McKesson’s Pete Slone Is New Council Chair
Conditions for study were not ideal when Pete Slone, the Council’s 2019-2020 chair, was obtaining his MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He was 50 years old, working full time as vice president of global government affairs at Medtronic, with two small children at home. “I probably pulled more all-nighters than I would have liked,” Slone says.
But he earned his degree and is glad he did. “I remember very clearly why I wanted to go to business school years after earning my undergraduate degree [from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service],” says Slone, who is now McKesson’s senior vice president of corporate public affairs.
“I would go to meetings with my bosses who were speaking the language of CEOs,” he says. “They would routinely use financial terms and metrics that, as a public affairs professional, I needed to understand. I realized how the profession was changing and how I needed to become more sophisticated about business, just as I have come to believe all of us need to do. We need to really understand the businesses of the organizations we represent, and helping our members get there will be a goal of mine as the Council’s chair.”
That Slone has seen his share of changes and challenges positions him well for his leadership of the Council in the coming year. Like many other health care companies, McKesson found itself in the middle of the swirl of litigation and state and federal policy oversight investigations in connection with the opioid crisis, facing the possibility of serious reputational damage.
“Even though we are a distributor and not a manufacturer, marketer or dispenser of the pharmaceuticals in question, we found ourselves in the eye of the storm,” Slone says. “We were a 185-year-old company that, until a couple of years ago, could think of ourselves as ‘the biggest health care company nobody had ever heard of.’ Suddenly we were in the middle of a huge controversy, so for many of us, this was an out-of-body experience. All of a sudden, we faced an existential threat.”
McKesson realized — and this is applicable to all organizations these days — that “it was not enough to play defense,” Slone says. “We wanted to be part of the solution, which we set out to do in a serious and systematic way. And we learned something along the way. When you are proactive with fact-based, pragmatic, actionable policy solutions, even your biggest critics are all ears.”
The experience was valuable, Slone says, in part because it demonstrated so vividly how important it now is to take what he calls a “more holistic and integrated approach to public affairs. In my own career, I’ve seen this profession change at warp speed.”
Into the Future
Slone’s professional experience includes working for a member of Congress as legislative director and for the House Committee on Appropriations. After leaving Capitol Hill, he was managing director in the Washington legislative consultancy BKSH & Associates, which is now called the Prime Policy Group. Among the health care clients he represented there was Medtronic.
“A lot has changed in those years,” Slone says. “We’ve gone from the world of shoe-leather lobbying and traditional government affairs to one characterized by the proliferation of stakeholders, the emergence of digital advocacy and the rise of philanthropic and social-issue engagement. The Council has been a leader in understanding these changes, especially in the area of digital advocacy, and in equipping its members to use these tools to be better advocates for their businesses and professional associations. Charlene Lake [2018-2019 Council chair] and the officers and staff of the Council have been leading the profession into the future.”
A focus — one of several — for Slone’s tenure as Council chair will be preparing the next generation of public affairs professionals. “I want to make sure we recruit the best and the brightest into this work — and the most diverse — to make this a destination profession,” he says.
A crucial mission of the Foundation for Public Affairs, for example, is to better develop the workforce of the future, building a pipeline for more diverse and inclusive teams. “Programs like College to Congress, which the Council is partnering with, and others like it provide economically disadvantaged youth the opportunity to get to Washington simply by virtue of their smarts, ambition and zest for the work, rather than what political connections they may have,” says Slone.
By diversity, Slone also means making “a serious effort to draw not just from traditional pools of public affairs talent such as Capitol Hill or traditional public policy academic programs, but also from business schools. Our profession needs a much higher level of business acumen, which will do more than equip us in our traditional roles as advocates for the companies we represent. With a better understanding of business, we should also be able to identify opportunities for strategic growth for these companies. We want to go beyond just risk mitigation and being effective lobbyists on core issues, however vital those are; we want to be part of our organizations’ transformational change. We want to help drive growth and enhance market competitiveness through public policy and stakeholder engagement. This means developing a better talent pipeline into business schools. In fact, I believe the Council is well positioned to help develop curriculum offerings. We should also be able to offer case studies on par with those used from the Harvard Business School simply by virtue of the real-world engagements we have every day.”
Working to develop the workforce of the future is one of four priorities that Slone wants the Council to focus on, as it looks toward the profession’s next decades. The other three priorities include:
- Promoting the role of public affairs in corporate and association strategy and business development so that C-suite leaders — and future leaders — understand its value in driving outcomes.
- Growing the Council’s digital advocacy programs and audiences in both the U.S. and Europe.
- Helping members respond to rising public expectations for corporate engagement in social issues.
“Pete’s vision for the Council’s future, not just for the coming year but for the coming generation, is compelling and inspirational,” says Council President Doug Pinkham. “We’re honored that he is taking the reins of leadership here. His background and experience position us to move forward on a number of fronts, and it should be an exciting time for us and for our members.”
Slone remembers when Art Collins, former CEO of Medtronic, was coming to the end of his career with the medical device company. “Art gave us miniature rocking chairs, which I still have on my desk, to remind us to reflect on the time when we’d retire,” Slone recalls. “He wanted us to ask ourselves what difference we would have made in our careers, what our legacy would be, and in what ways, if any, we would leave our organization or our profession better than they were when we began our work. I like to think my time as Council chair will be an opportunity to leave some mark and to make a significant contribution to the public affairs profession. That, anyway, is my hope.”
Want More Information on This Topic?
Contact Doug Pinkham, president