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Integrative Business: Executive Bill George on Reestablishing Trust with the 99 Percent

Trust. Fairness. Relationship. Ethics. Oftentimes these words are brandished like weapons when we discuss the financial meltdown of 2008. And, to some degree, former Medtronic CEO Bill George says, people are right to be suspicious. In his conversation with our host Krista Tippett, he says that it’s incumbent upon leaders of finance and business to restore that trust:

“We can spend 10, 20, 30 years building a trust with our customers. And we can lose it all in 30 minutes. That’s what happened in 2008. That trust, like the balloon, the air went out of the balloon. And that trust was lost. And we’ve got another 10 years to build it. But it’s gotta start now.”

But how do these titans of industry do so in a world in which the bottom line is rewarded so richly with compensation and promotion? Mr. George argues that it’s rooted in leadership, in the daily rigor of reminding one’s executives and employees that success is achieved when the customer that the business serves (not the stockholder or the employee) becomes successful:

The real ethic of a financial institution is to put your customers’ needs first, and that’s where all ethics and values start from. And there’s not been enough dialogue about that inside. In some institutions, it’s starting, but it needs to be reinforced all the time, every day. And if we can do that, then the culture will gradually change. It will not change overnight because there’s still a lot of money in the culture, and a lot of complexity. But I think it can change, steadily, and that’s where the trust is gonna have to come from the financial institutions out to customers. Not from the reverse. We can’t expect the customers to establish trust unless it comes from the institutions.

In many ways, Mr. George’s ideas seem like basic business practices. But why does it seem so difficult? Take a listen to this exchange and offer your thoughts. I’d be really interested to know how you, as a employee or a business person, find ways to carry this out in your daily work life and relationships with customers.

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