04 May 2016

Every Company Is a Health Company

Professor John Quelch

Today, every company is a health company, no matter its size or its industry.

So says Professor John Quelch, who convened a 300-person conference entitled “Building A Culture of Health: A New Imperative for Business” on the Harvard Business School campus on April 18-19. As its name suggests, the conference focused on generating awareness of what Quelch says are the four component parts of the health footprint of any company: consumer health (the safety and utility of products and services), employee health (including benefits and the wellness of both direct employees and indirect employees up and down the supply chain), community health (the impact an organization may have on a surrounding town or area, culturally and economically), and environmental health (often thought of as sustainability). Though they may handle each individually at present, the challenge for contemporary organizations is to better integrate their approach to all four in the future; the upshot of doing so is that building a culture of health represents a huge business opportunity.

“In most companies, some of the issues are attended to already but in a fragmented fashion,” Quelch said. “You might have a quality assurance person for manufacturing, or a benefits manager in human resources. Typically none of these people are directly connected, and so the concept of a culture of health is to build bridges between them so they can have a significant impact on sales and efficiencies.”

Quelch, who holds a joint appointment as the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and a professor in Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, partnered with event co-chair Howard Koh, the Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard Chan, as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to host the 300 attendees at the invitation-only event. The attendees were comprised of about 60 percent private sector participants, 20 percent public policy makers and regulators, and 20 percent academics. Quelch noted that outside of the federal government, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the principal funder of health policy in the U.S. and has been very active in the last year or so embracing the culture of health concept.

“Ten years ago, there might have been a conversation around employee wellness or sustainability,” Quelch said. “But the people working on these topics wouldn’t necessarily have seen the two as connected. That’s the difference today—increasingly, we’re seeing companies connecting people, planet, and product. And we’re very grateful for the one-Harvard philosophy, and the help of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, because it’s enabled us to secure a lot of support for putting on this kind of conference.”

As a follow-up to the generative discussions this year, Quelch and Koh are planning another event next year where they will set up working groups with industry experts to tackle some of the more intractable problems at the intersection of health and business, such as:

How to best set up an organization built around the culture of health concept

How to hire a chief health officer and how other parts of an organization relate to the position

How to measure the impact of a company's efforts across all four health pillars

What small business can do, especially in local communities, to advance the culture of health

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