Leading with a Purpose
Since its inception in 1897, Becton, Dickinson and Company, a leader in global medical technology, has made giving back to the community a major part of its mission. Vincent Forlenza, who joined BD in 1980 and is now its chairman and CEO, has become an integral part of this undertaking through worldwide projects such as vaccination programs and employee volunteer trips delivering healthcare to underdeveloped areas. But one of the programs he is most proud of is local and hits close to home: Giving young adults with autism job opportunities at BD through the Quest Autism Program. Quest, based in Midland Park, is a nonprofit community-based program for adults with autism where the goal for each participant is to gain meaningful employment through the help and support of a job coach. Vincent’s daughter Corie entered the program about six years ago, but his involvement began years before during its early stages. Now, more than 10 years later, BD employs 16 Quest participants, and it’s been a wonderful experience for all involved, he says. We spoke with Vincent recently about why promoting a purpose-driven company benefits all and how organizing at the grassroots level can often be the most effective way to change lives for the better.
Becton, Dickinson and Company has a rich history of giving back to the community. How important is that to the company as a whole and to you personally?
Throughout my career here since I joined 38 years ago, what I’ve really come to appreciate, especially in my role now, is the importance of being a purpose-driven company. People want meaning in all aspects of their lives, and it’s not just about what the stock price is or making money but about focusing on advancing the world of health by developing innovative new products and being aligned with a purpose. People here perform at a very different level when they are involved and engaged in helping others. I support it 100 percent, and it seems to be working very well.
How did you first become involved with Quest?
My wife and I became aware of Quest early on around 2003 when our neighbors in Franklin Lakes told us about an organization just getting off the ground for young adults with autism. Our daughter Corie, who was 13 at the time, has autism and was still in school of course, but the state only supports special needs children until the age of 21, so we knew that this would be important for her future as well as others. About 10 years ago, Quest started a partnership here at BD offering vocational opportunities to the participants, and my daughter joined them about six years ago. Currently, the Quest participants are employed part-time in the BD Campus Café, the mailroom and in other parts of the company.
How has this program been received?
It has been great for us. I had a parent of one of the participants tell me her son was so happy and proud to be working; it’s just changed the whole dynamic for their family. Programs like these really help our company’s goal to be mission-driven as well. I received a wonderful note from an employee recently that said, “It’s one thing to make a donation, it’s another to be involved.” And although I would say the majority of the people here don’t even realize the Quest participants are working at BD because they’re just doing their jobs well and effectively, in the end, it benefits everyone.
Why is grassroots-level work so effective in advocating for conditions such as autism?
Autism is very local in how it gets dealt with, and it’s where the greatest work gets done. There is Autism Speaks, which is focused on the research side, and they do a very good job. But the therapy side is very hard to scale, which is why you find it is usually groups of parents who get together and, say, start a school or a program like Quest, which continues the services that the public school system provides. There really is no national playbook that tells you how to do it, so it’s the small, local organizations started by parents and local advocates who see the need and get the real work done.
What do you see in the future for Quest?
I walked by the cafeteria the other day and several of the Quest employees were there all together celebrating someone’s birthday and it just brings home our purpose-driven mission to find meaning in what you’re doing. We are so fortunate to be located in an area where we can find individuals who help support Quest financially and that’s been great. Step by step we’re hoping to evolve and grow the program so that we can get up to 25 participants, which may involve adding to the current model and moving in many different directions.
BD HAS RECENTLY LAUNCHED A NEW COMPANY-WIDE INITIATIVE CALLED ‘LIMITLESS’, TELL US ABOUT IT
As the Quest program has become so successful for us here we’ve been talking to our associates around the globe and especially in the United States asking if we should take what we’ve done for Quest to a broader sense of disabilities and make this even a better place to work. In other words, how do we begin to help people at BD who have family members with disabilities further enrich their lives? So we’re starting a new Associate Resource Group – Limitless, which will create a supportive environment for associates with a special needs family member, continuing our commitment to create a more inclusive and diverse culture and work environment. It’s all about being in a place where we feel like we’re making a difference in many different ways.