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Shared Value Champion: Gary Cohen, BD

May 1, 2019
What does shared value mean to you?

Shared value is utilising the skills, resources, core competencies, global reach, creativity and operating models of companies to help address major social challenges, and doing so in a manner that contributes to the ongoing sustainability and success of the business enterprise, as this enables the positive societal impacts to go to full scale.  It is using business models to solve social problems.

What led you individually to the shared value concept? How did you come across it?

I am fortunate to be part of a global company that has been practising shared value creation for many decades, starting well before the term ‘shared value’ was coined.  Personally, I’ve always believed that the private sector can have a major positive influence on society if we set our sights on addressing societal needs and problems.  And I’ve always been convinced that companies which solve real problems will be the most successful ones.  BD has been continuously successful for 122 years, in part because we contribute in a meaningful way to society. 

I came across the words ‘shared value’ through interactions with FSG, the non-profit consulting firm founded by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer.  A senior representative of FSG reached out to me and BD around the time of the publication because they knew BD was one of the practitioner companies in this area and they wanted to collaborate to advance the state of the art.

What does shared value success look like at your company and where is your company on the journey?

BD has achieved many shared value successes over the past three decades.  The most notable among these is the work we have led to address safety risks to health workers from occupational injuries, particularly sharp object injuries.  BD is the largest producer of needle-based devices in the world, and in the 1980s, we understood the risks of disease transmission from patient to health worker from needlestick injuries.  At that time, HIV & AIDS was a major concern, as it is today, though today there is treatment, in the 1980s there wasn’t.  BD worked with activists and advocates to advance awareness, education, training, surveillance and reporting on sharp object injuries.  We also invested substantially, well over one billion U.S. dollars, to broadly redesign our needle devices to incorporate integrated safety features, and we worked with governments to develop new laws, regulations and guidelines designed to protect health workers from injuries by transitioning to these newer devices.  These efforts were successful, resulting in substantial reductions of injuries to health workers, and in parallel, safety-engineered needle devices became the largest source of organic (non-acquisition) growth for BD over the past 30 years.  So, this was true shared value creation.

There are other examples, not as substantial as this, but just as important in terms of positive societal impact.

I would say in BD success occurs when we are truly helping solve a widely recognised and highly prioritised unmet social need – in our case these are unmet health needs – and it contributes to the success of the company.  We are advanced in this journey, though there is certainly more progress that can be made.

What is your role as a leader in supporting shared value within your organisation?

BD is a purpose-driven company, and that enables us to have an underlying culture that is very conducive to shared value creation.  We also are a very stable organisation; we’ve gone 122 years without changing hands (being taken over).  The company has had only one major change in structure, transitioning from a privately held company to a publicly traded company in 1962, and we’ve only done two major acquisitions, one in 2015 and the other in 2017.  That stability and our purpose-driven culture have been instrumental in enabling the uptake of shared value as a concept in BD.

As a shared value leader within BD, earlier in this decade I worked with a team to mobilise the first shared value training program implemented by any company.  BD and FSG co-created the curriculum, and we rolled this out globally, reaching approximately 500 of the company’s top leaders and high potential associates.

In addition to this, I present frequently internally and externally about shared value creation, as a champion of this concept, not only to advance these practices within BD, but also more generally across multiple industries.

In a sense, this is now culminating with my latest venture, which is as founder of the Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation.  This new institute at the Rutgers Business School, one of the top public business school programs in the U.S., is designed to orient and train both future and present business leaders on how to incorporate social innovation, including shared value creation, into their leadership agenda.

How has practicing shared value helped you individually in your role or career more generally?

Starting 30 years ago, I initiated and led BD’s strategy on health worker safety, and given the success it created, that certainly was helpful to my career.  In the early 2000s, I also founded the Global Health function in BD, where we collaborate across sectors with national and international health agencies, governments, non-profit organisations and trusts to address major unmet health needs in developing countries.  We have a small but mighty team that leads this work globally, and it enhances all our lives to be engaged in this work.  We also learned a lot about cross-sector collaboration, and we’ve adapted these methods to high growth countries such as China, establishing the capability to bring true value to society rather than just promoting and selling our products.  This has also contributed to the growth of the company.  All this work has made my role and career more fulfilling than it might otherwise have been, because we’re able to achieve higher-order goals, including and beyond business success.

What do you think are some pertinent global issues that could be solved through creating shared value?

Right now I’m spending much of my time on combatting antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is when drugs stop working because the organisms they are designed to kill (bacteria, fungai, parasites) develop resistance and survive the drug treatment, becoming stronger in the process, and ultimately causing certain infections to become untreatable. This is a massive risk to the world, far worse than most people realise.  It’s estimated that 700,000 people worldwide are dying today from drug resistant infections, and this number is expected to grow to 10 million annually by 2050.  That will make AMR a greater source of mortality than cancer.  And this is not only a future risk, it is affecting patients right now.  As part of this work, through BD I’ve mobilized the Antimicrobial Resistance Fighter Coalition, which is a non-commercial awareness building campaign emphasizing the need for everyone to take personal responsibility in combatting AMR.  We have recruited participants in this coalition from 37 countries, including Australia by the way, across a wide range of stakeholders including government and health agency officials, researchers, clinicians, patients and family members of patients who died from resistant infections.

This is also shared value creation for BD, because through our training programs, products and systems we can have a major positive impact on addressing two of the most important needs associated with AMR; infection prevention and control, and proper stewardship (use) of antimicrobial drugs through improved diagnosis of cause of infection. 

This is a much bigger topic than I can cover here, but it is one important example of an unmet need that lends itself to shared value.  There are many more that we’re also working on, including reducing medication errors, addressing the opioid epidemic in the U.S. through better tracking of drug dispensing, strengthening health and laboratory systems in developing and emerging countries, etc., and these are just a few of the many we’re working on.