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The Patriot Way

June 6, 2018

It’s fair to say that Jonathan Kraft, president of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots football team, had home field advantage during a Tuesday afternoon SuperSession at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s international convention. Kraft addressed a room filled mostly with Patriots fans and talked about building businesses, the importance of corporate culture and customer service, and innovating - even in the cardboard box business his family owns.

Moderator Bill Sibold, executive vice president and head of Sanofi Genzyme, even threw a bone to the minority of non-Patriots fans. “We’re going to let you stay and eat your lunch,” he joked, “but we’ve got you closely monitored.”

The discussion was billed as one about business principles that cut across all industries - and though it was that, the audience came mostly for the football stories, and weren’t disappointed.  Anecdotes and leadership lessons framed around the brains of famed Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (“not the warmest or fuzziest guy,” Kraft deadpanned) and the work ethic of offensive star Rob Gronkowski (“trust me, we all want to come back as Rob”) were among the session’s highlights.

Customer service is a cornerstone of his businesses - whether it was paper or exceeding the expectations of Patriots’ sponsors and season-ticket holders, Kraft said. “If you really focus on your customer and think about their issues, their headaches they deal with day to day and how you can solve them, you can really differentiate yourself,” he said.

The Patriots were an unsuccessful franchise both on and off the field when the Krafts purchased the team in 1994. “They didn’t register on any metric,” Kraft said. As the on-field product improved (partly as a consequence of new National Football League rules around teams’ salary caps), the organization strived to improve the experience of its fans and sponsors, he said. “We wanted to build long-standing relationships where our sponsor partners’ brands are tied to ours over a long period of time.”

In terms of management style, Kraft talked about the importance of having managers who understand what’s important to the business from a cultural perspective. “In our operating businesses, we are lucky,” he said, in that the executives that run those businesses have all worked with the Kraft family for 15 or more years. “We trust and respect them, and they understand how we like to operate,” he said. “I spend time with our managers when we’re either putting a lot of new capital at risk or when we have a real problem, but day to day, we leave them alone and it’s worked well.”

Kraft also discussed his links to the local biotech and health care community and legendary executives like Henri Termeer (with whom Kraft served on the board of Mass General Hospital), as well as philanthropic endeavors like the Kraft Center for Community Health and the Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator at Harvard Business School. He also defended the National Football League’s efforts in funding research into traumatic brain injury and pointed to incoming rule changes and helmet technologies to reduce those the incidence of those injuries.

Access the Virtual Attendee Package to view a recording of this session and other top BIO 2018 educational content.