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12 Apr. 2021 | Comments (0)
“If you don’t have empathy as a leader, these times would be a struggle. When your days are tough, you learn what is happening to so many, it gives you some perspective and then your days aren’t so tough,”
said Medtronic Chairman and CEO Geoff Martha when asked by Medtronic Foundation President Paurvi Bhatt, “what qualities do you think were necessary for CEOs to navigate what was given to us in 2020?"
Geoff Martha joined Medtronic following a 19-year career at GE. Medtronic operates in 150 countries with more than 90,000 employees. Its products treat 70 health conditions, and its mission is to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life. Geoff worked at Medtronic for about nine years before becoming CEO of Medtronic a month after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and about a month before George Floyd was murdered in Medtronic’s hometown. While he had much to accomplish with the business, a focus on broader societal issues was crucial.
Geoff is passionate about both Medtronic’s corporate citizenship and DE&I work - especially the intersection of the two. To discuss the CEO’s philosophy, and how he works with the corporate citizenship group, we had a fireside chat moderated by Paurvi Bhatt. The discussion (presented in edited format) revealed insights for how corporate citizenship executives can more effectively work with their CEOs and members of the C-Suite:
1. Integration of Corporate Citizenship
Paurvi: Have you reprioritized corporate citizenship to better create business value, value for your employees as well as more effectively delivering societal value? Has pressure from investors and input from the board driven these decisions?
Geoff: Society is moving/shifting, and investors are responding. A global, societal view needs to be part of the core strategy for all companies. Investors, whether they be retail, big institutions, or employees are expecting meaningful actions. They can see right through it if you are only checking the boxes. We need to drive impact that matters. CEOs that I engage with around the world are taking on a much more active role here. I might be oversimplifying, but in the past, societal issues were off to the side. In some cases, it was something we had to do and not core to our business strategies. Now, corporate citizenship, company response to societal issues, needs to be fully integrated. I’m pushing that this needs to be run as a business, it is not for-profit per se, but you have to drive results. Now I believe those who run foundations and others within ESG need to be fully integrated.
2. Transformation of Corporate Citizenship
Paurvi: Building on the challenges so many face, when we talk Stakeholder Capitalism and the “S” in ESG, how can companies create positive and sustained impact in communities?
Geoff: When I came into Medtronic, it already had a rich history with the “S.” The Medtronic Foundation had been in existence for over 40 years. I’ve been on the Medtronic Foundation Board for six – seven years. There’s a really important linkage between philanthropy and leaning into social issues. Governments take on a big role, but there are gaps, and polarization has led to paralysis. People are looking to companies to play a bigger role and trusting that we will help solve some of these larger issues. Trust is a big part of this across all our stakeholders. But to our employees in particular, social issues really matter! They want to work for a company that stands for something. This is extending across our value chain. Even our customers and suppliers want us involved to work with them on these issues. We are well past simply “writing a check” from the Foundation. That’s not enough. I’m focused on moving us from just supporting organizations with a check to creating real impact and engaging as many employees as possible in this work with activities, using their skills and their passion to deliver societal change. We want to be part of the solution with deep and worthy contributions, where we have a unique place to leverage our health and technology knowledge and focus on underserved parts of the world. We want you to ask us to help solve a problem.
3. The Impact of Community Service in His Personal Journey . . . and as CEO
Paurvi: Tell us about your community or social impact bio. Do you remember when you first started to engage with the community? What did you learn from that experience? How did working with communities and nonprofits shape your perspective and leadership style?
Geoff: As a kid, it was about fundraising for my hockey habit. It wasn’t really until college that I got more involved. At Penn State I became engaged in an “adopt-a-child with cancer” fundraiser. I have to admit, my mind was really focused on other things, then I met these young kids with cancer. I couldn’t help but jump in. I also got involved with a diversity leadership organization in college that exposed me to people from all walks of life. This was in the 90s. I met the leaders of the campus gay organization and I spoke to their group. They seemed like nice guys. When I learned their stories, about abuse they had faced, it was bad. It gave me an opportunity to walk in others’ shoes such as these guys and kids with cancer. At GE, I was involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, but this was a challenge as I moved so often. When I got to Medtronic, my predecessor CEO, who grew up in India and Bangladesh, got me involved in global health projects such as helping with a cardiac organization and assisting with business development. Then I was hooked!
And now, I serve on a couple of nonprofit boards, like many leaders do. But I do so with a real understanding of what it may be like for communities because of my commitment to this work. I’ve learned a lot from the nonprofit community. The staff of these organizations are very lean. They measure every dollar spent while they are taking on huge issues such as generational poverty. I also learned how you can do big things, convene different people with different skill sets, rally around an issue to create big solutions. You can learn a lot as a businessperson by really engaging deeply with a nonprofit.
4. A Call to Action – It’s Your Time!
Paurvi: Geoff, what is your call to action to the corporate citizenship field?
“Your moment is here. Your employers need your leadership. You are making a huge difference for your companies.”
“People like me need to be educated, it can be complicated to get people like me to open our eyes. It is not easy.”
“It’s time to be bold, to take a risk, get into that uncomfortable zone and lead your organization. Now is the time!”
Paurvi: Thank you Geoff! I know this community is ready to meet the challenge. Thank you for your perspective and inspiring words of action for our Corporate Citizenship Leaders.