By: George Varga
Jazz makes sound business sense to CareFusion, the San Diego-based global medical device company that made its Big Apple music debut June 17th with the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York.
The festival, which runs through June 26 and features 45 all-star concerts at 20 venues, will be followed in early August by the three-day CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island and in early September by the three-day Chicago Jazz Festival Presented by CareFusion. The lineup includes such internationally acclaimed jazz greats as Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and longtime jazz fan (and avocational percussionist) Bill Cosby.
For the jazz world, CareFusion’s sudden prominence as a major underwriter of festivals is especially welcome during such trying economic times. But what led a San Diego medical and clinical products company to get so jazzed up in the first place?
This is really a business decision,” said David Schlotterbeck, CareFusion’s CEO. “We did a lot of research on jazz and connected a lot of dots to get to the conclusion this would have a significant impact among our customer base, and it really has. We’re finding we are extremely well-known across the country as a result of this.”
This unique musical/medical partnership began last summer when CareFusion spun off from its former parent company, Ohio-based industry giant Cardinal Health, and launched the CareFusion Jazz Festival Series in several American cities, as well as in Paris, France and Manly, Australia. This year the company is sponsoring festivals in New York, Newport and Chicago, which together constitute three of the five largest and most significant annual jazz festivals in the United States (Monterey, Calif., and San Francisco are the other two).
“Without CareFusion, the festival landscape in New York would not be what it is for this year,” said Don Lucoff, the managing director of PDX Jazz/Portland Jazz Festival.
“Seeing a medical company come into the jazz world is a different turn and it’s refreshing. I think CareFusion is on the right track and that they are very sensitive, in terms of making the connection between jazz and music as a healing force.
CareFusion honcho Schlotterbeck, 63, is a former avocational drummer who grew up as a fan of such jazz icons as Gene Krupa and Dave Brubeck. But his penchant for this uniquely American art form was not a big factor when it came to his realization that jazz and his company could make sweet — and potentially profitable — music together.
“It’s important to keep in mind that our choice in supporting these jazz festivals really is based around launching our brand and creating awareness about patient safety,” Schlotterbeck noted. “This is not at all a vanity project.”
CareFusion, a $4 billion company whose headquarters is in San Diego, has 15,000 employees in more than 20 countries. CareFusion makes hundreds of products. These range from prevention software and services to surgical instruments and respiratory diagnostic instruments. Two of its locally based brands are Alaris infusion pumps and Pyxis automated medication dispensing technology.
Schlotterbeck laughingly notes he hasn’t played drums in 35 years. But he firmly believes jazz shares a number of attributes with his company’s products, services and overall philosophy. These include an emphasis on innovation and quality, along with the ability to react quickly and effectively to change.
Last year, the soft-spoken CEO helped initiate CareFusion’s Rhythm of Care health care safety campaign, for which it is partners with such independent nonprofit organizations as the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. CareFusion also helped arrange for last year’s Newport, Chicago and Monterey jazz festivals to be broadcast live to 1,300 private hospitals and 1,400 Veterans Administration hospitals across the nation.
“We looked at different ways we could launch our brand, including traditional advertising and the Web, but jazz is unique,” said Jim Mazzola, CareFusion’s vice president. “We found that jazz has been used in medical schools to help teach communication skills to students. We also found that jazz, in marketing terms, indexes really well with our customers, who are the decision-makers at hospitals. Jazz is of great interest to them.”
Accordingly, CareFusion hosts VIP tents at its festivals and its branding efforts so far have earned high marks. So has the fact that it is apparently the first major medical company anywhere to sponsor jazz festivals, which in the past have often been the domain of luxury car manufacturers, upscale liquor companies and (before they fell out of favor) tobacco companies.
“CareFusion’s number one goal was to get people to know their name and they have totally accomplished that,” said Hillary Wilson, the senior director of commercial effectiveness for San Diego’s Amylin Pharmaceuticals and a former attorney for Cardinal Health. “They’ve done a very good job of using jazz to reach what we call the ‘C Suite’ — the CEOs, CFOs and CPOs — who make multimillion dollar (buying) decisions at hospitals. CareFusion also seems to have a higher philanthrophic purpose.”
CareFusion’s decision to get in the jazz festival sponsorship business last year couldn’t have come at a better time for George Wein. The world’s foremost jazz impresario, Wein created the template for jazz festivals when he launched the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.
His subsequent company, Festival Productions, became a dominant force, producing some of the world’s most prestigious major annual jazz festivals. When JVC, the title sponsor of Wein’s New York and Newport jazz festivals for more than 20 years, withdrew in late 2008, both events’ fates were at risk. CareFusion entered the picture too late to rescue Wein’s New York festival last year, but in time to revive the Newport event and then breathe new life into the New York festival this year.
“CareFusion has been a great partner and has given us total autonomy,” Wein said from New York. “They aren’t like some (non-jazz-savvy) sponsors, who say: ‘Get Bruce Springsteen!’ They’re not a company looking to grab the limelight. The only person to talk on stage about CareFusion last year was me when I thanked them for saving the festival.”
CareFusion will wait until later this year to determine if it will extend its jazz festival sponsorships into 2011 or beyond, but CEO Schlotterbeck remains hopeful.
“It turns out we’re at the upper end of accomplishing what we wanted to and the response has been very enthusiastic,” he said. “We just haven’t made the decision yet about next year.”
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