Lifetime of Impact
The low hum of conversation fills the air at an elite fundraiser for New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen. It’s 2008, and serially successful entrepreneur and CMU alumnus George Bennett (Ph.D. 1971), only months removed from the $775 million sale of his health care services company HealthDialog, is making the rounds. He’s no stranger to fundraisers — after a career of founding and consulting for lucrative businesses, he’s shared the fruits of his success with numerous charities, organizations, and candidates. But when Jeanne Shaheen’s adult daughter Stefany introduces herself to him, she’s not seeking a donation to her mother’s campaign — she’s seeking his business advice.
Stefany Shaheen’s young daughter had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. Her daughter’s strict nutrition regimen now required Shaheen and her husband to spend considerable time each day measuring their daughter’s portion sizes. Her company, called Good Measures, would sell kitchenware products with integrated measurements to help those newly diagnosed with diabetes manage their nutrient intake.
Bennett himself had recently been diagnosed with a nutrition-sensitive condition, and he quickly learned how much effort managing his own nutrient intake required. He had tried several types of software programs to assist him but found them all to be cumbersome and difficult to use.
Before long, they founded Good Measures, a company that uses technology to help those contending with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity manage their nutrition, exercise, and overall health regimens. Bennett believes it could not only change how the health of chronically ill patients is managed — it could change how the world eats.
Getting a Leg Up
For Bennett, it was just the latest in a lifetime of giving deserving individuals and organizations a leg up — an effort sparked by the first leg up Bennett himself received. While studying engineering as an undergraduate at West Virginia University, Bennett took an internship at IBM. He spent a summer developing a computer language for IBM’s first graphical cathode-ray tube terminal. Unbeknownst to him, IBM had already employed a team of 140 for a year to do the same thing without success. Working solo, Bennett created a computer language by the end of the summer that would later be released with IBM’s first commercially released graphical cathode-ray tube.
Word of his feat spread quickly, and before summer was out, William Dill (Ph.D. 1956), then a Vice President at IBM, but previously a faculty member with the business program at the Carnegie Institute of Technology — now CMU — paid the young prodigy a visit. He said, “This is amazing. Where are you going to graduate school?” Bennett wasn’t planning on graduate school — he couldn’t afford it.
Dill would have none of it. Over the next year, Dill helped Bennett navigate the Graduate School of Industrial Administration’s various entrance applications, paperwork, and tests. This assistance culminated in the offer of a lifetime: an all-expenses-paid, five-year fellowship that would include a master’s and Ph.D. in industrial administration.
Bennett describes his time at GSIA as transformative. “I learned the value of interdisciplinary thinking and the power of pushing the frontiers of current wisdom,” he said. “I remember seeing Richard Cyert — the dean at the time — on the cover of Businessweek with a flattering caption that read something like, ‘Richard Cyert: The Leader of an Elite Brain Trust.’”
While at GSIA, Bennett enjoyed the opportunity to interact with faculty who were producing groundbreaking work: Cyert and James March, whose work forms the foundation of organizational behavior studies; Nobel laureate Herb Simon; Yuji Ijiri, the inventor of triple-entry accounting; and William Cooper, who led the application of linear programming to management settings. “I am very grateful for the skills I learned from these faculty members and others at the school,” Bennett said, “but the biggest impact on my life and career has been what they taught me about the value of pushing boundaries and routinely thinking out of the box.”
Lifetime of Giving
Dill’s kindness would set Bennett on a path of lifelong service and philanthropy. “I have spent my career trying to pay back Bill Dill’s act of goodwill,” Bennett says. From serving on the boards of organizations like the National Youth Science Foundation and the Grace Commission to supporting nonprofits that help underprivileged youth attend college, Bennett has been generous with both his time and the wealth of resources he’s acquired throughout his successful career.
His skills in business and entrepreneurship are extensive. Bennett consulted for Boston Consulting Group; co-founded Bain Consulting; co-founded Braxton Associates, which he and his colleagues sold to Deloitte; co-founded Symmetrix, a re-engineering consulting firm; and co-founded Health Dialog, a company that provides telephonic support to chronically ill patients.
“Suffice it to say, my Ph.D. from Carnegie Tech provided an incredible ROI,” Bennett jokes.
At Health DialogealthH, to streamline operations, Bennett and his colleagues implemented “whole person” coaching. Rather than have numerous clinicians on staff handle a patient’s multiple conditions, Bennett explains, “my colleagues and I had the bold idea of having one coach be responsible for understanding the full constellation of a person’s needs, including his or her various medical conditions. That one idea revolutionized the telephonic support business.” Bennett realized that if the health care industry as a whole took the same approach to patient care, it could similarly rein in costs and battle health care overutilization.
By the time Bennett and his partners sold Health Dialog in 2008 for $775 million, 24 million people had access to the service, and the firm had nearly 2,000 employees. It is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Rite Aid.
Personalized Wellness Management
When Shaheen approached him that night in 2008, Bennett realized he could expand on the work he began with Health Dialog. With effective virtual coaching using phone, text, and/or email, and with effective digital assets including an online portal and software app, Good Measures could help chronically ill patients manage their nutrition and health regimens.
Each Good Measures patient is assigned a clinically trained coach, such as a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator. Together, they develop a nutrition and exercise regimen that takes into account many interconnected personal factors, including age, gender, goals, medical conditions, food preferences, schedule, budget, allergies, and medications, among others. Then, using its patented technology called the “Good Measures Index,” it makes specific recommendations about what foods will help satisfy their nutrient needs.
Whether patients are trying to adhere to certain diets or trying to manage chronic conditions, Good Measures gives them personalized meal and snack suggestions that meet their highly personalized nutrient needs. “Before Good Measures, no one had ever developed an easy way to keep 40 nutrients in balance. It’s a complicated puzzle. Luckily, I learned how to solve complicated puzzles at Carnegie Tech.”
Good Measures is currently in discussion with several global partners interested in deploying its technology to help chronically ill patients and to help consumers build meal plans and create shopping lists. The Boston-based company counts 29 founding members, including mathematicians, engineers, and food and nutrition experts, and employs full- or part-time staff in all 50 states. Bennett himself has never taken a salary.
Broad Philanthropic Support
Bennett’s dedication to the fight against diabetes goes far beyond business. “When we launched our company,” Shaheen recalls, “he immediately became passionate about supporting organizations that were making an impact on the lives of those that we were serving, like the Joslin Diabetes Center and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.”
Bennett says, “The Good Measures approach could literally help hundreds of millions of people worldwide.” Diabetes statistics alone are sobering: In the United States, 30 million people are diabetic, and 86 million more are at risk of contracting diabetes — representing one-third of the entire U.S. population.
“Average annual medical costs for an adult living with diabetes can be two or three times higher than the average medical costs of most adults,” Bennett says. “As those individuals move onto Medicare, we’re heading toward a huge crisis. Good Measures can help slow that down.” And since Good Measures can also help healthy patients as well as those with conditions like heart disease or high cholesterol, it could help rein in costs across the health care industry.
Most importantly, though, Bennett believes Good Measures could save lives. Bennett jokes, “I want my tombstone to say, ‘He helped put a dent in the scourge of diabetes.’” —
Service Leadership highlights a Tepper School alumnus or alumna who is using their business acumen to achieve success in their altruistic pursuits.
by Nick Ducassi