CEO Pharmaceutical Segment, Cardinal Health

Ep #14: Victor Crawford

In episode fourteen, we stop in Ohio. Dhani Jones speaks with the CEO of the Pharmaceutical Segment at Cardinal Health and member of the Board of Directors of The Hershey Company, Victor Crawford about fostering change and creating an everlasting impact on American business.

 CEO Pharmaceutical Segment, Cardinal Health logo
Victor Crawford
I remember my dad always telling me that if you don't have a plan to succeed, then you’ve got to plan to fail. So I think it's really important that you think about the steps that you have to take to get to your ultimate goal. Some of those are going to be time-bound, some may be restricted by financial resources and how you can deploy them to get to where you want to be, and it's similar to business.
Victor Crawford, CEO Pharmaceutical Segment, Cardinal Health

Victor Crawford's experience

Victor Crawford

Modern Dealmaker & Change Agent

Victor Crawford is the chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical segment at Cardinal Health. This segment distributes brand and generic pharmaceutical, specialty pharmaceutical and over-the-counter healthcare and consumer products. Victor has had a wide range of experience at some of the world’s most respected companies. His most recent role was at Aramark, where he was chief operating officer for Healthcare, Education and Business Dining.

  • CEO Pharmaceutical Segment, Cardinal Health
  • Group President & Chief Operating Officer, Armark
  • President North American Field Operations, PepsiCo
  • Chief Operating Officer, Marriot International
  • Board Member, Hershey Co
  • Board Member, Pelotonia
  • Board Member, Institute for Diversity in Health Management
  • Board Member, National Urban League
  • B.S. in Accounting from Boston College

Episode highlights

Innovation, failures and lessons learned



Dhani Jones (00:03):

The Pathfinders podcast is presented to you by Ansarada. Ansarada is the modern deal and virtual data room technology designed to make M&A, capital raising, divestments, restructures and IPOs as simple as possible. Since 2005, Ansarada has been trusted in over 24,000 transactions, and empowered over $1 trillion worth of deals. Ansarada is a secure space that includes workflow tools, AI-powered data rooms, and built-in Q&A and integration frameworks. It's the data room trusted by modern dealmakers. You can start for free today at

Dhani Jones (00:55):

Welcome back everybody to The Pathfinders presented by Ansarada. I'm your host, former NFL player, investor and entrepreneur, Dhani Jones. Today I'm joined by the CEO of the pharmaceutical segment at Cardinal Health, Victor Crawford. Victor is a trailblazing executive who came to Cardinal Health with a wide range of experience at some of the world's most respected companies. From Marriott International to Aramark to PepsiCo and now Cardinal Health, Victor has had a groundbreaking and inspirational career, and he joins me now to talk all about his journey, the paths he's forged, and why sometimes when it comes to fostering change and creating an everlasting impact, we should be approaching the details in a methodical manner. Welcome, Victor Crawford. How are you doing?

Victor Crawford (02:18):

Dhani, it's always good to see you, my brother. It is just great to be here today, and I'm glad to be able to have a chat with you.

Dhani Jones (02:26):

Well, it's amazing because just the fact of your background, and where you sit today in the corporate ecosystem, and where you've come from, it just speaks volumes about your effort, but also it speaks volumes in terms of your talent and how you've been able to navigate so many different parts of your amazing career. You've gained this invaluable knowledge at some of the top companies, beginning at the hotel industry and going into healthcare. What impact did your upbringing have on the choices that you made along your career?

Victor Crawford (03:02):

Yeah. No, thank you for that question because I think it does all start with what your upbringing is all about. Had a really solid foundation. I am blessed to have parents that really invested in me and my siblings. My dad's from West Point, Mississippi, in the Army, worked at GM for 35 years. My mom’s from Beckley, West Virginia. They met out in San Diego when he was coming out of the Marines. They moved to Detroit because of the automotive industry. But between both of them, what they taught me was the willingness to put in the work as a kid.

            Like yourself who played sports all your life, it was a big part of my life as well. But my parents utilized education to motivate me to be able to play sports. So if I came home with a C on my report card, I couldn't play the next season. I could get through football season but if I had a C, I had to sit out basketball season. Then I got ready for baseball season. I think that has really stuck with me, just looking at the hard work they've put in, as two individuals from two really different backgrounds that have come together, had a family. So it's all about hard work, grit and just really being able to get up every day and put one foot in front of the other.

Dhani Jones (04:18):

No, I definitely had some of those same moments when I came home. If I had the wrong grade, I wasn't playing. So I made sure that I had the right grades. You know what I mean? It's like you're walking through the house and all of a sudden you say to your mom, you say to your dad, say, "Hey, I came home with a C+." "Well, I guess you're going to have to see that seat and not be able to be on the field." And nobody wants that. I think that a lot of people don't realize the power of sports, and how that hunger to be able to compete on the field actually drives your motivation off the field as well. Were there some big, shining moments in your experiences, especially in your early career that really set you on your professional journey? Maybe you could relate it back to a moment, maybe in sports where you didn't necessarily get to play, but you learned something really impactful that translated to later on in your career.

Victor Crawford (05:08):

Yeah. So having over 40 years' experience, there's been a lot of life journeys along the way. But I would share with you, I can go back to a practice that I had back in Boston College. It was my senior year. I'm starting. I got scouts looking at me. I was probably goofing off a little bit at practice, to be honest. My position coach, Pete Carmichael, who was like a second dad to me (and he's no longer with us), but he was an inspirational figure in my life. I remember our head coach going over to him and he said, "Would you tell Joe DiMaggio to get his you-know-what together?" I didn't realize they were talking about me, but I wore the number five and that was Joe DiMaggio's number. My coach came over and he got in my grill.

            After practice, I went into his office, we had a talk. I was a senior, I was captain for the defensive backs. And he said, "Look, Vic." He says, "You're a hell of an athlete. You're a hell of a student. I think whatever you want to do in life, you're going to be able to accomplish." But he said, "I need you to be more even-keeled." He said, "I don't need your highs to be too high. I don't need your lows to be too low." That's always stuck with me, in terms of how I actually approach leadership today. Because there are days where people are going to bring good news to me, and there are days that people are going to bring bad news to me. The way you react to them is critically important in terms of how you build the transparency of communication as a leader. So that particular moment has stuck with me to this day.

Dhani Jones (06:47):

Yeah. Even-keeled is something that not many people have that ability because they're so emotionally driven by what people say to you, that you feel as though you have to make a response. But to be able to have that even-keeled nature puts you on a different course. I admire that in some people because in fact sometimes emotions get the best of you. So just walk me through the psychology of that. Do you take your temperature? Do you all of a sudden take your blood pressure to make sure that it's coming down? What do you do? I remember one time, I did an event for a foundation and it was a firefighting event. I was actually in this room, it was filled with smoke, and we had to find our way using the right wall, use your right hand. You go along the wall in order to find your way out of the room. I started getting claustrophobic.

            I remember it's an even-keeled moment where you have to be balanced, right? That's why I have such a respect for firefighters and other people within law enforcement because you come up against these situations, where you have to be able to balance yourself out. I just remember just looking on the ground, and I saw some of the tiles. What I needed to do, I counted each and every one of the tiles in order to bring my temperature back down, in order to bring my panic down. So how do you mentally do that? I know your coach talked to you about being that way, but how do you mentally do that, especially in a businesslike situation?

Victor Crawford (08:12):

No. You know what? I don't think that there's a business solution to it. I think that a lot of people meditate. I do take the time. I use prayer, for me. Before I turn on the computer in the morning in my office, I get through a couple different prayers just to prepare me for the day. I pray for health, pray for my family, pray for wisdom to be able to deal with situations that I may encounter that day. So that's really helped me. I was talking to a young intern earlier today and he asked me, "How did you get to where you are?"

            I remember my mom and my grandma taking me to church every Sunday, and from Sunday school to Missionary Baptist Church, you're in church for five, six hours and they're cutting into my play time. So I didn't appreciate the level of what they were trying to accomplish at that time. It probably took some time until I became probably an early adult before I realized the power of a connection with God. That helps me out today. I pray for things that have manifested themselves, both in a professional standpoint and from a personal standpoint. I would also say having six daughters, I've learned to be able to be a good listener because they don't want you to solve problems. They just want you to listen to the problem. So that's helped me out as well.

Dhani Jones (09:35):

That's a lot of people to listen to, especially in one house. I know your daughters are incredibly successful in all the things that they do. They appreciate the wisdom that you impart upon them and the gifts that you've bestowed because of not only what you're doing now, but also your past experiences. On this podcast, we talk a lot about what it means to have a dealmaking mindset, and that can form itself in a lot of different ways and where that comes from. What do you think are some of the key features and benefits are operating in this frame of mind? Specifically, how do you remain passionate about it, especially over the tenure of your career?

Victor Crawford (10:15):

Yeah. I would like to share with you, I think it's important, I think about my career in chapters. After trying to pursue a professional football career, I started in public accounting. I knew I needed to get my CPA to be able to allow me a platform to be able to move forward. From there, I worked at a company where I was director of internal audit. People hear internal audit and they think, "Oh my gosh, that's got to be the boringest job in the world." I had so much fun in that job. I traveled all around the world on somebody else's dime. I'm in Rio de Janeiro, I'm in Caracas, I'm in Barcelona, I'm in Paris. So it was a fun job and it opens up your aptitude. So when I think about the different chapters in life, they're all stair steps in getting to where you want to be.

            I used to always, probably up until my late 30s, early 40s, I would always say, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" Because I think it's an ever evolving process. Those experiences have given me the opportunity to have increasing levels of responsibility, whether it be managing people. But I will go back and say before you can manage anyone, you have to be a good manager of yourself. That means are you accountable to yourself? Are you waking up? Are you accountable to others? Are you on time? Are you punctual? Are you actually committed and contributing to the conversations that you're involved in versus sitting in a room and not saying nothing? So along the way, you find your voice. I've been fortunate enough to be able to grow into a position where I really try to exercise my voice, not just because I want to but because I want to help others.

            Again, you look at the different chapters of your life. I would like to share with you, Dhani (and you and I may have talked about this before), but I read a book called Halftime, and it's a book about having personal and professional success. But you get into the midpoint of your life and you talk about what is personal significance all about? For me, how I spend my time away from my family is all about personal significance. What can I give back to my family? What can I sow into others? More importantly, what can I sow into society? So do you have those chapters in life that you're able to build upon?

Dhani Jones (12:39):

Dang, you just gave me 25 different nuggets in order to just talk about. But the thing I keep coming back to is anybody that's in internal audits, I think you had a good time because everybody was afraid of you. That's what I think.

Victor Crawford (12:53):

No, not at all.

Dhani Jones (12:53):

Everybody's trying to figure out, "Hey, I want to make sure I have all my T’s crossed and my I’s dotted and make sure my numbers are right." Because I know you're a numbers guy, and you don't want anybody to mess up with those numbers because Victor's going to find it.

Victor Crawford (13:06):

Well, here's what I would tell you about being an auditor. If you're not doing your job, you're not ... You got to find something. You got to find something. Don't come to me, "I didn't find anything." You got to find something. I talk about auditors. You have to justify your existence as an auditor.

Dhani Jones (13:25):

Well, especially with your household, I mean, justifying those numbers because there's probably a lot of things that are going on there just the same, and managing that in and of itself has its amazing opportunities to learn not only about yourself but also about your family. But when you're approaching major decisions, whether it be you're in Caracas, you're in Bogota, you might be traveling around the world, about paths forwards in any given situation, are there tips and tricks and techniques that you employ to get yourself in that right frame of mind?

Victor Crawford (14:06):

Yeah. I think one, it's really important to, you talk about being over prepared. As an athlete, you can appreciate this. I would go into a game in college, and whether we were playing Clemson down at Clemson or Penn State at Penn State, and people will come up to you two or three days before the game, "Hey, you guys ready to play?" I would always say, "I'll let you know after the game." I think what I meant by that was that I'm going to do everything I can prepare. But in the moment of the game, there are going to be twists and turns. There's corrections that you make. You go in at half time. And again, football, basketball, baseball is just like corporate America. You have to pivot. You might go in and say, "Hey, they're running this play. They're looking at a different angle." So how do you respond to that?

            So your ability to understand the different contingencies that they may take on, or they may switch up a play, they may send somebody else in motion. And that's the same thing in business. So I think being prepared, back in the day, you know this, we're watching films all day, we're trying to understand the tendencies. So you’ve got to understand your competitor's or your rival's tendencies, how they've done different deals in the business world. But in football, how do they run this play? They probably run it out of three or four different formations. So you have to familiarize yourselves with that so that you're prepared for the different changes that may take place. So I always tell people, "I will let you know how we did at the end of the game." Because I've tried to do all the preparation that I can do, whether it be financial, whether it be looking at historical performance of a particular company, understanding the business case that's been put in front of me.

            The other thing that you have to do is making sure that your team is ready as well. Taking advantage of their points of view. I've always been a collaborative leader. That probably comes from playing team sports all my life. It's important that everybody plays their role. The folks that report to me, they're senior vice president, executive vice presidents. I expect them to have an opinion around things and I want to hear their opinions. It's the same thing as a team. If you're seeing something like one of my cornerbacks is seeing somebody run a pattern a certain way, let me know if he's cutting so I can break a certain way. That's what it's about.

            But you can take what you learn from sports and it absolutely applies. I would say even in going from Detroit to Boston, talk about a cultural change, and that's what you deal with even in the corporate world. You go through some cultural changes, especially as we become a more global economy, you're dealing with a lot of different cultures. So your ability to navigate those, I call it, what's your dexterity in being able to deal with others? That is critically important. So those are the things that I would tell you are that I use as a leader and prepare myself, whether it be for a deal, for a decision. Again, I'll go back to prayer, man. I use a little bit of that too. That helps out.

Dhani Jones (17:12):

And look, God is good and God is there for you. I always tell people, they always ask me if I'm ready for a game. I always say, "I'm born ready." So I'm going to start using that one, "I'll tell you after the game." But to be honest, when I go into a game, I think just like you do, right? You’ve got to be able to think on your feet. And then being a middle linebacker, you have to be able to see all the angles. You have to be able to know where things are coming from. The way that I played the game, I knew I wasn't the best player on the field. I knew I wasn't the ... I would call it-

Victor Crawford (17:44):

You're a pretty good player. Come on. Don't sell yourself short.

Dhani Jones (17:51):

I mean, I was good. I was good. But I'm telling the truth. I wasn't the white collar top player. I felt like I was a blue collar player, right? I was a blue collar player. The way that I played the game was not only that I brought my hard hat every day. I brought my hammer every day. I brought my tool belt. My tool belt was my relationship, like you're talking about with the other players and understanding the things that they needed to do, so that I always remembered, so what I needed to do with them. But then I also wanted to make sure that I had more information, that I was over prepared so that in moments of stress or in moments of challenge, being even keeled and being able to be looked upon as someone that can give them the information they need to be successful.

            That's how I played the game. So I think I was born ready, but I was also at the same time looking forward to those pivots because that's where the blue collar nature in me became white collar and I shined. I think in the world of business like you're talking about, from an international perspective, having varying points of view, but that's so hard, Victor. So many people have a hard time listening to other people and their points of view. Do you find that challenging sometimes, when so many people give you so many different ideas, and you don't necessarily know whose to take? Or do you take everybody's and then distill it into one idea, which would be your own?

Victor Crawford (19:10):

Well, you and I talking, let's be candid. You build a filter, and you can understand whether or not something is getting through your filter or something's getting caught in your filter? And the stuff that's getting caught in your filter, you may have heard before, you don't necessarily agree with it. So I think it's important to have that mental filter, intellectual filter, financial filter, operational filter relative to what may or may not be appropriate. Again, I've had the benefit of being in the workplace over 40 years, so my filter is pretty well tuned at this point, relative to what you hear and what you don't hear. But to your point earlier, I was talking about one of my older daughters and she said, "You’ve got to stay ready, so you never have to get ready." I think that's important too. Always stay ready.

Dhani Jones (20:07):

Always be ready, always be on. My father always talks about you never know who's watching you. He always talked about this fishbowl of life. You can wander around, but you never know who's on the outside watching you, and you need to be prepared for whatever those moments might be because those are the life-changing moments that you await in your life, and you need to always be prepared. So as throughout your career, you've been to so many places, you've been involved, I'm sure, in so many major deals. Are there any in particular that had a major impact on you, shaping how you think about business? Was there a time, was there a conversation, was there a transaction that basically just shaped the way that you think in the world of business?

Victor Crawford (20:55):

Yeah. I can share one with you. Probably back in 2000 I came to work for Marriott International, leading their food distribution business, about almost a $2 billion business. I was running it for about two years. We were having a C-suite meeting, and I'm sitting there and Mr. Marriott gets around to me and he says, "Victor, how are things going?" So I do a report on the financials and he says, "What's your observations around the business?" I said, "Can I be candid?" He said, "Absolutely." I said, "I don't understand why we own this business." He said, "Okay, talk to me a little bit more." I said, "Well, I think our core competency is in the hospitality space. While we support this particular hospitality business, there are others that are more equipped to do it better than we are. And given the investments that's required to put into this business, I think we should look at a potential strategic disposition of this business."

            He stood up and said, "I agree with you." And I talked myself out of a job in two minutes. So I would just share with you, we would do a process of first looking at whether or not the business was appropriate to take out to private equity as a spin out. We spent some time evaluating that with some of the world renowned private equity firms. One of the issues we ran into was our customer. We had customer contracts. We had customer contracts with large restaurant chains along with our Marriott Hotels. We needed them to sign off on the deal to give us their ability to transfer their contracts. But if I were in their shoes, I would've taken the opportunity to go out to the marketplace and see if I could get a better deal. So unfortunately we ended up going through a strategic disposition where we sold a lot of the assets.

            Unfortunately we did have to displace a lot of employees, and that was the most difficult part of that transaction for me, having to displace employees, people's way of life. As a corporate executive, those are decisions that you unfortunately have to make if it's the right decision. But at the end of the day, it's still, for me, it was a pretty emotional decision. But we got through that. We were able to get rid of the assets and recoup some money from Marriott. We moved on. I moved over to the lodging group with Marriott. So I was fortunate enough that while I talked myself out of a job, I actually found another career on the hospitality side with Marriott.

            So that was probably one of the more life-changing decisions because that was, when you talk about taking down a billion dollar company and taking it out of ... it takes a lot of work, a lot of hard work, a lot of hours, a lot of negotiation, a lot of dealmaking. So I would tell you that particular experience was probably one of the better experiences I've ever had in my career. Now you don't want to have to go through that more than once, I would hope. But it was a life-changing professional experience for me, just given the multitude of activities, financial, legal, human resource, operational that had to take place.

Dhani Jones (24:15):

You had to be a little bit scared when Mr. Marriott stood up.

Victor Crawford (24:18):

No, he's actually a really nice guy. I still see him to this day. He's still mad at me for going back to Pepsi, but hopefully he's over it. He's got a big M on the top of the building. It's not a C.

Dhani Jones (24:32):

Well, it's just some of those moments. It goes back to always being prepared. If you weren't prepared at that moment when he would've asked you that question, you might've fumbled around and maybe not made the point and not saved them money and talked yourself out of a job. But I think that was a critical juncture of which put you on this path, where people trusted your opinion, trusted your perspective because of the fact that you had assessed all of the essential angles. That translates to coming back from football, comes back from basketball, seeing things on the field before other people see it. But what about failures during your dealmaking career? Anything in particular stand out? And what lessons? You can learn from a good thing, but most importantly it's good to learn from unfortunate situations as well.

Victor Crawford (25:19):

Yeah. I look at the Marriott experience not as a failure but an opportunity to improve shareholder return. I've been fortunate enough to be in some industries that have continued to grow. Now, you talk about failure. I can give you one. So I'm the general manager of Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky for Pepsi. At the time we said, "Hey, look, we want to try and test a new two-liter bottle." It was called the grip, and it was a great-looking bottle, but the stability of the bottle was somewhat challenging because it was a two-piece bottle that was molded. So anytime you put carbonation into a two-piece bottle that's molded, if there's too much carbonation, you may have some explosive events.

            So we were rolling this two-liter bottle out in Dayton, Ohio. I remember sitting in my office and I get a phone call from a CVS manager. He says, "You need to get over here right now. Your display is exploding." I said, "Exploding?" He says, "It's exploded." So I get in my car, I drive over to the CVS, and literally they had a two-liter display with our new grip bottles. Again, the bottles, if you pick up a two-liter bottle today, they're the same bottles that they've had for years. Coke has done a little bit different contour with their bottle but Pepsi's is pretty much the same thing. But we tried a new bottle, but unfortunately this bottle, the display was, it was summertime. They had the display in the window. As the carbonation and the stability of the bottle got impacted, it exploded. And it exploded all over the card section, the holiday cards, the happy birthday cards, so the whole section had Pepsi all over.

            So it was unfortunately a failure from a marketing perspective, but it was a good ... we were trying innovation. I think I would just say you're not going to advance if you don't innovate. So we were trying to innovate and it just didn't work out. Unfortunately it was in my market. So that was probably one of the biggest failures that I've been involved in. But on the other side, you have Sierra Mist that's made by Pepsi today. I helped roll out that product in Chicago. So it was Sierra Mist and now it's just Mist. So I've been on both sides of that continuum. I've been on some ... Oh, well, I got another one. I don't know if people that may be listening here may be too young to remember Crystal Pepsi. We went through a point in time where we thought that we could have a Pepsi that was clear, that would be attractive to the consumers.

            I can remember, we had Crystal Pepsi Day, and we went out and we flooded the stores with Crystal Pepsi. I would tell you, a month later we picked up all the Crystal Pepsi. So that was probably another failure that I was involved in. But again, I think you got to innovate to advance and you got to try some things. You’ve got to throw some things against the wall and see if they stick or not. So there have been a couple failures. Then I would say even from a career perspective, I had a job that didn't work out for me. I was fortunate enough to be able to move into another role. But I think you try some things and you continue to move on. It's just like if I miss a tackle, hopefully you don't miss it again.

Dhani Jones (28:57):

            You said something interesting when you were talking about Crystal Pepsi. I don't know if I ever tried that, but I think you all should actually use that exploding Pepsi moment as a marketing stunt of something. Like Pepsi, we're everywhere. We're on your greeting cards. We're on your towel paper before you even get to it. Something like that. I think that would be fun. But in the case of advancement, because I'm thinking about just your background, your career, right? So you have Marriott, you have Aramark, PepsiCo. I mean, these are during some really unique years that are much different than where we are today, right?

            You think about the C-suite of which you sat next to Bill Marriott. As an African American man and as a Black man, I'm thinking there couldn't have been that many people much like yourself sitting in those rooms. So I'm just replaying our entire conversation, thinking to myself, "Wow." You might have had to do all this strategy and put forth these thoughts by yourself and keep an even keel at the same time, like everything ... How did you work your way through that? How do you think about our country's history? It has always been a little bit of a struggle to gain that equality. Now you sit in the healthcare industry. What are your thoughts on the progress that and the things that still need to be done with regards to ensuring equal access and equality, if you will? How did you do that along your way? How did that impact where you are today?

Victor Crawford (31:39):

Yeah. I'll go back to a comment that I made earlier about just finding your voice. To your point, Dhani, most of the time, I'm the only African American sitting in the room, even to this day, unless what we do, Cardinal has some African American board members, but I'm typically the only one in the room. The good news is that we've made some progress. I would tell you when I was at PepsiCo, we were really committed to diversity and inclusion, so the D&I piece. What's really started to manifest itself is D&I, the whole equity piece. I would share a few, I think the work that we're doing at Cardinal is somewhat groundbreaking. The challenge becomes, we took both our planes and went down to Montgomery, Alabama. For those that don't know Montgomery, Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama was really the Wall Street of slave trading back in the day.

            So most slaves came into Montgomery and then were shepherded out to different parts of the country. But that was the Wall Street of slave trading. There is the Justice Initiative down. There is a Memorial to terror lynchings, where there's been over 3000 terror lynchings. And you talk about an emotional moment. So for every state, every county and every state that they could identify a terror lynching, that person's name is listed on the Memorial. I got to West Point, Mississippi, Clay County. I'm looking. I see four Crawfords that were hung on October 17th, 1938. I didn't say 1838. I said 1938, four, four Crawfords. I'm still trying to investigate whether or not they are relatives or not. But we had other members of our team, and we took our diversity council down there along with our C-suite and we all experienced that together. So I think it's really illuminated just the challenges that historically we have and historically we continue to have.

            Again, growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I was in Detroit when we had the civil race riots. I remember seeing the National Guard and the Army tanks rolling down the streets of Detroit, Michigan. I'm probably a six or seven-year-old kid seeing helicopters fly by your house. Here we are in 2022, and I feel like we're going backwards versus forward, just given some of the political racial divide that we continue to have. I just think even during the pandemic, what really concerned me was that it probably allowed people to, versus coming to work and being around others and people with different ethnicities, gender, people were able to stay at home. And whether you're watching CNN or Fox, and that's what you're taking in all day. So I got really concerned about this period of time that we've been in.

            While I know we're going back to a more hybrid working environment, I really wish, the reason why I want people back in the office so they can interact with one another. Because the only way you get a chance to be exposed to others is by interacting with them. But if you stay in your own bubble, there's little to no opportunity to interact. Again, being a kid from Detroit, Michigan going to Boston College, one of my best friends was from Portland, Maine. He never had a Black friend, but him and I were the best of friends. We were both accounting majors. I'm still friends with his family to this day. But just having exposure is really, really important. That's the only way we're going to find a way forward here.

Dhani Jones (35:42):

Especially when you sit in the room and you increasingly more and more watch the shows, and then you go on your phone and you watch more content, that content just feeds more and more content and just serves the same thinking over and over. If you are not able to get out, to your point, you can't diversify the way that you're thinking. You can't see the other angles and see the other perspectives in the same spot. You're not traveling like you did when you were growing up and meeting different people and gaining understanding of the greater part of the world. I think that's one of the most important things that we have to do. So I don't know what's going to happen with the workplace, but I hope people, to your point, are able to go back into the office and really spend time and really get to know people and gain that perspective. I'm curious, when you all went down to Montgomery, Alabama, what was the interaction like with the team? Was there anything in particular that or a dynamic that changed? What was the temperament in the conversation?

Victor Crawford (36:51):

Yeah, I would share with you, I think the good news is we toured the Memorial first. So it was the outdoor Memorial, several acres that you can walk around. They've got statues depicting slaves and chains. Then you walk through the Memorial and you see, and then they have different stories about a kid that had a murmuring issue, that someone thought that he whistled at a white woman and they end up hanging this kid, but he just had a murmuring issue. So different stories about how people got lynched and why they got lynched. They shot this man over ... they hung him, then they shot him over 300 times. Come on, that's beyond cruelty. So I think it was a time for reflection and quite frankly, even being a person that thought I knew a lot about African American history, I learned so much more that day.

            At the end of the day, before we got back on the planes to fly back to Columbus, we all sat in the room and talked about our feelings and just had a really open conversation about how we were feeling, what we were feeling. There was anger. There was acknowledgement of, "Gosh, I didn't realize" with some of our counterparts, "I didn't realize this was going on" because they've never talked about it from an educational standpoint. It's not in the school books. This is something that got whitewashed out of the educational process, but it is a part of American history. We've just had folks that have chosen not to acknowledge it. I think there's still folks that choose not to acknowledge it, but it is a huge part of American history.

            Just think about half a million workers that are working for free. That would never happen in today's society. Some people have benefited from that free labor. There are a number of people that have benefited from that free labor and are probably still benefiting from that free labor. So I think, again, there were just a multitude of emotions. I would share that any emotion that you can describe was probably displayed in that room before we got back on that plane. But as an outcome of that, our CEO, Mike Kaufmann, and I applaud what he did here, he established an African American and Black cabinet, and these are his truth tellers.

            So when we talk about what we want to do for the African American community, not only within Cardinal Health but also within the community of Columbus, and so we got a group of vice presidents, senior vice presidents, African Americans that meet periodically with Mike, with myself, with Ola Snow, our CHRO. We have an outside consultant named Ron Parker, who I've known from Pepsi, who is a legend in this particular discipline around diversity, equity, inclusion. We've invested time, effort and resources to ensure that we're trying to do the right things. But I would also share with you it's not without others saying, "Well, why are we doing this and not doing it for others?" But again, we've got a group that has been disenfranchised for a number of years, and it's really important that we exercise and deploy our resources to be able to try to move that needle a little bit forward.

Dhani Jones (40:34):

Especially when it comes to quality of healthcare because healthcare is not equal everywhere.

Victor Crawford (40:45):

No, no, no, it is not. You can go by zip code. I've been in the industry for literally the past eight years. I would share with you one of the reasons why I came to the company is really because of the mission. Because everything we do, at the end of everything we do at Cardinal, they're someone's loved one, whether they need medication, they may need insulin, they may be diabetic, they may need a continuous glucose monitor, or is someone in the hospital that's going through a hospital stay? So what can we do to help improve that? So we always talk about our model, that we're essential to care. We may not be the doctor, but we're helping the doctor and the nurses assist in getting that patient back to hopefully health. It's important. Like I said, for me, it's about how do you turn personal professional success into personal significance? It's how you associate with yourself and how you spend your time outside of your home.

Dhani Jones (41:49):

That's powerful, powerful. I know you; not only the efforts that you're working on through and with Cardinal Healthcare are significant, but then you're also on the board of the National Urban League. How has your career affected or been affected, if you will, by your experience in being a part of the National Urban League? As we think about civil rights, when we think about equality, how does the National Urban League experience and those you sit with influence the work that you do?

Victor Crawford (42:26):

Yeah. I think it's important for most corporations to be able to support organizations like the National Urban League. They've been around. They've got a rich history. The one thing about the National Urban League, I think the contrast between them and probably NAACP is that NAACP is definitely more civil rights driven. Urban League is definitely civil rights driven, but also they're all about economic empowerment, economic empowerment. So all of our chapters that are out there, they're working hard in their communities, trying to drive economic empowerment, jobs, whether you've been incarcerated, how do we return you into society? How do we ensure equal healthcare? How do we have affordable housing? They work directly from a policy perspective. I'm fortunate enough to be the chairman of the Program, Policy and Communication Committee of the National Urban League. These folks are doing yeoman's work each and every day, talking to their Congress, trying to get allotments, trying to get funding for different programs that help our communities.

            So again, it's how you spend your time away from work or away from your family. The National Urban League, they have a mission that I absolutely believe behind. So it's important for me to be able to associate myself with things that I absolutely believe in, that I can absolutely be committed to as an individual, and they fit that marker. Plus it's also an opportunity for me to allow Cardinal to participate from a financial perspective. So we cannot do this without the help of corporate America. The government, obviously they have different programming, funding that we can go after, but it's through our private, public partnerships that we can continue to move this forward.

Dhani Jones (44:17):

You talk about that, because I read some of your articles, Victor, by the way. You write pretty well. You could actually have a future writing a book.

Victor Crawford (44:26):

I have a really good communication team.

Dhani Jones (44:29):

It's pretty good. But one of the things you talk about is in creating change and moving things forward and step by critical step. And the one thing you pointed out, which really stood out to me was this methodical manner. What's the recipe of the methodical manner that you speak about in this step by critical step to creating change?

Victor Crawford (44:56):

Yeah. You know what? It was funny. I remember my dad always telling me that if you don't have a plan to succeed, then you’ve got to plan to fail. So I think it's really important that you think about the steps that you have to take to get to your ultimate goal. Some of those are going to be time-bound, some may be restricted by financial resources and how you can deploy them to get to where you want to be, and it's similar to business. So if I got a business case, if I think it's going to deliver X amount of return, I may invest a lot more up front to get to that return sooner. But there may be some projects that may be a little bit longer term that you have to be a little bit more methodical about how you invest not only time, strategy, human resources to get to your ultimate goal. So that's how I think about it. I don't think it's much more, it's very similar to how you look at business opportunities.

Dhani Jones (45:58):

Well, I'd like to employ a more methodical way of doing things. Sometimes, like I said, as a linebacker, you see the angles and you make your moves and you make your pivots. But I think as I get older, I'm going to learn how to be more smooth like Victor Crawford and be a little bit more methodical.

Victor Crawford (46:16):

No, you know what? It's about, they talk about the attack angles. You got to just work on your attack angles. They change over time.

Dhani Jones (46:25):

Yeah. Because I remember seeing a couple quarterbacks get out of the backfield. I can't take the same angle that I did before. I got to take a little bit more of a wide angle as I get older.

Victor Crawford (46:32):

Absolutely. You want to catch up with them.

Dhani Jones (46:38):

So as we're coming to a close, I didn't want to leave without talking about the great work that you're doing with Pelotonia in Columbus, Ohio, which is hard for me as a Michigan grad to talk about all the great things that you all are doing. I have to bring it up because it really has created an incredible movement, and the movement that you've incited by just being a part of it is a game changer. Why is this work so important to you personally?

Victor Crawford (47:07):

Yeah. This gets personal. I'm a cancer survivor. So having the opportunity, I had a chance to talk, Doug came and spoke at one of our events at Cardinal Health. Afterwards I said, "I got to go and introduce myself to him." I went up to him and introduced myself. And obviously you know Doug really well. We went up and we had a really good conversation. I just said, "Hey, I'm a survivor too." And we just started talking, and we started talking about different people that we knew. So there's a doctor up in Philadelphia, Chris Dodson who's an unbelievable orthopedic surgeon. He's the orthopedic surgeon for the Eagles and the Sixers. I've seen him. My kids have seen him. Great, great guy who grew up with Doug.

            Obviously you know Doug. And I met your dad before I knew you. So Doug and I just developed this relationship and Cardinal had already had a relationship with Pelotonia. But we didn't have someone sitting on the board. When they came to me and asked me to sit on the board, I was absolutely honored. So I sit on a couple. You mentioned the National Urban League, obviously very mission driven. Pelotonia, very mission driven. Unfortunately I don't ride. I'm a virtual rider. I got a bad knee. So I'm rooting for everybody from the sidelines.

Dhani Jones (48:27):

We're going to have to get that knee fixed so you can ride too. That's the 180 miles. I need you to be a part of it.

Victor Crawford (48:33):

One of these days. So Pelotonia, very mission driven, the work that they're doing with The Ohio State University since they've trademarked "The." I'm still trying to figure that one out. But-

Dhani Jones (48:46):

You notice I just remain tight-lipped with that.

Victor Crawford (48:49):

I understand. Come on. I paid tuition to Michigan, so I'm good. I'm a Detroit guy. So I'm a Michigan fan. But the work they're doing at the James Center in terms of cancer research is game-changing. Again, this is something that's really, really close to me. Then I sit on the Hershey board. And hopefully what people don't know is that 70% of Hershey is owned by the Milton Hershey Trust, which goes to support the Milton Hershey School. It started out being a school for wayward kids or orphans, but it's evolved. Again, it's an opportunity to give back. So I think we all get to a point in life where life has given us a lot. I'm blessed to have had a lot of great experiences in life. But I think it's also, as we think about the second half of life, how do we give back? That's where Pelotonia comes in. That's where the Hershey board comes in. That's where the National Urban League comes in for me.

Dhani Jones (49:48):

Doug Ulman, the CEO of Pelotonia is a good friend and has taught me a myriad of things as well. So I'm just excited that you're doing so much work with them. I do wish one day that you get on that bike and actually do the ride.

Victor Crawford (50:04):

I do have a bike. I just don't ride it a lot.

Dhani Jones (50:05):

I think it's important. You can't just stay in your house all day. We talked about this. You got to get outside, Victor.

Victor Crawford (50:10):

Oh, okay. I do have a Peloton in the lower level that I do ride.

Dhani Jones (50:15):

We need to see you on the street. We need you to go the distance. I'll go the distance with you.

Victor Crawford (50:20):

I actually think it's safer in my basement.

Dhani Jones (50:24):

Don't worry. I'll protect you. I'll protect you. I'll make sure I pull you the entire way, just like they did for me the first time that I did the Pelotonia ride. But I just want to say thank you for sharing so many of your amazing experiences. I want to thank you for sharing your upbringing and the relationship that you have with your family and your daughters and all the great things that you have taught them, all the things that you have taught people both on the field as well as off the field. And then all the people that you've taught in the C-suite, being sometimes the only African American voice, man in the room at the executive level.

            I mean, that is powerful in and of itself. As you continue to do so on the multiple boards that you are including, including Hershey and giving back and understanding the power of that, I think that's incredibly important. So I appreciate that. What we always talk about at the end of our podcast is we talk about these meals and deals. So I mean, maybe we're not talking about a meal and deal in this particular case, but tell us the story of your favorite moment or your celebratory meal, where it happened, how it happened. Of course, I like great places to eat, but I want to know about that one great moment, that meal and that celebration, if you will, as we come to a close.

Victor Crawford (51:47):

I have to tell you, it's probably once a year, and it's Thanksgiving. I do the turkey. My wife is an unbelievable cook, and we’ve got the candied yams, the collard greens, the macaroni and cheese. I do the dressing. I do an Italian sausage dressing, all the fixings. And being able to sit around the table with my family each and every year, and we make it a point to go around the table after, between dessert and dinner, to talk about what we're thankful for.

            So when you talk about celebratory meals, it's not a business meal for me. It's a family meal. Also I have to tell you; so in the lead up to that day, I have what I call my Hugh Hefner's Thanksgiving. So after I get up and cook, I go get showered, put my silk pajamas and my silk robe on, and I watch football until it's time to get dinner. The first year I did it, I tried to come to the table with my silk pajamas and robe. My wife's like, "You got to go get dressed." So since then, I do go get dressed now in regular clothes. But that is my biggest celebratory meal of the year.

Dhani Jones (53:04):

Well, Victor Crawford, thank you so much for joining us today on The Pathfinders. Your invaluable knowledge, advice and counsel rings true in so many different ways. I just want to say that I appreciate it and thank you so much for being on the show.

Victor Crawford (53:20):

All right, Dhani, thank you, man, for having me.

Dhani Jones (53:23):

A special thanks again to Victor Crawford for being with us today. It's really amazing to see the work he's doing in the healthcare industry and gain invaluable insights from his incredible wide range of career experiences, helping us to look at investing in dealmaking from a whole new angle. If you're enjoying The Pathfinders, please make sure to leave a review so more people can find the show. Till next time, I'm Dhani Jones and this has been The Pathfinders presented by Ansarada.

Kickstart your deal

14 day free trial - No credit card required
Start for free today