Eli Lilly CEO Gives Keynote Address at United Way’s Great Rivers Conference
Submitted on behalf of Mary Teeter, Development Manager at North Shore United Way.
Last week, United Way staff members from across our six-county Chicagoland region attended the 2012 Great Rivers Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Hundreds of United Way leaders and staff participated in more than 50 community building and development workshops, and heard from four keynote speakers during the four day event.
On the second day of the conference, John Lechleiter, Chairman, President and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company, gave the mid-day address. Mr. Lechleiter is a global business leader, and currently serves on United Way Worldwide’s Board of Directors. In 2009, his company earned United Way’s highest recognition, the Spirit of America Award and this year, Lilly raised a record $12.3 million for United Way ($800,000 above its 2011 goal).
Mr. Lechleiter spoke about his company’s and his personal commitment to United Way, his experiences as part of the United Way family and challenges ahead. The following remarks are excerpted from his speech:
About 25 years ago, in 1988, I served as the chair of the Lilly United Way campaign. To this day, I consider it one of the most important things I did for the company and for our community. I feel fortunate to have spent my entire career at a company that has a strong and historic connection to United Way.
In the 1890s, [Lilly’s] founder, Colonel Eli Lilly, helped organize a social assistance organization that ultimately became United Way of Central Indiana. In its earliest days, the group provided meals to the poor and aid to World War I widows and orphans. Our founders’ generous spirit lives on at Lilly today. Indeed our understanding of corporate responsibility is evolving beyond charity and reaching into the core of our business operations.
Lilly’s emerging vision of our responsibility as a company is inspired by the concept of ‘shared value,’ developed by Harvard’s Michael Porter and Mark Kramer. We believe that business can help solve today’s social problems by finding intersections between what society needs and what a company does and then developing collaborative, strategic initiatives that both serve society and enhance business performance.
As part of Lilly’s strategic approach to corporate responsibility, we believe that United Way dovetails perfectly with our understanding of ‘shared value’ — the best way to leverage our resources to fulfill our responsibilities as a corporate citizen in the communities that Lilly people call home.
My involvement over the years has taught me how United Way effectively brings about change in our communities — studying issues on a community-wide scale, figuring out where the need is greatest, and then marshalling the human and financial resources to respond.
In my opinion, there is no better organization from an operating standpoint. United Way identifies the needs of the community and pulls together other groups to address those needs. The organization realizes the benefits of critical mass rather than piecemeal efforts.
At the same time, United Way, like any innovative business, is approaching its own work more strategically ‘to address today’s need and reduce tomorrow’s.’ And that’s why I am so confident about the future of this great organization.
In the three decades since I first came to appreciate United Way, seldom have the needs of our communities been more urgent than they are today. While there are signs of hope that our economy is slowly recovering, the day-to-day reality for many remains uncertain.
I’m sure that wherever you come from, your United Way agencies are experiencing similar pressures. With so many issues and challenges out there, let me sum up the three points I’ve attempted to make today:
First, education should be the top-priority issue for our nation, and United Way is the right organization to bring a broad collaboration of community leadership to address the challenge we face.
Second, United Way can and must step up to fill new voids created by changing government dynamics to address the urgent challenges facing our communities.
And third, engaging young people, and thus growing the base of volunteers and donors in our communities, is key to the future of United Way.
I want to thank you once again for your service to our communities and our fellow citizens. My wife and I pledge to you our continued personal commitment to United Way, and I look forward to new opportunities for our company and our employees to join with United Way in the noble, effective, and vitally important work that you do.
Photo Credit: DRSPIEGEL14