An interview with
CEO of the American
By Will Fifield
IN 2008, TWO WEEKS into Gail McGovern’s
new role as CEO of the American Red Cross, the
Sichuan earthquake struck China.
She was fresh from her previous job as a faculty
member at Harvard Business School, and the idea of
responding to a true disaster was still very academic.
Being called to the scene of that earthquake, in
which an estimated 68,000 people were killed, “
fundamentally changed me,” she remembers.
A young schoolgirl McGovern met in Sichuan
still stands out for her. The girl told her through an
interpreter that she and her classmates had been
outside painting with watercolors when the earthquake hit. The weight of McGovern’s new job settled on her as she viewed what was left of the girl’s
school in a heap behind her. Two hundred children
had been buried alive in it.
“You stand there as a parent, as a human being,
and you realize how easily it could have been you or
someone you love,” McGovern tells The Connection.
The image of the girl’s face stays with her—literally.
She took a photo of the girl with her BlackBerry and
put it up on her refrigerator.
“I look at it when I have a frustrating day at
work and say to myself, ‘But this is what you’re
doing all this for,’ ” she says.
GAIL McGOVERN PHOTO: DENNIS DRENNER/AMERICAN RED CROSS TRUCK IMAGE: DANIEL CIMA/AMERICAN RED CROSS BACKGROUND IMAGE: BOB CAREY/AMERICAN RED CROSS
22 ;e Costco Connection DECEMBER 2011
A helping hand
Since its inception in 1881, the American
Red Cross has been the nation’s largest private
relief agency. Through its volunteer workforce of
more than half a million, it responds to some
70,000 disasters each year, ranging from domestic house fires to large-scale natural disasters in
the U.S. and abroad.
The American Red Cross is also the nation’s
largest blood supplier, collecting from about
4 million people each year. It trains more than 15
million people annually in the skills necessary to
effectively respond to emergencies. It helps thousands of active-duty U.S. service members who
Gail McGovern at a glance IN 2008 GAIL MCGOVERN replaced Mark W. Everson, a former IRS commissioner, as CEO of the American Red Cross. McGovern was hired, in part, because of her successful experi- ence with fundraising. She held top management positions at AT&T and Fidelity Investments, and serves on the board of trustees of Johns Hopkins University and the board of directors of DET Energy. Fortune magazine listed her among its 50 most powerful women in corporate America in 2000 and 2001. She joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School in June 2002.