George Barrett and Cardinal Health stay ahead of health care’s pace of change

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In order to have the right capabilities and behaviors, it’s important to attract diverse talent, especially in a service business where it brings a competitive advantage, he says.
You want a workforce that isn’t just ethnically and gender diverse but also with a diversity of opinion and experience. One way to develop that is by building career paths for people internally.
Barrett says if you identify those with capacity and ambitions and give them a sense that they can work to the fullest extent of their capacity, they’ve found at Cardinal Health that people from around the world will come.
The profile of Cardinal Health also has been elevated in recent years, which aids in recruitment.
As the health care system becomes more patient-centric and consumer oriented, the company has followed the same path, becoming more consumer facing. Cardinal Health also has worked to be more assertive in the communities it operates in, outside of Columbus and Dublin, to articulate who it is and what role it serves.
The last piece is to make sure that your organization is fun.

“I want people to wake up in the morning wanting to be here every morning, and wanting to be here every day, and bringing in some joy to their work,” Barrett says.



  • Build your strategic planning from what you know.
  • Be an active leader and seek the truth, even if it’s unpleasant.
  • New ideas may need protection to grow.


The Barrett File:

Name: George Barrett
Title: Chairman and CEO
Company: Cardinal Health
Born: Westport, Connecticut
Education: Undergraduate degree in history and music from Brown University, and a master’s degree in business administration from New York University.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I can’t remember the exact sequence — I had a set of spectacular jobs as a dishwasher and in the summers I coached and did a lot of camp counselor jobs.
The day after I turned 16 and was eligible to work, two of my friends and I saw that there were openings at a restaurant. I drew the short straw. There were two bus boys and one dishwasher.
I learned to do my job. I tried to do whatever I was asked to do as well as I could. As uninspiring as that may sound, it’s just the way I was hard-wired. Just focus on what I was doing, and if I did my job well, perhaps, other opportunities would come from there.
I tell that to people all the time, by the way. In their professional life, it’s wonderful to have a great career design, but what really inspires people is when you are dedicated to what you are doing, you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you’re really, really good at what you’re doing — and then other people will notice you.
I’m not sure that a lot of people took notice of me as a dishwasher, but maybe a little later in my professional life there were other things that allowed people to take note.
Your background is a little unusual for business. What has sports and the arts taught you? I won’t go into excruciating detail about all the clichés about sports and business, but they are largely true. Those experiences of being part of team, of learning it’s not about you, having to overcome adversity, injury and setbacks, and competing as hard as you can and occasionally coming up short, those are experiences in sports that are hard to reproduce in other ways.
Music has had a profound impact on my life. I performed professionally for a while out of college, but it also influenced, I think, who I am as a person and the way I approach my work.
I’m used to being on stage a little bit and so it’s helped me be more comfortable when I have to be in front of a group over the years because it’s familiar turf; sports did the same.
How does your background still influence you? I try to recognize that there’s always some story behind that person that I don’t know.
When people look at me and they look at my title and my responsibilities, they probably make certain assumptions about me. Those may or may not be correct, but it’s a natural human tendency to fill in the blanks.
I think maybe because my background is a little different I am a little less quick to judge. I probably keep those blanks open a bit longer. I can draw on that experience knowing that mine was a less common path, and recognize that each person has their own path to what they’re doing.