Ted Pestorius has spent his entire career working for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In his current position as Deputy Director, Management and Overseas Operations for the Center for Global Health (CGH), Pestorius is responsible for approximately 3,000 employees in over 60 countries with a budget of $2.5 billion. His purview also includes managing the Information Technology systems across the Center’s divisions.
“My main objective is to work collaboratively with all divisions of CGH and our country offices to ensure the appropriate implementation of our authorized funds,” said Pestorius. “When congress appropriates money to our divisions, it comes with expectations, and it is my job to make sure that the right resources are in place to fulfill those expectations.”
While it is now obvious that this is the right career path for Pestorius, he did not originally plan to go into the public health sector. He attended the University of Texas and received a bachelor’s degree in history, intending to become a high school history teacher and baseball coach.
One fateful day, while Pestorius was waiting to be advised on receiving a teaching certificate, he came across the liberal arts job placement waiting room.
“It was the only place that had air conditioning, so I thought I would wait it out in there,” he laughed.
As he was waiting, he noticed the CDC was recruiting for employees who would be placed in STD clinics in inner cities. They were looking for individuals who could work with incarcerated populations, substances abusers, sex workers, and the homeless. Intrigued, he dialed the number on the flyer, received an application, and let it age on his kitchen table. After a few months, he filled out the paperwork, sent it in, and was offered an interview and the position almost immediately. Required to pay for his first move, “I sold my bed and golf clubs and hauled the rest of my stuff to Chicago to begin working with patients with gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV.” Over the last 28 years, Pestorius has held various positions that have taken him from Chicago to DC to Houston to Connecticut and ultimately, to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, where he has settled in for much of his career.
In his current position, Pestorius frequently travels around the globe to places such as Kenya, South Africa, Guatemala, and Southeast Asia. With teams in time zones all over the world, Pestorius finds it very important to be a hands-on manager. “Management exists to ensure programmatic success,” said Pestorius. “My mantra to my teams is ‘my job is to work for you, I am here for you – that’s why we have managers’.”
As Pestorius climbed the ladder at the CDC, he found himself drawn towards the Senior Executive Service. The last piece for fulfilling his career goals was to earn his master’s degree, and he chose public administration and policy.
In 2011, he attended an open house at the UGA Gwinnett campus and spoke with Dr. Andy Whitford. “Dr. Whitford was a great encouragement to me to join the program,” explained Pestorius. “With four kids at home, I wanted a home/life balance, and Dr. Whitford assured me I could do it all. I was a public health adviser by day and student by night.”
Pestorius took all thirteen classes of the MPA program at the Gwinnett campus, and found each one as enjoyable as the next. More importantly, within a year of completion of his degree he was selected in the Senior Executive Service- his professional goal, and primary reason for enrolling in the program.
“I had been a federal employee for 20 years at that point, managing thousands of people and billion-dollar budgets, so I had a solid footing,” he said, but I didn’t have the final credential. “While I went to UGA to fulfill my professional goal, being able to participate in the classes and to see the origin of this work, where it came from, and how it was all linked, was exhilarating. It gave me a greater understanding of federal service, and without a doubt, it enhanced my writing and communication skills. It made me a better manager, and I had a good time in the process.”
Pestorius also saw the excellence of his classmates, and he mined the MPA program for its exceptional talent. During the Zika outbreak, he hired eight of his classmates.
“I needed people who could communicate, who could write, and who could think on their feet. The UGA cohort is just so sharp, so it was a natural fit. I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to help start 8 professional careers, and help to advance the missions of both UGA and CDC”
As a life-long public servant, Pestorius has found that persistence pays off, and for currents students looking to go into the public service, he has some sage advice:
“If you want something, throw your hat in the ring and make them tell you no,” he said. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”