William W. “Bill” George, IE 1964, Honorary Ph.D. 2008, is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic, one of the largest medical technology companies in the world. He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer. George is a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught since 2004. After graduating from Tech, he earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard and went on to become a senior executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries, later serving in the U.S. Department of Defense. George received the Franklin Institute’s 2014 Bower Award for Business Leadership. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2012 and received an Honorary Ph.D. from Georgia Tech in 2008. He is a member of the Georgia Tech Engineering Hall of Fame and the ISyE Academy of Distinguished Alumni, as well as a College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus. The author of five books on leadership, George has served on the boards of Novartis and Target and currently serves on the boards of the ExxonMobil Corporation, the Goldman Sachs Group, and the Mayo Clinic. He and his wife, Penny, have two adult sons and four grandchildren. They live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and are members of The Hill Society.
CQ: What inspires your philanthropy generally, but also to Georgia Tech in particular?
BG: Back in 1994, Penny and I established the George Family Foundation as a way of giving back the money we were fortunate enough to earn through our work, particularly the time I was at Medtronic, when the stock price went up some 40 times. We were the beneficiaries of that, and we feel an obligation to give back. Our two sons have already received outstanding educations and are off on their own successful careers. We feel that the money we’ve earned should go back, to go toward making this world a better place. My wife Penny has had a particular interest in integrative medicine and integrative health, and I’ve had an interest in building better leaders for business and nonprofits. Our foundation has focused on those areas. We see Georgia Tech as an opportunity to advance both of those interests, through our work in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), in health systems, and also bioengineering and bioscience. We’ve tried to contribute to building all of those, because they are such vital parts of educating engineers and scientists for the future. I am proud of Penny, who has served as president of the foundation since 1998. Her leadership has been vital, and we make all of our philanthropic decisions together.
CQ: How did Georgia Tech shape your life?
BG: I came to Georgia Tech from Michigan. I had just turned 18. And, it’s where I grew up. Georgia Tech is the place where I matured, as a person. Its values shaped me. Relationships shaped me. I think I learned more about working with and leading people at Georgia Tech than I have at any time in my life before or since. And that really opened the door for me to improve myself as a human being and a leader. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved in a number of Georgia Tech student organizations, from the student council to ODK to the Technique staff, and particularly my fraternity, Sigma Chi. That helped contribute to my development, and I want to give back, and see those opportunities be available to other young men and women who are coming through Georgia Tech these days, and in the future — not only to become good scientists and engineers, but also to become great leaders who can lead great enterprises. I think the school is doing that, and has done it historically, because unlike a lot of technical schools, it does turn out tremendous numbers of leaders. We want to support that any way we can.
CQ: What is your vision for Georgia Tech’s future?
BG: I see Georgia Tech emerging as one of the great engineering and scientific educational institutions in the world. It is developing people from all over the United States and all over the world who go there to receive an education, to collaborate and work together to create breakthroughs in science and engineering, and to make this world a better place. They are focused on really critical areas like energy and the environment, health care, transportation, logistics, and information technology — all the things that Georgia Tech can do so well. As a global institution, it’s necessary that Georgia Tech have relationships with other great global institutions, and the ability to collaborate. One of the unique things about Georgia Tech, in my experience, is the capacity of the faculty in multiple disciplines to work together. Many academic institutions are very segmented. Today’s really tough problems require a multidisciplinary approach and a systems approach, and that’s why I think ISyE is so important as a place to bring together those multidisciplinary approaches from across Georgia Tech.
CQ: Is there anything you would like to add?
BG: When I first became aware that Georgia Tech had one of the highest percentages of alumni giving, I thought that was remarkable, especially for a public school. I think that participation rate is really critical. So I want to encourage every alumnus and alumna to give back to the Institute on a regular basis. You can’t take it with you. And where else can you make a better contribution to helping those who come along after you? Also, this year I have the privilege of chairing the Georgia Tech Advisory Board. It’s a great opportunity for many of us who have been involved with the school to come together twice a year and meet with the president, the vice presidents, and key members of the staff to look at all the ways that we can build Georgia Tech for the future.
This interview first appeared in the the summer 2014 Georgia Tech Campaign Quarterly.
Industrial and Systems Engineering