About Mike Critelli
I only update this part of the site infrequently, but I think it is critical that anyone who wants to get to know me gets my most thoughtful perspective.
Rather than restating biographical data you can find in many places, I will give you a more thematic approach. Perhaps the best way to describe me is that I have gravitated toward the “road less traveled” in my choices.
From a strong, very pleasant Catholic home and school upbringing in Rochester, New York, and after having actually paid some tuition to Georgetown University in 1966 (which, fortunately, was refunded), I made an abrupt turn and went to Wisconsin. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1970. There is a great book written about several places, including Madison, during that era, called They Marched Into Sunlight, by David Maraniss. It was a turbulent, politically radical, environment so far removed from my upbringing that I really did not fit in socially, even though I got a fantastic education in both the Communications and Political Science Departments. I always wanted to be a lawyer and, with the goal of eventually arguing the great constitutional law cases of the day, I graduated from Harvard Law School in 1974.
However, instead of going to New York or Washington, D.C., I chose Chicago, which in the 1970’s was not a great place for courtroom law practice, but I met my wife Joyce there, and, after getting married in early 1979, we decided to move to the East Coast.
I had been a misfit and a failure in the two law firms I joined in Chicago, but I learned valuable life lessons from both firms, the most important of which was that the client, not I, determined value. I looked for a corporate legal department position, considered a much less prestigious and lucrative career path in 1979 when I joined Pitney Bowes in Stamford, Connecticut. In fact, one partner at my law firm told me that my pay would certainly top out at $50,000 a year. As for Pitney Bowes, the feedback I got from my law firm colleagues was that it was in a dying communications medium: mail. Here we are, over three decades later, and the volume of mail had more than doubled when it peaked a few years ago. Since I have been asked repeatedly how we could possibly have survived in this dying medium, I will be talking about the mailstream, an industry that, before the recent recession, accounted for $900 billion in U.S. revenues and employs 9 million Americans.
In 1979, I had another offer from another corporation, which would have paid me more, but I liked Pitney Bowes’ values. In fact, when I asked the person who hired me, David O’Hearne, why he was at the Company, he said: ” These are generally nice people who try to do the right thing.”
I also had what one might call a “reverse Groucho Marx” experience. Groucho Marx once said, “I would not join a club that would have me as a member.” Pitney Bowes welcomed a lot of people whom many clubs would not have as members. The concept of “valuing diversity” had not been invented in 1979, but Pitney Bowes welcomed a wider range of people and personalities than any other organization I had seen. To this day, I continue to be passionate about the importance of values and the power of diversity and will share some of my experiences on both of these subjects on this blog.
At Pitney Bowes, I did not expect to move up in the legal ranks, but one colleague ahead of me left the Company, and another passed away. Both were friends and mentors. Fortunately, George Harvey, the Company’s Chairman and CEO, and the outgoing General Counsel, Ed Harris, both of whom were very supportive of me, felt strongly that the General Counsel should come from inside the Company and they gave me the chance to do the job. I also took on the Company’s Safety and Environment function. I am particularly proud that we expanded our environmental focus beyond compliance to an aggressive “zero discharge” program, and virtually eliminated hazardous waste discharges from 1988 to 1993. After all these years, I continue to have strong views on the environment, and I want to have a dialogue on environmental issues with readers.
In 1990, another moment of truth happened in my life. George Harvey offered me the chief human resources position as an additional responsibility. Almost everyone whose advice I sought, including a few highly successful CEOs, told me not to take on HR, because it was like driving stressfully down a long dead-end street.
The two exceptions were my Dad, Michael D. Critelli, and my father-in-law Wlliam McNagny. Both had deep, “old school” values, and believed that I would be most likely to succeed if I excelled in a difficult, thankless job. My Dad, a brilliant, insightful person who had dropped out of school after the 9th grade, had an added insight. He said that, while corporate America was probably cutthroat at the top, no one would be trying to cut my throat to take the job I was going into. He was right: it was extremely stressful.
My biggest challenge when I took on HR was the bad combination of runaway health care costs and low employee satisfaction with our health care plans. In 1991, we began a journey, which continues at PItney Bowes to this day, to deliver higher value to employees and retirees at a lower cost. I have frequently commented in blog postings on what we have done because I think our success provides lessons on how the U.S. can reform health care, even though the 2010 legislation made relatively modest progress toward reform on cost containment, health care quality, and prevention. I believe many good steps were taken, but we are a long way from where we need to be.
In 1993, I left this stressful, but relatively safe, set of corporate staff functions behind forever to take over responsibility for Pitney Bowes Financial Services. To my surprise, only 13 months later, after changing a lot in a short period of time in Financial Services, I was named Vice Chairman and was told I would become CEO when Mr. Harvey retired. I commend the Pitney Bowes Board and Mr. Harvey for taking a chance on me. Based on track record, I was nowhere near the most qualified, but they selected me based on my potential. On May 13, 1996, I became CEO, and, in 1997, became Chairman as well.
We needed to make transformational changes in the business, and we did. December 11, 2000, when we announced the spin-off of our Office Systems business, was the day the transformation accelerated. From time to time, I would welcome the opportunity to share ideas with anyone trying to transform what appears to be a successful operation. It was harder precisely because we did not have a “burning platform.”
I stayed as CEO until May 14, 2007, exactly 11 years and one day after I became CEO. It was a challenging time to be a CEO. The Internet, 9/11, the recession that followed 9/11, Sarbanes-Oxley, and the decline in single-piece first-class mail all happened during my tenure. We also made other fundamental changes, such as the closure and sale of our original main manufacturing plant and headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. In fact, the tower that carried the neon sign that stood for over 46 years was demolished in 2008.
I made the decision to retire from Pitney Bowes in the early Spring of 2008. In one sense, it was not difficult. I had reached a point at which what I wanted to accomplish as Executive Chairman had either been accomplished or was not going to happen for a long time, if ever. I wondered at times about how the organization would function without me, but I realized that no one, including me, is indispensable, and I made a decision not only to retire, but to have as complete a separation as possible.
When I left the Executive Chairman’s role on December 31, 2008, I moved out of my office and, to this day, have never returned to it. I see my successor Murray Martin and many of my other long-time Pitney Bowes friends, but I do so most of the time outside of the building at which I worked. I have many fond memories, but organizations need to experience a completely fresh start when there is a change of leadership. I have not looked back.
I took other less-traveled paths outside my position at Pitney Bowes. In the 1980’s, I was a reverse commuter by train from Manhattan. When my boss Ed Harris wisely told me that I needed to get engaged in a community activity to help my career, I volunteered at the local Stamford Business Council to be an advocate for better rail station parking on the New Haven rail line. From that modest beginning, I took on many major transportation volunteer assignments. In 2007 and 2008, I chaired a reform commission at the request of Governor M. Jodi Rell and Transportation Commissioner Ralph Carpenter on how to change processes and practices at Connecticut DOT to make it more effective.
Health and Health Care
In the health care space, I took another less-traveled path. I focused on Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that has nowhere near the funding and constituency of heart disease, cancer, or even HIV/AIDS, but which is the third-costliest disease in terms of combined medical and care-giving expense. I have chosen to work with one of the lower-profile centers of excellence Boston University, because BU’s approach, which is to focus on genetic risk assessment, prevention, and early diagnosis and treatment, strikes me as an underserved space. In fact, as a broader point, our health care focus at Pitney Bowes has been to invest much more heavily in prevention, wellness, early diagnosis and treatment, and chronic disease management, and less proportionately on the technology of acute disease care because we can have a more positive impact on more people and can lower costs at the same time.
Since retirement, I took on some other health care assignments:
- I became a board observer for Navigenics, a leading company in the newly-emerging space for securing greater medical engagement through genetic testing and counseling.
- I was appointed to the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable for Value and Science-Based Care last year.
- I co-chaired a Prevention Advisory Committee for the state of Connecticut’s newly-created Sustinet Health Board. This was both a wonderful experience, because of the people with whom I served, including my co-chair Nancy Heaton, and a frustrating experience because of increasingly bureaucratic state laws and regulations.
- This year, I have given speeches on health care and have agreed to serve on two advisory boards, one for Booz Allen and another for U.S. Preventive Medicine.
National Urban League
In 1995, I volunteered to serve on the Board of the Urban League of Southwestern Connecticut, and was invited to serve on the National Urban League Board in 1997. Little did I imagine that I would be asked in 2002 to be the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of this wonderful organization. The Urban League gets far less publicity than other civil rights organizations, but it delivers critical social services to over 2 million Americans every year, and has a quiet, bi-racial, non-partisan, but very effective, civil rights agenda focused on civic engagement and racial justice, in addition to its traditional missions of economic empowerment and educational achievement. I stepped down from the NUL Chairmanship on May 1 of 2007. I remained on the Board as an Immediate Past Chairman and completed my board service in 2010, after having participated in the preparation for, and celebration of, the Centennial celebration for the Urban League.
Other Board Activity
I also joined the Eaton Corporation Board of Directors in 1998, and have found that to be a great experience, with a great leadership team led by Sandy Cutler, one of American’s top CEO’s. More recently, I have joined advisory boards for Alexander Proudfoot, a consulting firm, Opera Solutions, a data analytics software and services firm, and Booz Allen’s federal healthcare practice.
Films and TV Projects
From the Rough
The most amazing change in my life was the result of a project which, frankly, I could not have anticipated. Almost six years ago, I became aware of an interesting and true story. A woman’s swimming coach at Tennessee State University, a historically black college and university, Dr. Catana Starks, became the men’s golf coach in 1988. She was a trailblazer in being the first women’s coach of a Division I golf team, but her story became even more interesting when she was forced by circumstances to recruit white, non-U.S. golfers to field a team.
Over a multi-year period, I employed sporadic efforts to get a screenplay created, and my son Mike, a 2008 graduate of the University of Southern California created the screenplay we attempted to market late in 2009 and early 2010. We were somewhat surprised to see the number of doors slammed in our face in Hollywood, although we recognized that this is a brutal economic environment, and that Hollywood is undergoing cataclysmic change.
In March, 2010, my son Mike and I contacted an individual with whom I had worked at the National Urban League, Pierre Bagley at First Tuesday Entertainment and Kevin Hooks, an Executive Vice President at Weber Shankwick, a subsidiary of the Interpublic Group. From that point forward, the process has moved exceptionally fast. We completed principal photography in New Orleans on November 5, 2010, are well along in post-production, and are targeted a 2013 theatrical release.
I learned a great deal about myself in this process:
- I have enjoyed being an entrepreneur even more than I enjoyed being a leader in a large publicly held company, even though I have awakened many mornings in a cold sweat with major anxiety. Becoming an entrepreneur in a field as far removed from my corporate career as could be imagined is consistent with my lifelong pursuit of the “road less traveled.”
- I am a more impatient and results-driven person than I probably acknowledged to myself when I was at Pitney Bowes. If an obstacle gets in my way, I move quickly to find a way to overcome it. I do not sit and wait for things to happen.
- My passion for opportunities for women and people of color turned out to be extremely important to me. I discovered that this is a vast, underserved market, even though producers like Tyler Perry have demonstrated that films which address concerns of African Americans consistently perform well at the box office. I discovered that I was more stubborn about putting my money where my mouth had been on issues like this that mattered to me.
- I have had to learn how to ask people for money and other things of value, and, although it does not come naturally to me, I am improving in my ability to handle this task.
- Whatever happens with this project, I will have grown a lot as a result.
Dossia Service Corporation
Because I have always believed that the surest path to a healthy population is the control of health by consumers, as opposed to the health care professional and business community, which operate in a “sick care” system, I have always been passionate about the idea of a patient-controlled personal health record.
For almost four years, because of Pitney Bowes’ involvement with Dossia as a founding member, I was Dossia’s chairman. However, in December, 2010, the Dossia Board decided that I would become the President and CEO. My predecessor Colin Evans had done a great job getting Dossia to this point, and had assembled a team that had built a strong health record platform.
The Board decided that, as we are now seeking external capital, the requirements of the CEO job have changed, and that the most powerful combination was to have Craig Barrett, the retired Chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation, and Dossia’s true founder, as the Dossia Board Chairman and to move me into the CEO position. I am fortunate to have Steve Munini as Dossia’s chief operating officer. In fact, the team Colin left behind and Steve now leads, as well as the individuals who report directly to me, are energized, innovative, and unprepared to accept any limits on what we can accomplish.
I am now working harder and longer hours than ever before, but am feeling more excited when I wake up every day. I feel younger and more energetic than ever. Frankly, while my schedule looks punishing, and, in objective terms it is, I am better able to manage it because I feel like I am accomplishing something every day, and because I am working with great people in every organization with which I am affiliated.
I also had great support from my entire family, which has made this transition a whole lot easier.
Joyce and I celebrated our 33th wedding anniversary this year, and we have been blessed with three great children, whose interests have enriched us deeply.
There is much more I could say about my biography, but the most salient theme is that, in many respects, the path I took and the decisions I made along the way were not the intuitively obvious ones, and, in the short term, were not the most financially rewarding ones. They seemed right for me, and they worked out both psychologically and financially. Even when they did not work out, I did not look back with regrets.
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