer as one of the "Men Who Get It" in 2012 and is currently chairman of Innovation Tri-Valley. Currently, he is also co-chair of the Catholic Community of Pleasanton's capital campaign.

Sensiba, who is 53, received his bachelor's degree in business from San Jose State in 1986 and joined a small San Mateo accounting firm as a junior partner that year. Realizing that with the firm's partners just a few years older he'd likely be a "junior" for years to come, he joined his current firm as tax manager in 1994. He was named a partner in charge of the tax division, becoming a managing partner in 2008.

It so happened that the firm rebranded itself the next year, with the new name Sensiba San Filippo LLP.

"I actually have 15 business partners, but we couldn't put all 15 names on the door so it's just me and one other partner whose names are part of the firm's name," Sensiba said.

As managing partner, Sensiba no longer handles client services directly as he used to, instead directing the overall work of the firm, making sure it has the right resources to grow and driving the firm's strategy. He and his partners also have deliberately controlled the firm's growth, deciding to keep it as the region's major and strongest accounting firm but also keeping it local.

"As I said earlier, the firm's priorities are family, community and firm," he said. "If we wanted to grow the firm faster, it would require being on airplanes and not with our families and the communities where we live. So we have a regional approach, and this is a great place for our 140 employees to be in business."

The agency first opened in San Jose, and then expanded to San Mateo, San Francisco, Oakland and Morgan Hill. It moved its headquarters from Fremont to Pleasanton in 2005, both to expand into eastern Alameda County and to take advantage of the young professionals and new businesses moving here as well as the synergies from the Livermore and Sandia national laboratories that were starting to release their intellectual properties, thereby attracting more private capital to the area.

Outside of his CPA and accounting firm management responsibilities, Sensiba still stays close to his work as a board member of the Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare system.

"So far, I'm very pleased with how the merger is going," he said. "Even though we're just a little over six months since it was approved by the state's attorney general, financially the hospital is doing well, and Stanford's support and operating systems are having an impact."

"There are still areas that need to be improved and processes that need to get better, but I'm very happy that we were able to attract Stanford," he added. "But I have to congratulate the people long before I joined the board who built a fantastic hospital that made it a Pleasanton resource."

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2 people like this
Posted by Meredith
a resident of Downtown
on Dec 30, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Amazing! What dedication to our community. Thank you John for all our hardwork and dedication to Pleasanton. Every thought about running for Mayor? We could really use some help with our downtown and keeping/attracting retail and food business in Pleasanton. Seems like we are losing all good places to Livermore and Dublin. Thanks again for all that you have done.

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