Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. He is the author of four best-selling books: 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, True North, Finding Your True North, and Authentic Leadership. With co-author Doug Baker he recently published True North Groups.
Mr. George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and board chair from 1996-2002. Earlier in his career, he was a senior executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries and served in the U.S. Department of Defense.
Mr. George currently serves as director of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and the Mayo Clinic and also served on the board of Novartis and Target Corporation. He is currently a trustee of the World Economic Forum USA and Guthrie Theater and a former Trustee of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has served as board chair for Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities, and Advamed.
He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2012. He has been named one of "Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years" by PBS; "Executive of the Year-2001" by the Academy of Management; and "Director of the Year-2001-02" by the National Association of Corporate Directors. Mr. George has made frequent appearances on television and radio and his articles have appeared in Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and numerous publications.
Mr. George received his BSIE with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar, and honorary PhDs from Georgia Tech, Bryant University, and University of St. Thomas. During 2002-03 he was professor at IMD International and Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, and executive-in-residence at Yale School of Management.
He and his wife Penny reside in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Question: What is the most exciting development in the business world?
Bill George: Well there’s a tremendous amount of exciting things going on in business. I think the breakthroughs in healthcare that I participated in, and what can be done to improve human health; the contributions of technology to many of our businesses, and making them competitive on a global scale. But I would say of all the things, the thing that I’m most excited about is the emergence of great global corporations – companies that can operate anywhere in the globe and take advantage of the best skills anywhere. So I’m not a believer in the criticism outsourcing of those things. I think if we could blend together in a multicultural sense people of all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, racial backgrounds, gender and have that kind of unit, we can . . . an organization can make contributions through tough global problems – whether it’s global poverty, economic self-sufficiency . . . I’m a great believer in capitalism. I was a fervent capitalist, and I think the capitalistic model can work if we can be a collaborative capitalism; but what Narayana Murphy of InfoSys calls compassionate capitalism – one that emphasizes fairness, decency, transparency and honesty. But that can be blended in with the principles of capitalism, then I think you have the benefit for using capitalism to create a better society. However there’s a downside to capitalism. And capitalism run amuck can create damage and great harm to people. And that’s why we need authentic leaders running our organizations, not people that are in it for themselves.
Question: What challenge does business face?
Bill George: Well business faces enormous problems going forward. A lot of companies are not adapted to being in a truly global world, and they're still fighting against it.They haven't created a multi-cultural environment.That's certainly one thing. A lot of companies are fighting against governments and not recognizing their problems. A lot of companies are so short-term oriented in their financial orientation and their financial performance that they destroy the very essence of the company.And they don't realize that the only way our share holder value is created is by being customer valued and sustainable customer valued. And so business faces all those risks; and if business pushes beyond the bonds . . . or the bounds of what society is looking for, then I think business will be increasingly constrained. And then we can't let the best side of capitalism which is creating new companies, new jobs, new products and services that can help people really flourish.
But I think moving away from a sense of purpose, or making money the only purpose which we've seen over the last 15 years has become very damaging.Money, if you . . Wealth creation should be the result. It shouldn't be the purpose. The purpose should be creating a product or service that makes a difference in society or in the lives of others, and makes this a better place to live. As a result, if you do that well, then you'll be financially well-rewarded.
Recorded on: 7/6/07