BD CEO On Leadership During COVID-19: Crisis Reveals A Company’s Character

When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, focus – and hope for recovery – was placed on the testing capacity of biotechnology. Despite stepping into his role mere weeks before the emergence of the pandemic, Tom Polen, CEO of BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), is one of the biotech industry’s primary leaders at the frontline of this fight. 

In addition to the search for a cure, accurate and efficient diagnostic testing became the keystone to tracking who had been infected, and who was subsequently at risk. In other words, the strategy to identify and isolate cases while scientists develop an offensive treatment plan was one of the more transparent preventative measures.

Very rarely does a newly appointed CEO face a crisis of this magnitude, especially within the first quarter of the CEO role beginning. But the impact of a crisis is never singular; right now, that is especially true in the many branches of the medical field (and virtually every industry). As reflected in the responses of many of the world’s corporations of all sizes and impacts, the path forward was inevitably uncharted with sparse moments for adjustment. But to paraphrase Polen from our recent conversation on The CEO Show, a crisis doesn’t create character; it reveals it. 

Tom Polen

At the heart of BD’s mission now is what they have always wanted to do: advance the world of health. As one of the only biotech companies providing a full spectrum of solutions from research to diagnostics to treatment, when faced with compounding challenges brought on by COVID-19, BD’s worldwide team of 65,000 people working at the frontlines turned to their core values and reinforced the meaning of their purpose-driven culture to move forward. As leader of the company, Polen champions his people as the “real” force of change while working with international governments, the CDC and multiple diagnostics companies to provide a variety of solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. The guiding principle for everyone at BD, especially now, is to “fulfill our life’s work through our work life.”

This work, according to Polen, includes three areas of focus for transitioning safely out of lockdown: testing if people have COVID-19; testing if people had COVID-19; and building a robust monitoring system with real-time data to alert for trends toward a second outbreak. 

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