Rob Clark | Gagen MacDonald

Insights & Events / Let Go & Lead / LG&L Interview

Rob Clark

Jun 17, 2015

Fast Facts


Minneapolis, MN

Number of employees::


Number of years in current role::

2 years

Previous experiences::

Various communications leadership positions in Corporate Communications and Government Affairs at Medtronic, United Health Group, ADC Telecommunications and US Air Force

First job::

ICMB Missile Launch Officer, US Air Force

Leader you admire the most::

First, my father – a self-made man who was the consummate servant leader. Second, Abraham Lincoln – courageous, honorable, humble and visionary.

Questions & Answers

With Medtronic’s acquisition of Covidien, how has your role changed?:

In addition to leading communications globally, the acquisition has added a substantial new area of focus and work concentration on the integration of the two companies. I’m spending a significant portion of my daily time now on the integration.

With the acquisition, we added more than 40,000 people to the Medtronic family and so we are centering most of our efforts on employee communications – ensuring there is understanding of the strategy and vision of the organization; an understanding around the changes that impact the way people do their jobs; and an understanding around the major actions we are undertaking to bring the two companies together.

Has the vision for the new organization been finalized? How will you be communicating it to all employees?:

Medtronic has had a longstanding Mission to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life for people around the world through the development of medical technologies, and we are three years into executing a three-part strategy to raise our value proposition to health care systems around the world. We are not creating a new mission or vision here per se versus explaining to employees in both companies how the Covidien acquisition advances our vision of transforming health care. We have a number of approaches to communicate around the integration including a dedicated portal online for all integration related news; FAQs that are updated almost daily; leader toolkits; and a host of events and small group forums for employees to learn the latest and engage on the integration.

What steps are you taking to successfully integrate the two employee populations?:

We’ve laid out four primary goals for our integration – Preserve, Optimize, Accelerate and Transform – and we have teams working on all four areas. “Preserve” merely means sustaining the momentum of both companies and this has been the main focus as we passed through the close and began executing our integration plans. Both companies were operating at a high level pre-close and, frankly, we don’t want to screw that up. We are now starting to turn to the “Optimize” theme, which brings a focus on integrating core operations and driving new levels of productivity and efficiency in the new organization. We will ultimately bring the “Accelerate” and “Transform” themes to the forefront but our early objective has been to be methodical, planful and patient as we integrate the two companies.

What role are leaders playing in the integration?:

Leaders are the key here on two fronts. First, we are driving our leaders to make the decisions that need to be made regarding organizational changes. The vision setting is important, but ultimately employees want to know who they report to, do they have a job, if their job has changed and how, and where they will work. The sooner we make those key decisions, the better. Secondly, our front-line leaders are critical to our communications strategy. While we provide much of the integration information directly to employees via an online portal, email, etc., it’s really our leaders who are on point to provide context to these decisions, explain them, and link integration decisions to the overall company strategy. Leaders have to lead in an acquisition of this size and complexity, and we see our job as making sure they have the tools, content and training to be successful.

Mergers and acquisitions can create a lot of uncertainty for employees. What are some ways you are helping employees through this transition?:

We started by giving every employee – all 85,000 – an economic incentive in the company’s success by providing them stock options in the new company. Everyone now has a stake in making this acquisition a success. Secondly, we are being as timely and transparent as possible with decisions around organizational and operational changes and employee impact. And finally, we are providing employees multiple forums to provide feedback through online FAQ’s, internal social media sites, ongoing surveys, town halls, and small group meetings.

What has been your greatest lesson learned from this acquisition?:

Never stop communicating the rationale for the deal inside or outside of the company.

Externally, this was a tough acquisition due to the financial structure of the transaction. As we expected, the tax inversion aspect of this deal was highly controversial, and we learned we could never waver from our explanation of the strategic rationale for the deal to any audience. Ultimately, people came to understand that the tax structure, while smart and beneficial, was not the main impetus for this deal.

Internally, you can never communicate enough. Just when you think everyone has gotten the message, someone hasn’t. You have to have a steady flow of communications aimed at all of your different employee groups.

How are you keeping employees motivated through this time of great change?:

We are fortunate that ultimately our employees are inspired and motivated by bringing patients and physicians technologies that alleviate pain, restore health and extend life. Our people understand that by adding Covidien to our company we will be able to treat more patients, in more ways and in more places around the world. As we get into the tougher aspects of integrating two companies, we will be making sure we don’t lose sight of this reality by literally profiling the patients our products have helped – this is enormously motivating and we never get tired of seeing these stories.

What has been your greatest leadership challenge to date?:

This acquisition ranks right up there…

This is the largest acquisition I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve learned that actually very few chief communications officers have been a part of something this big. The number of issues involved in a deal of this size and the pace by which decisions have to be made can’t be fully understood until you are in the middle of it.

I’ve been fortunate to have a great team inside and a great team of advisors on the outside who really came together, rose to the occasion, and are delivering outstanding results. This whole deal has served to reinforce to me the value of your people – surround yourself with the best, let them perform, and you can meet any challenge.

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