CEO credits faith with his success
A "summons" to a Minnesota mid-winter meeting with his future father-in-law shaped Harry Kraemer into a values-based leader whose Catholic faith is easily visible in his daily life.
Kraemer is a respected professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Business and former CEO of a $14 billion health care company.
"How do you become a values-based leader?" Kraemer rhetorically asked when he spoke to the March Catholics at Work breakfast in Danville.
His response: "until you can figure out how to lead yourself it is very difficult to lead other people. It is about the ability to influence people to do things they would not ordinarily do. Leadership is all about the ability to relate well."
For Kraemer it began decades ago when he was "summoned" to meet the father of his future wife.
But when he arrived they didn't go to the family's home. Instead his future father-in-law took young Kraemer straight to a Jesuit retreat house where they spent the weekend in silent retreat. That time of self-reflection shaped his life, Kraemer says.
He continues to practice it every day, taking 15 minutes "to just be quiet and reflect," often asking, "if I had today over, what would I do differently."
First as an employee and then the CEO of $14 billion Baxter International, Kraemer followed that principle to make it both a financial success and achieve an ethical corporate reputation.
Today as professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, he follows the same principle in guiding graduate students.
Kraemer is a member of the Chicago Archdiocese school board. In that role he encouraged it to send several priests to obtain MBAs, which they might then utilize to improve management of church organizations, which may be the equivalent of a 1,000-person company.
One former Kraemer student, Rev. Manuel Dorantes, is the successful pastor of a tough inner city parish on Chicago's south side. Kraemer notes that Father Dorantes faces huge challenges in that community, where "there is a complete breakdown of the family." The average age of south side mothers is 15½, and 94 percent of the children grow up with no father.
But Father Dorantes is making progress, Kraemer said, with a big increase in Mass attendance and stronger parish life in the tough neighborhood.
Beyond the lecture hall, Kraemer and his wife host a monthly Sunday Mass at their home for students; often celebrated by Father Dorantes.
Reflecting on his success Kraemer notes "We are here for such a short period of time, so I try to keep it very, very simple!"
Since his "summons" to Minnesota, he has continued the annual retreat for 37 consecutive years. "That really is the most important three days in my year."
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