Q&A with Janet Fiola: Rocking Chair Perspective

Senior vice president at Medtronic defines corporate citizenship and tells why it's important to believe your work can make a difference

Medtronic seeks to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life for patients. Do you have the opportunity to meet any of those who have benefited from the products and services provided by Medtronic?People who have been touched by Medtronic products frequently approach me at various events. It is gratifying to work for a company that helps restore so many people to full lives. In fact, we’ve calculated that every six seconds someone receives one of our products or therapies.

Every year, Medtronic invites people who have benefited from our various products to our holiday program where they tell their stories to Medtronic employees. It connects all of us at Medtronic to the ultimate beneficiaries of our products and reminds us about why we come to work every day. Last fall, I was delighted to meet King Doyle – our COO Bill Hawkins’ father-in-law. He is a recipient of a Medtronic heart valve, pacemaker and a stent. We invited him to share his story at our annual program. Mr. Doyle charmed all of us with his gratitude and humor.

You have been at Medtronic for nearly 25 years. Before that you worked for Target Corp. Both organizations have a strong reputation for community involvement. What draws you to these corporate community leaders?Businesses have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens, and both Medtronic and Target are leaders in community involvement.

What does it mean for a company to be a good citizen?Being a good corporate citizen means giving back to the communities that provide us with the means to operate a successful business. We have a moral obligation to improve the quality of life for others in our communities. In fact, the Medtronic mission states that we will “maintain good citizenship as a company.”

You also serve on the boards of the Medtronic Foundation, the College of St. Benedict and the Courage Center. How does your work with these and other community organizations help inform the work that you do on daily basis?It is important to me personally to make a contribution to our greater community. Serving on these boards allows me to give back to the community with the intention of improving the lives of others. My community involvement broadens my perspective, enhancing what I bring to my job at Medtronic.

The rocking chair has become symbolic of many things at Medtronic. What is thestory behind the rocking chair?I gave the rocking chair to Art Collins, our CEO, several years ago after he told me that in his retirement he hopes to sit in his rocking chair and tell his grandchildren about the difference he made in people’s lives by what he accomplished at Medtronic.

What message do executives and other employees of the organization take from this story?It has become a symbol at Medtronic to make us think about what our legacies will be. Having  perspective and knowing what is really important are attributes of great leaders.

Can you recall any professional advice that has helped you establish a sense of perspective in your own life?Early in my business career one of my role models gave me a piece of advice that I carry with me every day – “To thine own self be true.” She taught me that it is possible to be compassionate and caring as well as courageous and tough. It is important to be authentic in all aspects of your life. In my experience, the most effective leaders are those whose values are aligned with the organization.

So, who are some of your mentors that live out these values?My husband, Doug, is my No. 1 mentor … and coach, counselor, adviser and supporter. His insights and understanding of human nature are invaluable.

You received your undergraduate degree from the College of St. Theresa in Winona, Minn. Are there any elements of your studies that you continue to draw from in your current job?My liberal arts education has been invaluable throughout my career. It trained me to see the big picture and be open to new ideas and possibilities. Specifically, my psychology courses have been the most useful in working with a wide range of people in multiple roles over the years.

How do you think things have changed for women professionals in the last 10 years?The workplace has become more inclusive during the past decade, and this has improved the environment for women at all levels in an organization. More and more I see people embracing differences and appreciating what makes each of us unique. Today, most employees expect to be part of a diverse workplace.

Given that Medtronic has doubled in size through business acquisitionsin the last five years, what have been some of the benefits and challenges in introducing large  groups of new employees to an established corporate culture?We are fortunate that our mission-driven culture has resonated with the businesses we’ve acquired over the years. Actually, this is no coincidence. A potential acquisition’s fit with the Medtronic culture is part of our screening process. Our most recent employee survey indicated that 95 percent of employees understand our mission and 93 percent reported that their work supports the mission.

It is also important to stay flexible when integrating organizations. There are certain nonnegotiables in becoming part of Medtronic, but we also respect and want to continue what’s working at the acquired organization.

Fortune magazine recently named Medtronic as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the seventh time in the list’s eight-year history. What is it about Medtronic’s culture that makes it such a rewarding place to work?Fortune cites that the mission-driven nature of our culture is what distinguishes Medtronic. Our employees find purpose and satisfaction in their work, which is the foundation of Medtronic being a rewarding workplace. Medtronic employees care deeply about achieving our mission and Medtronic returns that commitment by investing in the wellbeing of our people – from career development to sharing in the success of the company to providing a wide variety of resources to keep employees and their families healthy.

In an increasingly competitive job market, what sort of initiatives have you introduced to attract new employees to Medtronic?“Careers With a Passion for Life” is the overarching theme that we use in our recruiting initiatives. The objective is to attract highly qualified people who are seeking purpose in their work.

What has been the result of some of your new recruiting programs such as Minnesota Career Development for the 21st Century, a career development day for people with disabilities?We are continuing our commitment to employ and support people with disabilities. We have hosted two disability-mentoring days, the most recent of which attracted 80 college students and 10 partner companies. The day brought together job seekers, employers, advocates and employees with disabilities for a day of skill building, networking and information sharing. We are honored to have received both national and state recognition for our work in this area.

With such a full work schedule, what do you do during your free time?My husband and niece are very involved with showing our saddle-bred horse. I am a big supporter and enjoy going to the shows. Otherwise, I enjoy biking on the Paul Bunyan trail, spending time with family and reading – especially women authors.

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