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Nature of Business Radio

The power of walking the talk: BD CEO Ed Ludwig

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

This week on Nature of Business, I wrapped up my Higher Ambition Leadership series with a terrific conversation with Ed Ludwig, the former President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the medical equipment company, Becton Dickinson (BD). Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Franklin Lakes, N.J., BD does business in nearly 50 countries and boasts 29,000 employees worldwide. Ed and I talked about his work getting his company back on track by focusing on its core values, engaging in continuous dialogue with employees, walking the talk, engaging the Board of Directors and much more.

When Ed took the reins in 1999 as President and then in 2000 as CEO, the company was full of aspiration, but had lost a great deal of credibility, particularly on Wall Street. Although not in financial harm's way, there was a real and immediate need to recalibrate its core corporate values. And Ed had to own it because he was actually part of the company's prior management team. (Ed spent his entire career at BD).

One of the first tasks Ed completed as CEO in 2000 was a fitness profile that engaged high-profile executives, brought honest candid feedback to leadership team, and rediscovered what the truth really was at BD. No consultancies were hired to determine what was not working in the company; rather, the process was run solely by BD -- something about which Ed felt very strongly.

In a mere six months, BD had commissioned a task force to hear firsthand the brutal facts and start dealing with them. And Ed asked his people to come to meetings thinking first of the company and second of what they were in charge of. It was a mind change. Some, naturally, were able to deal with it, while others weren't and were self-selected out of the company.

There was also BD University, born out of the pervasive sentiment that BD was not adequately developing its next generation of leaders. Its backbone is built of leaders as teachers, engaging in continuous dialogue and engagement. Ed himself was a teacher, sending a powerful message to the entire organization.

The power of walking the talk -- particularly when it's the CEO, and also the Board of Directors doing the walking -- can't be underestimated. In Ed's words:

"The walk says it all. I made a point of visiting BD sites all over the world. You go visit the plant. Walk the floor. Talk to people. We also had town hall meetings where you get as many people in a room as possible. Executives gave talks and then answered questions. A year ago May we brought our whole board to China and did a panel where people asked the board questions. It was a little bit of act of courage for the board. In my retirement that is what I am going to be focusing on -- the board not only allowing but promoting and encouraging higher ambition leadership. "

This just scratches the surface, so listen in and enjoy the podcast.

George Papoulias edited this podcast.



Businessman walking in sand photo via Shutterstock.

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