Photo: Cleveland Clinic
Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove’s tenure as the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic has been very successful. The hospital system was even pointed out as a model in this year’s presidential debates.That doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few bumps on the road. During an interview, we asked Dr. Cosgrove what he wishes he had done differently at the start of his tenure, and he told the great story of how he got involved in and resolved a public spat with McDonald’s.
“I was incredibly naive when I started,” Dr. Cosgrove said. “The funniest part of my naïveté is when I stood up in my first speech to the Clinic, and I said that I thought the most important asset to the Cleveland Clinic was all of you employees, that we had to take good care of you, and we had to get you good food, even if that meant we had to get rid of the McDonald’s.”
Dr. Cosgrove was just trying to make a point of course, but he hadn’t quite adapted to what the CEO role meant. The story blew up beyond anything he could have imagined.
“That precipitated a huge fight with McDonalds,” Dr. Cosgrove said. “It resulted in me being on the front page of the Washington Post above the fold being referred to as the ‘Big Mac attacker,’ and it gets even funnier in retrospect, though at the time it wasn’t very funny at all.”
It turns out that the McDonalds franchise at the Cleveland Clinic had a long contract, and as the fight escalated, Cosgrove decided that it needed to end. He spoke through a mutual friend to the McDonalds Chairman, who invited him to headquarters to talk it out.
“I went out to Hamburger University in Chicago to talk with them, so I walk in to this conference room and there’s the CEO, the chairman of the board, the head chef with his hat, about 10 people, and me!” Dr. Cosgrove revealed. “And they said, ‘well Dr. Cosgrove, what can we do for you?’ And I say, ‘well, you seem like very nice people, and you obviously have a lot of great stores all over the place, and I’d love to have you at the Cleveland Clinic, if you’d just get rid of the Big Mac and the French Fries.'”
That’s not a request that particular group was used to hearing. “You should have seen the expression on their faces,” Cosgrove said.
Luckily, it turned out pretty well. According to Cosgrove, after a long talk about trans fats, which the company eventually removed from its foods, and other topics, McDonald’s took the cheeseburger out of the cafeteria, added apple slices, and changed its advertising.
“But,” Dr. Cosgrove added, “I don’t think, knowing what I know now, that I would do that again.”
Dr. Cosgrove followed through on that initial speech in many ways. Smoking has been banned on the campus, and employees can get significant savings on their health insurance if they take steps with exercise or diet to increase wellness.
They’ve been pretty successful. According to the Washington Post, employees have lost a collective 250,000 pounds since 2005.
Read more of our interview with Dr. Cosgrove:
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