By Bob Johnston
March 17, 2020

Red Cross Los Angeles CEO – Jarrett Barrios

Jarrett is a father, cook, consumer of media and an advocate. Our conversation provided me with a number of insights and learnings around leadership.

Jarrett Barrios serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross Los Angeles. Leading a team of talented humanitarians to provide care and comfort to those afflicted by disasters-large and small, he also leads Prepare SoCal’s effort to prepare Los Angeles against disasters ranging from home fires to a major earthquake.

Barrios and the Los Angeles Red Cross team are expanding Prepare Los Angeles to focus on building up the resiliency of the most vulnerable communities in Los Angeles. The LA Regional team also spans the arc of Red Cross services to the public, including services to active duty military and veterans, international humanitarian services and youth and community engagement efforts. This portfolio builds on his prior role as the chief executive of the Massachusetts Red Cross where, for his transformational leadership, he was awarded the American Red Cross Presidential Award for Excellence in 2014.

Barrios is an honors graduate from Harvard College (AB ’90-’91) and Georgetown Law (’95), and practiced law at the Boston firm of Hill & Barlow, then began public service in 1999 as a Massachusetts State Representative for four years, then as a State Senator for five years. In the House, he authored a broad range of legislation from a law to improve emergency room services for immigrants to the creation of a state low-income housing tax credit. In the Senate, he chaired the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee and was the Vice Chair of the Health Care Committee.

As a state senator, Barrios led the first comprehensive rewrite of the state fire code in the wake of the Station Nightclub fire, authored the nation’s strongest “buffer zone” legislation to protect women’s health centers, led the passage of a statewide assault weapons ban and gang-prevention legislation, as well as authoring foreclosure prevention bills, cons umer data privacy and protection legislation, and legislation to protect victims of domestic violence. During this period, he was a Senate leader in the effort to protect marriage equality for gay and lesbian families in the Commonwealth and helped found the Massachusetts statewide Latino political group, Oíste. Upon leaving the legislature, he served as the president and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation in Boston and of GLAAD in New York and Los Angeles.

Outside of Red Cross, he currently serves as a supervisorial appointee to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, as a board member of the Los Angeles BizFed Institute, as well as the boards of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and the Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc. Along the way, he has lectured on transnational gang violence in El Salvador, represented the United States in a delegation to Australia with the American Council of Young Political Leaders, counted hanging chads in the disputed presidential election of 2000, toured Mexico to train university students on American political process on behalf of the State Department, studied the public health systems and lectured on US health reform in Brazil as an Eisenhower Fellow. He recently participated in the inaugural cohort of the Presidio Institute’s Cross Sector Leadership Fellows in partnership with the White House Office on Social Innovation. He speaks Spanish and is proficient in Portuguese, and for 20 years, has engaged in licensed humanitarian efforts in Cuba.

Barrios has two children, Javier, 22, and Nathaniel, 17.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox, or your preferred podcast platform.


Minute marker 2:35
"80% of preparedness is not event specific"
"be prepared to be your own first responder"

Daily disaster work continues at Red Cross despite COVID
Here’s how RC responds
Grab and go meals
Keeping your family safe

How as CEO Jarrett responds to crisis
Taking care of workforce – managing 8 offices, 200 employees and an army of 5,000 volunteers
Getting your leadership team on board to do the preparatory things they must do

Curve changes if people re-infect
Period where our system will be taxed
Self-isolation slows distribution

What it felt like being six blocks from the finish line during the Boston Marathon bombing
Jarrett was CEO of Red Cross in Massachusetts at the time
Channel uncertainty into things that you, your family and your workforce can control despite economic impact

For business leaders, lesson is clear communication is critical and repeating it
IT people have heavy role during crisis and remote working
Link what you’re doing to your organizational values

Process and people are key to responding to a crisis
Support resilience building for leaders in the 'disaster space’ – ability to bounce back after a setback
Getting back to Blue Sky operations
Strong continuity of operations plan during Grey Sky
Open and honest communications with employees

Don’t go to your lizard brain when something difficult happens
His disaster response team is in charge during a crisis
CEO reports to the response team

Jarrett as a recovering politician

How he gets his content
Lot of podcast listening driving in car
Reads New York Times and LA Times daily
On his browser, Firefox, has 'save for later' view to house his daily reads
The Daily, Washington Post, New Yorker’s Radio Hour, Radio Lab
Deep Background Podcast
The. Guardian Long Reads Podcast
Backstory Podcast
Through Line Podcast, NPR
In Our Time Podcast, BBC