August 2021

Cardinal Health CEO: After ‘tough questions’ Columbus Partnership shaping equity plan

Courtesy of Columbus Business First
By Carrie Ghose
August 5, 2021

After a year of asking “tough questions” internally, including about the lack of diversity in its own ranks, the Columbus Partnership is turning outward to figure out where members’ clout can move the needle on equity.

Cardinal Health CEO Mike Kaufmann and Curt Moody, founder of Moody Nolan Inc., since last summer have led a committee on race for the business leadership and economic development group. For the next few months, Kaufmann said, several sub-groups are researching where community and corporate programs for affordable housing, broadband access, workforce development and other areas are already effective or could use backing from the Partnership’s significant network and resources.

“I’m glad we’re staying focused on our African American and Black community,” Kaufmann said Thursday. “If we can make progress there, we can make progress across all underrepresented groups.”

As I reported in my latest cover story on the Partnership’s upcoming leadership change, the group of corporate CEOs and civic leaders reflects the lack of diversity in upper management nationwide: Three of 79 members are Black, two are Hispanic.

“It’s not as diverse a group we’d like it to be,” Kaufmann said in an interview, shortly after reporting the Dublin healthcare distributor’s fiscal 2021 financial results.

To correct that, the committee added Black business leaders as members and facilitators, such as Columbus Urban League CEO Stephanie Hightower, YWCA CEO Christie Angel, and Donna James, founder and managing director of business and executive advisory firm Lardon & Associates.

Partnership members had three sessions with Robert Livingston, a Harvard University social psychologist and author, on transforming organizations to deal with racism and unconscious bias. CEOs including Kaufmann appear in a testimonial video about the sessions on Livingston’s website.

“As a group we all can improve our representation,” Kaufmann said. “That’s why were educating ourselves with Professor Livingston on the types of things we can do as individual companies, that over time will lead to more CEOs being more diverse.”

The Partnership’s legacy work over its two-decade history in business attraction and job creation also plays a role, Kaufmann said.

“It puts real pressure on the community to do the right things to get people ready for these jobs,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state’s largest public company again topped its record for annual revenue – up 6% to $162.5 billion – despite the challenges of supplying the healthcare industry through the coronavirus pandemic. Profit of $472 million represent a turnaround from fiscal 2020’s net loss caused by recording anticipated expenses to settle opioid lawsuits.

The three largest drug distributors last month agreed to a $21 billion global settlement to settle thousands of lawsuits brought by states and municipalities over their costs in responding to the overdose epidemic. Cardinal’s Share is about $6.4 billion, spread over 18 years. The company already had accounted for that amount over the past few years.

Cardinal continues to cut off pharmacy customers flagged for suspicious prescription activity and continues other mitigation programs.

The CDC in December warned that preliminary data indicate a record spike in overdose deaths during the pandemic – this time attributed to illicitly manufactured street drugs rather than prescription abuse.

“Those types of things are the real challenge here,” Kaufmann said.

Cardinal “vigorously defended” against accusations brought in the lawsuits, but believes the closure brought by settling is in shareholders’ best interest, he said.

“Hopefully those communities will take those dollars … and look at the overall problems of addiction in our country and put the programs in place to combat it,” Kaufmann said.

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