How Cole Rucker ’85, co-founder and CEO of Paradigm Malibu, fixes broken systems

This article originally appeared in Transylvania’s Third & Broadway magazine (Vol. 1, Issue No. 2, pp. 6-7).

Great tradition is best coupled with fearless innovation.

Cole Rucker

This quote is etched in black granite in Transylvania’s Alumni Plaza. Rucker, Class of 1985, says it sums up his Transylvania experience.

Rucker is revolutionizing mental health care for teens.

“At Transylvania, we always had this great history to fall back on, a solid academic foundation to stand on, yet we were encouraged to be innovative, to look at things differently and to take chances,” Rucker remembers. Today, he’s the co-founder and CEO of Paradigm Malibu, a group of residential treatment centers for adolescents and their families along the Pacific Coast Highway.

For more than 20 years, Rucker has been pioneering and transforming teen mental health care, individual by individual. He finds the roots for much of his thinking and methodology in his Transy experience.

“Much of my journey at Transy was about figuring out who I was and how to live authentically,” he says, something that he’s found essential to treating teens. “A lot of my views, coming from a small town in Kentucky, were culture bound, based on my limited life experience. I learned how to see things through other people’s eyes and to be open and accepting of other people’s values and traditions. That laid the ground work for me to be much more effective at working with a large cross section of people.”

What makes Paradigm Malibu’s approach so successful and innovative in the industry is their treatment of adolescents as equal partners in the creation and implementation of their treatment plan. It’s about empowering young people, Rucker explains. “We help young people find value in approaching their lives in different ways and getting different results. I like to believe the professors at Transy who helped shaped me would appreciate the approach.”

Developing a new approach meant going up against the system. “People in the industry fought us every step of the way,” Rucker remembers. But in time, positive outcomes were supported by research that revealed not only that the old compliance-based treatment (where teens gain points for behavior) was not very effective, but that Paradigm’s results were meaningful and sustainable.

A framed certificate of recognition from the State of California gets to the heart of Rucker’s pioneering work and the impact of Paradigm Malibu: “Thank you for your enduring commitment to youth…your devotion sets an example for all to follow.”