In my seven years at HD Supply, I had the opportunity to hear CEO Joe DeAngelo speak on many occasions. There were three consistent themes in all of his presentations:
- He would ask all military personnel, veterans, reservists and current and former first-responders to stand and be recognized by the group.
- He would offer a lesson on leadership, often drawn from historical characters but sometimes from contemporary thinkers like Jim Collins.
- He would stress the two steps to good health:
- Get your physical every year
- Do what your doctor tells you to do
Joe not only lives #3, he has developed a culture that drives health improvements throughout HD Supply. He advocates regular exercise and he’s relentless about demanding that associates stop smoking. Lots of companies ban smoking on their grounds and in their facilities but not many of them have CEO’s who will walk out to the places where smokers hide to challenge them and tell them about the company’s free smoking cessation program.
The incredible benefits of this program became sharply apparent to me one day when a woman who worked in my department came into my office, closed the door, sat down and told me, “I have cancer.” These are nightmarish words for anyone to say and they’re tough to hear, too. However, what immediately followed was hope.
“They caught it early,” she told me. “It’s stage one and so they can treat it and I have really good prospects of being cured.”
I told her that she would have our full support as she went through the treatment and recovery process. She thanked me and continued.
“The only reason they caught it at stage one is because Joe persuaded me to get a physical. He was here at an all-employee meeting a few months ago and he kept stressing how important it is get your check-up every year. I haven’t had a physical in years and I’ve always been healthy, so I wasn’t planning on scheduling one. But thanks to Joe, I decided to make the appointment. My doctor said if I had waited six months, it would have been terminal. Thanks to Joe, I have a really good prognosis.”
This individual had always been studious about her nutrition and exercise. She probably led one of the healthiest lifestyles of anyone in the department. But Joe had persuaded her and many others of the importance of an annual physical and as a result, her doctor had caught a subtle sign of something wrong and had diagnosed cancer that would otherwise have gone undetected until it was too late.
I personally know four people who worked for HD Supply who told this story:
- They had no plans to get a physical
- Joe talked them into it during one of his presentations
- A doctor diagnosed cancer despite a near-absence of symptoms
- The cancer was still at stage one and the treatment made them cancer-free
All four of these individuals told me that Joe’s relentless messages had saved their lives.
It’s not often I can write about a CEO who literally saves lives through his leadership, but that is the case with Joe DeAngelo. The company gives all associates a paid day off to a physical. The company will also pay 100% of the cost of a colonoscopy.
It doesn’t stop there. Joe personally contributes substantially and sponsors fundraising that results in millions of dollars in contributions to great causes like St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Shepherd’s Men. The latter is an organization that offers funding and programs to combat the tragic reality that about 22 US military veterans commit suicide every day. The Shepherd’s Men go on long, fundraising runs and sometimes Joe runs with them.
Occasionally, I’d hear a cynical voice quietly pointing out that it was in HD Supply’s interest to promote employee health because it lowered the company’s healthcare costs. My reaction was to say, “Who cares? There’s nothing wrong with a win-win and if you’re saving lives, the benefit is so immense that there’s no room for cynics!”
Joe’s reaction was to pledge that all health insurance savings would be returned to employees in the form of lower health insurance benefits costs. And he backed this up by committing HD Supply to pay for any increases in health care costs for five years. If you’re still cynical about his message after these commitments, then the problem is looking you in the mirror.
Joe and I were walking around a large tradeshow one day and I said, “Joe, I’ve been around a lot of CEO’s. Most of them were good people but I’ve never been around any leader who is as focused on employee health and community involvement as you are.”
He said, “Ian, I think when you have a job like mine, you have bigger responsibilities than driving profits.” Of course, HD Supply has been driving a lot of profits lately, thereby proving that caring about employees and running a good business aren’t mutually exclusive. I think Joe would say they’re complementary and he is certainly proving it.
Since that discussion, I’ve hired one employee who turned out to be a smoker. I called her into my office and told her, “I want you to quit smoking.” I can’t fire her for smoking and I don’t want to. What I learned from Joe is that the point isn’t how her smoking impacts her work or our healthcare costs. The point is that she’s going to kill herself if she doesn’t stop and my responsibility is bigger than driving profits.
If Joe DeAngelo can save lives by using his position to improve the health of his employees’ lives, I can too.
And so can you. I hope you’ll accept the challenge.