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Cardinal Health Partners with Vanderbilt Executive Education for Two Custom Leadership Programs

Jun 24, 2019
The healthcare company has approximately 50,000 employees in 46 countries and more than $130 billion in global sales

By Kara Sherrer

Since 2016, Cardinal Health has been partnering with Vanderbilt Executive Education on two 9-month custom leadership development programs. These programs have successfully encouraged and guided strategic and innovative thinking for high-potential Cardinal Health directors and executives.

With approximately 50,000 employees in 46 countries, more than $130 billion in global sales, and nearly 100 years of experience, Cardinal Health connects patients, providers, payers, pharmacists and manufacturers for integrated care coordination and better patient management.

Change is constant and significant in the healthcare industry, which requires managers and executives to think strategically and focus on innovation and change, according to Susan Moss of Cardinal Health’s leadership development team. “Our leaders are constantly thinking about what’s now and what’s next,” she says. “To keep up with the rapid pace of change, it is critical that we have and develop leaders who can think innovatively and maintain a resilient attitude towards change.”

According to Moss, who manages both programs for Cardinal Health, Vanderbilt’s Executive Education team is an ideal partner for these types of programs. “They’re situated in a hotbed for healthcare. We can leverage Vanderbilt’s partnerships and the knowledge of their faculty in the healthcare industry… (and they have) a reputation as an outstanding and excellent academic institution,” she says.

The Programs

Cardinal Health INNOVATION participants

The first of these programs, INNOVATE, led by Vanderbilt Professor David Owens, brings together 30-plus high-potential directors to work on six innovation projects for a period of nine months. The project teams — which include directors dispersed around the globe — meet for a series of face-to-face workshops six months into the project, and then present their final recommendations to Cardinal Health executives at the end of the nine months. Executives then decide which projects they might want to implement.

A similar schedule and process is utilized for the second Vanderbilt-Cardinal Health program, INSPIRE, led by Professor of Management Ranga Ramanujam. INSPIRE gathers 15 Cardinal Health vice-presidents, who with the guidance of three faculty from Vanderbilt, develop competence in entrepreneurial thinking, strategic trend spotting, and building organizational talent. After reviewing a broad range of mega-trends in health care, participants divide into work groups, focusing on three specific mega-trends and exploring the applications of these trends to Cardinal Health’s current and future business.

Urging participants to learn to shift their focus beyond their operational and execution priorities to long-term strategy and innovation, the INNOVATE and INSPIRE programs are designed to fit within Cardinal Health’s culture. “At any company, you become successful by doing what you do and getting really good at what you do,” says Moss. “But as things change, it’s also about being able to adapt quickly as we recognize and courageously uncover opportunities to do things differently.”

Jerome Revish, Cardinal Health Vice President for Services and a participant in the INSPIRE program, agrees. “I’ve been at the VP level for a little over two years now. I would say as manager and director, you’re so focused on execution and driving results,” he says. “It’s now, at this level and the next level, where more of your job is centered around framing the strategy of where we need to be going, versus ‘how do I execute what’s in front of me today.’”

Projects and Leadership Coaching

Cardinal Health INSPIRE participants

The goal for both programs is to offer participants theoretical knowledge involving concepts and new perspectives and even more importantly, the opportunity to see the real-world application of their learning. “With every company I work with, I really like to do projects,” says Owens. “I think a lot of what I do and what we do in the innovation field is kind of tacit and requires more coaching than lecturing. It’s more hands on than abstract. So, projects make a good domain for that.”

For Sumedha Mandpe, a director of digital marketing in Cardinal Health and an INNOVATE participant, the project emphasis of the program is one of its core strengths. Mandpe and her INNOVATE group are working on a project involving SaaS (Software as a Service) for Biopharma Manufacturers. “We are not doing fictitious projects for a fictitious company such as ACME Solutions,” says Mandpe. “This is real world, these are Cardinal Health initiatives and this project is something that is pertinent and important to the company.”

Another important element of both programs is the coaching component. As Ramanujam explains, “There is a set of competencies that Cardinal Health has determined is relevant to the future effectiveness and success of their leaders. As part of the program, participants consult a diverse group of individuals within their network to assess the participant on this set of competencies. The executive coaching participants receive enable them to address these competencies in a very personalized way.”

The projects combine with coaching from Vanderbilt-sourced executive coaches to offer significant personal development opportunities, says INSPIRE participant Revish. “Over the last year, I considered the kind of personal development goals needed to prepare me for the next level and beyond in my career. These prioritized areas became the focus for my personal development,” he explains.

For Mandpe, being chosen to participate was an honor. “I feel really fortunate,” she says. “The fact that the company has invested in me and taken the time to provide me with all these tools gives me a whole new perspective. It gives me that sense of there’s somebody wanting me to be better and wanting me to go to the next level and that’s always a great feeling. I can’t speak highly enough about how this has helped me grow professionally.”

For more information on custom leadership development programs for your organization, please contact

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