Thousands gather to say a final goodbye to the co-founder of Medtronic.
Minneapolis, December 18, 2018 -- Just a short distance from the humble birthplace of the company he created, thousands gathered on the campus of the University of Minnesota to say one last goodbye to Earl Bakken, the co-founder of Medtronic.
“Earl Bakken improved the lives of millions of people,” said Omar Ishrak, chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. “He built a major corporation and established an entire industry. He set the standard for kind and thoughtful leadership.”
Celebration of Life for Earl Bakken
Two thousand Bakken friends, family, and Medtronic employees attended the Celebration of Life event in person. Thousands of others, including Bakken family members in Hawaii and employees all over the world, watched a live stream of the 90-minute service.
Few people in history have touched so many lives as positively and profoundly as Bakken, who passed away in October at his home in Hawaii. He was 94.
“Earl often said, 'We didn’t set out to be the world’s largest medical device company. We just wanted to make a lasting positive change in patients’ lives.’ Well, Earl's dream has certainly come true,” said Scott Whitaker, president and chief executive officer of AdvaMed, the world’s largest medical technology association.
Bakken was a visionary who wrote a 100-year-product plan for Medtronic that is remarkably accurate nearly 70 years later. His company grew from a tiny garage in Minneapolis to a global healthcare enterprise. Today, the devices produced by Bakken’s pioneering company improve the lives of more than two people every second. But his legacy extends far beyond technology and innovation.
“All who knew Earl learned that what motivated him was not the technology, but rather the ability to improve the lives of pacemaker recipients,” said Bob Griffin, a longtime Medtronic employee and friend who spoke at the memorial. “Earl taught us all that innovation was the product of being totally committed to making the lives of patients better.”
That commitment came to life for Bakken through the Mission statement he wrote for his new company in the early 1960s.
“The first tenet of the Mission says that we apply biomedical engineering to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life. It is a statement that every Medtronic employee knows by heart,” said Ishrak.
Bakken insisted that Medtronic and its employees should follow a higher calling — to be good neighbors and citizens and to give back to others.
“Just think what kind of impact we could create if every person who received a medical device, every one of us here in this room, felt compelled to do something good for humanity,” said Paurvi Bhatt, president of the Medtronic Foundation. “That is the legacy of Earl Bakken. Not just an innovator, a businessman or a philanthropist, but rather as an inspiration for us all to dream on and believe in the possibilities.”
“Earl taught us all to pay it forward,” said Bill Hawkins, one of three former Medtronic chief executive officers to speak at the memorial. “Earl’s legacy was and is his social realization on how to inspire us all.”
In his later years, through a Medtronic Foundation program called “Live On, Give On,” Bakken urged medical device patients to do something for others with the “extra life” they received from their medical technology.
“Yes, Earl was a remarkable leader and an extraordinary human being, and I like so many others will miss him,” said former Medtronic chief executive officer Art Collins. “However, I also take comfort in the fact that Earl lived as full and as meaningful a life as anyone I have known.”
Family members and friends remembered him as a kind and thoughtful man who could also be a bold and fierce advocate for his beliefs.
“He would want all of us to be great philanthropists,” said his son-in-law, Warren Watson. “But more than a great philanthropist, my father-in-law was a great man. The greatest man I’ve ever known. I miss him.”
“Earl deeply believed that in caring for people, we must attend to the whole person — body, mind, and spirit,” said Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota. “And he strongly embraced women as leaders — in companies, on boards and as world leaders. He believed women to be smart, emotionally intelligent, and more compassionate than men,” she said.
Ultimately, Earl Bakken never forgot that the work he did helped others. And he strived to instill that sense of purpose in everyone he met.
“I was not only impressed, I was awed by his constant caring about people,” said 80-year-old Ron Brown, who came from Illinois for the service. Brown received his first Medtronic pacemaker in 1977 and became a personal friend of the man who built the company. “He was definitely a hero to me in terms of who he was, what he did in his life, and what he did for me,” Brown said.
“There are tens of thousands of Medtronic employees around the world, each with their own story of how they have been connected to the patients they serve,” said longtime Medtronic employee and friend Steve Mahle. “This connection is one of Earl’s greatest gifts, one that we are thankful for and one I am certain he is proud to have given. Earl lives on through our service to patients around the world. What could be better than that?”