CLA-OC Members Receive Briefing on Leading With Higher Ambition in a Time of Crisis

In mid-March, CLA members were welcomed to a virtual panel discussion with CEOs across the nation who are playing central roles in addressing the COVID-19 crisis.  Facilitated by the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership, this intimate conversation addressed foundational leadership issues woven with real time news from the battle against the worldwide pandemic that has stretched our health care system and engulfed our economy. 

Quest Diagnostics’ Chairman, President & CEO Steve Rusckowski’s remarks focused on shared-purpose leadership and values in the midst of crisis.  Quest Diagnostics has been working around the clock to invent and develop laboratory testing methods and ramp up capacity to currently producing thousands of tests daily, while developing procedures to ensure the safety of more than 16,000 team members on the front line in hospitals and doctors’ offices.   

The company’s response team evolved from a core team of 200 to daily calls with 4,500 of its management.  Rusckowski described the process as ‘a marathon’ requiring the continued engagement of its team as they are front and center addressing the need for testing.

BD (Becton Dickinson) Executive Chairman Vince Forlenza further illustrated the importance of shared-purpose leadership in describing his organization’s work across international borders on supply chain issues and with the US FDA and multiple levels of government on testing and treatment approaches.  A founding member of the Global Pandemic Supply Chain Network, BD has equipment manufacturing facilities in China that had to be reopened so its machines could be supplied to treat COVID-19 patients in Wuhan and elsewhere in the world.  

The global healthcare company also rapidly instituted strategies to protect its employees, including physically segmenting its workforce and scrutinizing HR policies to ensure employees would have no possible incentive to remain quiet in the event of exposure or infection.  BD also moved quickly to implement virtual board of directors meetings and employed its business planning group to conduct analysis of COVID-19’s impact on their business.

CVS Health Executive Vice President and Aetna Business Unit President Karen Lynch spoke on the challenge of maintaining effective two-way communications with their 300,000 front line employees.  Lynch emphasized the need to protect employee health and safety, which drove establishment of web-based COVID-19 resource center for employees and a resource response team that could respond promptly to any employee questions via text.  To help deal with the risk of communications overload, CVS established a single system its team can go to in order to review updates as needed.   

CVS’s driving principles also include ensuring an efficient supply chain of products and maintaining customer communications.   

From an HR perspective, their organization is staffing up to meet the demands of the crisis.  Lynch’s team has been creative in reaching out to the hospitality industry for workers sidelined by the decline in global travel.   Ensuring an open line with government and regulatory agencies is another key priority, as agencies adjust policies to help customers through zero copay testing and other considerations.  For its part CVS has committed to keeping people on its payroll who are caring for a COVID-19 patient and offering paid leave to part-time employees.   

BD’s Chief Executive Officer and President Tom Polen spoke on its approach to sustain organizational focus and alignment during this crisis.  Polen’s organization has achieved efficiencies by ensuring communications are shared in real time and in video discussions that allow for Q&A, instead of relying on a cascading system.  With much of its workforce operating remotely, BD has “doubled down” on ways to encourage its people to role-model leadership and best practices.   

Polen added that much of the red tape associated with R&D has disappeared as parties collaborate on solutions and part of BD’s focus is on how to sustain this once the crisis abates.   Among the most promising developments being evaluated are a rapid point-of-care test that can be delivered using a hand-held device.    

Stanley Bergman, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Henry Schein, provided insight on his company’s role as the founding member of the Global Pandemic Supply Chain Network.  He and a group of company leaders met in 2015 with the World Health Organization to express collected ideas on ways products could be deployed to create a supply network during pandemic events.  He observed that government and private sectors possess excellent supply chain capabilities, but those capabilities and strengths can be subject to political interference.   

Bergman stressed the importance of public private partnerships at all levels of government in order to overcome obstacles and said there is renewed emphasis on permanent infrastructure.  While discussion took place about pandemic-related planning in response to Ebola and H1N1, focus now is on determining how to hold partners accountable and that results from now on “won’t be optional.”   He expressed optimism that change will result in better preparedness going forward. 

“It’s not easy to buy people’s trust,” Bergman said. “The message will only be as valuable as the trust that was built-in during the good times.”

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