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This CFO ran stress scenarios to help the company navigate the pandemic

June 29, 2021, 9:00 AM UTC

Good morning,

The role of CFO requires being “the strategic right hand of the leader of the business,” says Karen Parkhill, EVP and CFO at Medtronic.

portrait of Medtronic CFO Karen Parkhill.
Medtronic CFO Karen Parkhill.
Courtesy of Medtronic

The medical device company was co-founded more than 70 years ago by the inventor of the battery-powered pacemaker. Some of Medtronic’s products include cardiac devices, surgical tools, patient monitoring systems, and insulin pumps. The world headquarters of the Global Fortune 500 company is in Dublin, and its operational headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Medtronic reported for its fourth quarter and fiscal year 2021, which ended April 30, global revenue of $8.188 billion, an increase of 37%. “We have really strong revenue growth,” Parkhill says. “But keeping it in perspective, it was off a really tough base [from the] prior year.” The COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 when the company was in its fourth quarter, she says. For the same period last year, Medtronic reported revenue of $5.998 billion

A focus on the long term helped Medtronic come out of the pandemic “even stronger,” Parkhill says. “I took the playbook from being a CFO in the financial services industry, where we were forced to do significant stress scenarios under the new regulation,” she says. Parkhill used the same strategy at Medtronic and showed that with “the strong cash on our balance sheet and the strong financial position that we were in, it didn’t matter what hit us, we could withstand it.” That provided comfort to the board, CEO Geoffrey S. Martha, and the leadership team, she says.  

Although Parkhill’s parents were in the medical industry, her love of math and business pointed her in the direction of finance, she says. Her aspiration was to “tackle the toughest part of the financial sector, which was investment banking,” Parkhill says. 

She worked at JPMorgan Chase & Co. for 19 years transitioning from investment banker to CFO of the commercial bank. Parkhill then served as vice chairman and CFO at Comerica Bank. Now, at Medtronic for the past five years, Parkhill’s professional and personal interests merge in the areas of technology and inclusion.

Through acquisitions, the company has made “significant investments” in data and artificial intelligence in its products, she says. Parkhill has also set aside some of the budget for internal investments involving incubator ideas. “We have leaders around the company that are focused on this, including IT, which is under my leadership,” she says. 

An example of how the company plans to use tech to advance therapies? “My daughter is a type 1 diabetic,” Parkhill explains, “So, I’m a type 1 mom. I understand that business at a really deep level … We’re gathering that data and using artificial intelligence to ultimately develop that ‘artificial pancreas’ that, with a continuous glucose monitor attached to your body and a pump, automatically doses insulin.” 

Parkhill is an executive sponsor of Medtronic’s employee resource groups the PRIDE Network and Women’s Network. “I have become almost a warrior for both causes because they’re just so ingrained in my soul,” she says.   

“I have a son who is gay,” Parkhill explains. “I look at my son, and I say, ‘You should never have to feel as if you’re not on equal footing with everybody else.’” And, as a woman in a “tough career,” Parkhill says she did not always feel included or supported starting out in investment banking. 

Being involved in endeavors important to employees should be key for executives, Parkhill says. “We should want to do it, and every executive in this company does,” she says. 

See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

Big deal

A report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and Apptio, a business management software developer, finds digital strategies are driving technology investment decisions. The majority (82%) of business leaders said they have increased their investments in digital initiatives. The top three areas include support of new business applications, increased technology for a hybrid workforce, and supporting cloud infrastructure. The data is based on a global survey of 338 business leaders in industries including manufacturing, technology, and financial services.

Courtesy of Apptio

Going deeper

The 2021 Legal Asset Report: A Survey of Finance Professionals, released by Burford Capital, a global finance and asset management firm focused on law, takes a look at how CFOs and senior financial officers influence corporate legal departments. For example, financial leaders have new ways to apply the same financial approach to legal as other areas of the business, according to the report. The data is based on a survey of 378 senior financial officers of companies in the U.S., U.K, and Australia with annual revenues of $50 million or more.

Leaderboard

Susan Diamond was named CFO at Humana Inc., a health and well-being company, effective immediately. Diamond was serving as Humana’s interim CFO and segment president for the home business. She joined Humana in 2006 and has served in various leadership roles. The company will begin a national search for the next segment president, including both internal and external candidates, according to the announcement.

Matthew B. Ockwood was named CFO at Falcon Minerals Corporation, an oil and gas minerals company. Ockwood most recently served as a managing director and member of the investment committee for Chambers Energy Capital.

Overheard

“Airports, even in normal times, have tremendous difficulty getting people to want to come to the airport to work.”

—Earl Heffintrayer, senior airport analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, on the shortage of workers impacting airports in the U.S., as told to CNBC

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