How Leading With Values Helped Medtronic Respond to Hurricane Maria

When the mega-storm struck Puerto Rico, its devastation went far beyond the island’s citizenry, disrupting a supply chain to health care facilities worldwide. The company mission was a beacon.
Dec 13, 2019 11:25 AM ET
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Puerto Rico has been a central part of Medtronic’s manufacturing and product development operations since 1974. Our company has five major manufacturing centers and employs more than 5,000 people on the island.

Medtronic products manufactured in Puerto Rico are shipped to health care providers around the world, and any supply disruption can delay the delivery of critical health care products to patients.

So, when Hurricane Maria descended on Puerto Rico in September 2017, we knew our Medtronic family members and operations there were at serious risk and that the storm had the potential to affect the health care of millions of people.

No one fully comprehended the devastation Maria would produce. All our facilities suffered significant damage. More than 130 employees’ homes were destroyed, and virtually all of our employees’ homes sustained damage. Power was out at all facilities and would take months to be restored, and all major communication channels were disrupted.

After the storm, our senior leadership team immediately convened and had a simple conversation about our values. Our leaders used the Medtronic Mission, our fundamental statement of values and purpose of our organization, as the foundation for how we would respond. These values were then translated into the priorities of our relief efforts: Put people first, prioritize recovery efforts, streamline communications, and restore operations.

Over the next 45 days, the company executed one of the most significant corporate relief operations of the hurricane’s aftermath based on those values and priorities. First, we set out to create an “oasis” for employees at work. We provided employees and their families daily breakfasts and lunches, laundry services, showers, and day care and banking services. We provided more than 2 million bottles of water and more than 1,300 personal generators and the fuel to run them.

The restoration effort included conducting more than 70 relief flights of goods onto the island, shipping in more than 40 ocean containers of supplies, and ferrying more than 130 specially trained personnel onto the island. Within two weeks, we had re-established manufacturing operations at all five facilities and products were being shipped off the island.

Immediately after the storm, questions and inquiries began rolling in—from employees, customers, investors, regulators, government leaders and others—seeking to understand the impact of the storm on our people, products and operations.

Our communications team prioritized restoring intra-island communications first, followed by creating a steady flow of information to other audiences—our global employees, investors and customers.

Within 48 hours we sent a communication team member to the island—a former broadcast journalist who immediately began to work with onsite teams to coordinate internal communications as well as produce and publish daily news stories and updates to the outside world about our relief efforts and progress. These stories served as a source of truth and pride to our global employees, customers and investors. They also reinforced that we were successfully restoring operations and supply of critical medical products to the world’s health care systems.

Ultimately, our success in restoring our operations was rooted in our values: Take care of your people first, build your operations around them, and performance (and profits) will follow. Our disaster response ultimately served to strengthen the commitment and support of our employees in Medtronic. In their time of need, we prioritized them and their families above all else.

And for me, as a communications leader, it reinforced that a clear understanding of your values and principles should be the start and foundation of any crisis response.

Rob Clark is the chief communications officer for Medtronic.