IAM1106- Innovator Establishes Best Practices in Preventing Chronic Illnesses

Podcast Interview with Karl Ronn

Karl Ronn spent nearly 30 years with Procter & Gamble, winding up as vice president of R&D and general manager of new business/healthcare, where he was responsible for developing P&G’s capability to deliver disruptive innovations. Karl developed new markets for household-name cleaning products like Febreze, Swiffer and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, as well as personal care products like Old Spice and Secret. Since leaving P&G in 2010, Karl has founded multiple startups and consulted with Fortune 500 companies wanting to create billion-dollar growth engines. Karl has also sat on the advisory board for the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health for the last 15 years. He leverages his expertise in consumer marketing, demand creation and behavioural change, most recently to establish best practices in preventing chronic illnesses like diabetes.

  • CEO Hack: Working with The Innovator's Dilemma author – Clayton Christensen
  • CEO Nugget: (i) Focus on finding a very big problem (ii) Keep learning
  • CEO Defined: Helping make other people better



Karl's handle: @kpronn
First Mile Care handle: @first_mile_care

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00:28 – Intro
Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

00:56 – Gresham Harkless
Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast, and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Carl Ron of First Mile Care. Carl, it's great to have you on the show.

01:04 – Karl Ronn
Hey. It's great to be here today. Thanks for letting me spend some time with you.

01:09 – Gresham Harkless
Yeah. Definitely super excited that you get to spend some time with us. And before we jump into the interview, I want to read about all the awesome things that Carl is doing. And Carl spent nearly thirty years with Procter and Gamble, winding up as vice president of r and d and general manager of new business in health care, where he was responsible for developing P and G's capability to deliver disruptive innovations. Carl developed a new new markets for household name cleaner name cleaning products, including Febreze, Swiffer, and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser as well as personal care products like Old Spice and Secret. And since leaving P and G in twenty ten, Carl has founded multiple startups and consulted with Fortune five hundred companies wanting to create billion dollar growth engines. And Carl also sat on the advisory board for the John Hopkins School of Public Health for the last fifteen years, and he leverages his experience in consumer marketing, demand creation, and behavioral change, most recently to establish best practices in preventing chronic illnesses like diabetes. Carl, super excited to have you on the show. Are you ready to speak to the IMCL community?

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02:07 – Karl Ronn
Sure. I am. Love to. Thank you.

02:09 – Gresham Harkless
Awesome. Well, thank you for doing all the awesome things that you are doing. So before we jump, I guess, a little bit more into what you're doing, I wanted to rewind the clock a little bit, hear a little bit more on how you got started, what I call your CEO story.

02:20 – Karl Ronn
Yeah. So, so I currently run First Mile Care, and we're we run a national diabetes prevention program. But we didn't invent the diabetes prevention program. It was developed by the CDC and the AMA, and I happened to be in a meeting with the, with the senior vice president of the AMA who works in that area of, chronic disease, Karen Kometic, and she talked about this fabulous program that had these, you know, really great, clinical results and, you know, they'd gotten about fifty thousand people at that point in time, you know, to take the program, and it was the most effective way to prevent diabetes. And I thought, well, that's really cool. And I you know? So but how many people have it have prediabetes in a situation of blood sugars that are too high but not diabetes? And it's like eighty four million people. I said, wow. That's huge. You know? So if I were trying to deal with that, we'd set a goal of saying half of those people are gonna have taken the program ten years from now, and then we just figure out how in the world to keep doubling and doubling and doubling for ten years, and eventually, we'd get to giant numbers. And she engaged in it, and it sounded really interesting. And I I went back, and I thought about three months later, it had been bugging me. And I called her back, and I said, hey. If you're serious about doing something, maybe we could help you do it because that would be a really cool thing to, to prevent half the population that from ever getting diabetes. Okay. And so and she said, well, of course. Okay. And so after a couple of years of figuring out what everybody else had been done, we founded a company to solve what we hope could be part of the solution.

03:55 – Gresham Harkless
Nice. And and that's definitely a huge solution. And, you know, obviously, considering the numbers and the impact that, you know, type two diabetes can have on the the population. I love that you're creating solution. I even love, like, even on on your side, I noticed reducing the risk and scaling the solutions. I love that tagline because I think it speaks to that forty million or or fifty percent, I guess, of the impact that you can have with all the solutions that you're creating.

04:15 – Karl Ronn
Yeah. You know, it's thank you. I I you know, I think that a lot of times what happens is when we get these big numbers, we we reduce what we can do to our capability rather than building the capability to meet the need because it's just so big, you know, and that's why this kind of ten years imagine we're gonna get half these people done, and so what's in the way? And then just keep at it with a sense of doubling, and you get that kind of, put a penny on the first square of the of the check of the checkerboard kind of thing. And it's like you can keep doubling while anything becomes possible.

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04:44 – Gresham Harkless
I wanted to drill down a little bit more, hear a little bit more about first mile care. Could you take us through, like, exactly what you're doing and how you're making that impact?

04:51 – Karl Ronn
Yeah. And so, so in order to change in order to prevent diabetes, you have to change your lifestyle. And and, and it's really hard because it's not a small thing to ask, small ask for people. And so you can't lose weight, and that'll come back and things like that. What you have to actually do is is find a way to iterate, you know, to keep addressing what happened so that that you can live in the moment and say, oh, I shouldn't eat that right now because I did this. And so you get the ability to predict the future and then take a practical little step. And you're gonna fail a lot along the way, but you're gonna come back and say, but I can see I'm moving. I'm gonna make better and better and better choices. And so this whole program is set up in a year. That in and so it's twenty two classes over a year in groups that you do. And and so the curriculum works. The problem was, how how do you get people to take it, and how do you make them stick in it? And so two kind of classic problems of trial and retention. But what we realized is is and this is where, again, working with the AMA was so helpful, is is that if I wanted to ask you to change your life, you're already doctor would then have to know that if I prescribe it, we could fill it, if you will. It would be available. And so what we actually do is we partner with the VA if you will. It would be available. And so what we actually do is we partner with physicians. In a physician office, you probably live within thirty minutes of your physician and because you only need to see him once or twice a year or something like that. But I need to have you come to classes on a weekly basis, and and so I can't be thirty minutes away. And so I know from my consumer experience that it should be modeled like a shopping habit, and so I need to be within ten minutes of your home. That's why we call our company First Mile because we want to enrich the first mile where you live, not the last mile of imagine getting the service to you. We want to be where you are, And that embraces the reality of the social determinants, how zip code is destiny, as we kind of know, you know. And and so I can't tell you do this if it's not where you are. And so we wanted to make it possible then for your physician to imagine that community around them, that thirty minute radius. And we would make the program available at, say, seven locations within that radius so that if I asked you to if the physician asked you to do it, you would find, oh my. There's one just around the corner from me, and it's available when I could take it. And so we created a massive quantity of offerings, by popping up with coaches and locations in a kind of an on demand economy type of approach to be able to, be able to recruit for the physician. And so we make it possible to extend the practice, and we work there with their entire group of of patients and work with the doctor to determine who would benefit from this program. And then we make the offering on their behalf, and we pop up with the locations and the people and the coaches so that when and you take the class then with your neighbors so that we're learning from people like us rather than what I always say is, like, you should eat more salmon that is steamed than broccoli. Okay. Whatever. Well, ain't gonna work. Okay. You know? And so you know, some my wife's from New Orleans. Okay. Whatever. Salmon and broccoli is not the answer in New Orleans. Okay? It might be here in San Francisco. Okay. But it's not in New Orleans. Okay. So it's the little steps. Okay? So by being hyperlocal like that, we enable the doctor to have the have the ability to prescribe this program, and you can stay in it because it's right it's convenient to your times. It's really close to home. And you like the people that are in the class because you're on the same journey together. It's not some theoretical journey. It's practical journey. And and, and so in Houston where we are, you know, when the freeze happened, it was happening to everybody, you know, and so we could all go through that together. And so we can say, so what are we gonna do? And so resilience is dealing with what you got, and so we're there with them together. And, of course, the freeze is irrelevant to anybody else because it didn't happen to them. And so being hyperlocal allows us to really increase the chance that you'll be committed and stay committed, and you'll learn, and you'll make small changes, not theoretical changes. I wanted to ask you

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09:01 – Gresham Harkless
for what I call your secret sauce. And this could be for yourself personally or the business or a combination of both. But what do you feel kinda sets you apart and makes you unique?

09:09 – Karl Ronn
You know, I think, there's an important commitment to realizing that all I can do is try to help enable you. I can't help is not a good thing. Okay? That's a little, you know, hands on y kind of thing. I don't care whatever. You know? You know? Is there any way I could enable you to do what I I believe you can already do? And my role is to kind of enable that. And I realize that it's not always easy, and you might have some gaps, but I've still gotta enable you to take care of yourself because I can't be with you forever. I have to build you have to make you stronger, but you have the strength already. And so I can't give you hope. You got hope. You know? You know, it's not my job. My job is to help you by enabling you, and and whatever works for you is what works for me.

09:54 – Gresham Harkless
Truly appreciate that. And I wanted to, switch gears a little bit, and I want to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book, or a habit that you have. But what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

10:06 – Karl Ronn
You know, so I live in Silicon Valley, and so I kind of, you know, I didn't always. I was thirty years in Cincinnati with Procter and Gamble or living in South America and other places, you know, and stuff like that. But, but where I I gravitated to here. Why? Because you can either sustain or disrupt businesses, you know, and if we wanna make a big change, we have to figure out what do we mean by positive disruption rather than chaos generation. Okay? And so, you know, if we had a long time, we can talk about whether or not everything that happens in Silicon Valley is good or bad for the universe, but I'm gonna try to work on the good stuff. And but my inspiration for that was Clay Christensen. And so I had the pleasure of working with Clay Christensen, who's the Harvard guy who wrote The Innovator's Dilemma. And so I actually got to work with him over a number of years because I was at P and G and, and, and could really understand this question of, is our job right now to extend the market that exists, or do we want to create a new one? My choice was to spend my time now on creating the new ones. And and what happens then is everything's legitimate. You wanna run a small business, great. You wanna run a big business? Great. But there's a difference between wanting to not have a boss and wanting to change the world. And they're both great. Not one's greater than the other, but they're different missions. And and so I focused on things that would be billions of people, very, very big markets, you know. And and so I have to know whether or not what I'm gonna do is not only gonna be disrupted, but it's gonna scale. Is it gonna be catalytic so that it will grow? So, I wanted to ask you now for what I call a CEO nugget. And you

11:35 – Gresham Harkless
might have already touched on this, but this is kind of a word of wisdom or piece of advice. It might be something if you were to hop into a time machine you would tell your younger business self.

11:42 – Karl Ronn
Alright. I guess in in a variation of it is is that you really have to focus on finding a very big problem. Okay? In other because you might only be able to solve one percent of it. And so if I started with, you know, a problem that was a million people, one percent of a million is a pretty small number, and so I'm gonna be a factor in some part of the San Francisco Bay Area if I do that. If I start with one hundred million people and I get to a million, well, I'm still only, at least I'm a big factor in, you know, a big city or something like that. You know, but if we want if we wanna change things, you have to start with a big thing. And so so a lot of times what I do is is people are too incremental. And so one of my favorite questions is, what's keeping you awake nights? And that's what I wanna work on because what's keeping you awake nights is what I should be innovating on so that you could sleep. And I don't really sleep. I don't lose sleep over little things. I lose sleep over things that I can't do. And so what happens is the things that we can't do, we often don't address them, and we keep working on this other thing too. So what keeps you awake nights? Say it out loud, write it down, and then create a lot of little experiments. So in thirty days, what would I do? And so I build a learning organization to work on the things that scare you the most. Okay? You know? And, and say them out loud and then plan lots and lots of experiences. So I believe we we we have to we have to not know things. We have to learn things. But what we have to do is pick a big market and what keeps you awake. Oh, I do that, except I don't know that I would could ever do this. Well, that's what you wanna learn about. And so plan some experiments, and then some of them are not gonna work. It's a learning thing, and so you're not failing. You are learning. Okay? If, like, over time, though, a year you've been at it and nothing's working, well, you probably are just not the person to do this. So I didn't say you failed, but you need a different plan, and it involves more than you because, you know, time is the variable, not cash. Okay? In other words, then you you you committed to it, and you're not making any progress. And so so watch your time, but pick a big, big problem and learn your way in little thirty day steps and forget all that you don't have to read all the lean management books and everything else like that. They're fine, but misses the point. Work on the problems that are the toughest problems and see if you can crack them. If you can crack them, you're great. If not, go ask a friend and bring somebody else in until you can crack them, but be a learning organization. And that really works even when you're I used to deal with, you know, I had thirteen billion dollars of Procter and Gamble business that I was dealing with. You're still a learning organization because if you're not, somebody's gonna come out of left field and take you out of business, you know, and so you're always a learning organization. Now I I

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14:15 – Gresham Harkless
I I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO, and we're hoping to have different

14:20 – Karl Ronn
quote unquote CEOs on the show. So, Carl, what does being

14:22- Gresham Harkless
a CEO mean to you?

14:23 – Karl Ronn
My job as a CEO is this is kind of the same thing as the mission of the company. It has to be helping make others better. It's not about me. Okay? You know, our job is to make other people better.

14:36 – Gresham Harkless
Truly appreciate that. And, Carl, truly, appreciate your time even more. What I wanted to do is just pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know, and, of course, how best they can get a hold of you and find out about all those things you and your team are working on.

14:50 – Karl Ronn
Well, I I really appreciate the chance to, to talk with you. You know, it it it really, causes to reflect on, you know, the realities of the business while you're while you're busy, you know, kind of down there trying to get everything done. People can reach out to us at first mil care dot com, okay, whatever, to talk about the business. I'd be happy to do that. I happen to have written wrote a book about rest called Reciprocity Advantage. I wrote it a few years ago. And, and mostly you could reach out to me, you know, on that. But Reciprocity Advantage was really about the idea of how do you create new businesses together with big and small companies to create the future. And I did it with Bob Johansen, an Institute for the Futurist, where how do we allow people to see the future and then turn it into a business? And so I have a strong passion for others being able to help create the future, you know, and that happens to just be another avenue that, you know, where I thought, or I was forced to put it down in words that somebody else could use, and so maybe that's a help for other people. I don't worry about making money on books. It all goes to a foundation if anybody buys it, you know, but, but but I, you know, reach out to me at firstmilecare dot com and we'd be happy to talk, And, and especially if you're on the journey the same journey I'm on, I'd love to hear about it. And so, anyway, thank you very much for the chance.

16:06 – Gresham Harkless
Yeah. Carl, I truly appreciate you

16:07- Karl Ronn
for doing all the awesome work work

16:08 – Gresham Harkless
work work and all the words of wisdom that you gave for us today. We will definitely have the links and information to show notes as well too for the book and your company as well too so that everybody can follow-up. I'm a get a copy of the book, but thank you so much for kinda reminding us of the of staying true to the journey that we're on, and how

16:22 – Karl Ronn
we can even collaborate in order to do that

16:23 – Gresham Harkless
as well too. So definitely appreciate you, my friend, and I hope you have a great rest of the day.

16:27 – Outro

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO Podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes Google Play and everywhere you listen to podcasts, SUBSCRIBE, and leave us a five-star rating grab CEO gear at This has been the I AM CEO Podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.


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