Gary Cohen, Executive Vice President at Becton Dickinson and Company (BD) recently sat down with Katherine Klein and Jacob Gray, hosts of Wharton’s Business Radio show Dollars and Change on SiriusXM. The second of a four part series of conversations discussing higher ambition leadership, Cohen discusses higher ambition at the 119 year old company as well as how BD’s commitment to leading with purpose has had direct ties to the level of success it has experienced throughout its long history.
Cohen starts off the conversation by defining higher ambition as “Seeing our role as not just to be commercially successful, which we have to be to sustain ourselves, but also to have a substantial positive impact on society through various means.”
He noted that corporations can have an astounding influence through a higher ambition mindset. As one of the largest medical technology companies in the world boasting 17,000 employees worldwide, the reach of their efforts has moved the needle tremendously in the healthcare world.
One example Cohen highlights is how long higher ambition has been embedded at BD—it dates back to 1954 when Jonas Salk headed up the largest human clinical trial immunizing one million in the US from polio. BD supplied the sterile disposable injection devices thereby enabling the trial to advance. A more recent example includes a development called the Odon Device to deliver babies when they are unable to pass through the birth canal (also referred to as prolonged or second stage troublesome labor). It was presented to him by the World Health Organization (WHO). Although BD didn’t make those types of devices at the time, they knew they had the capacity to do so and moved forward with its development and production.
What is compelling, particularly with regard to the more recent example, is the level of collaboration involved, Here, BD partnered with such entities as the WHO, the inventor of the device, Jorge Odon, NGOs such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and government agencies to make it happen. BD recognized that the only way to properly address the infant and maternal mortality problem throughout the world, was to have a team mentality – to tackle the problem together.
Cohen also discusses the importance of the business model when leading with higher ambition thereby differentiating itself from philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, and public policy. Indeed, it is serious business for BD to sustain itself while doing good. He mentions the $20-25 million dollar price tag attached to develop the Odon device. That said, strategically partnering and utilizing each other’s knowledge base has consistently resulted in both high access and high affordability in countries that are unable to pay more.
In his words, “Everything we do we could not do on our own. One critical skill set that we have developed and refined if how you collaborate with different leaders in different sectors with different skill sets to take on big problems.”
And his advice to business leaders looking to incorporate higher ambition into their companies? “Don’t let yourself off too easy…it’s a mindset in my opinion. Millennials get this. They want to have a successful career but they also want to have purpose in their career. It’s an unstoppable trend and those who don’t get it should get on board.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Dollars and Change airs each Thursday on SiriusXM channel 111.